Will the Real Mouchette Please Stand Up?


JUL 17, 2001, RHIZOME

“Recently, at a public presentation on Net art the Power Plant, a Toronto-based gallery of contemporary art, a middle-aged man came forward as “Mouchette,”the possibly ficitional nymphet who has revealed her inner thoughts and emotions on an eponymous home page. Initially, to keep the allegedly invented Web identity alive, the artist asked a 12 year old girl to pose as Mouchette; the girl, sick with food poisoning, couldn’t attend. So the artist, although he remains anonymous, thus revealed his true self — to a confused audience unwilling to believe that Mouchette isn’t real. Or is she? Judge for yourself.”

Of course there has been no Power Plant event, it was just a mail we wrote and sent around Moritz Gaede and me. I had come to Moritz new home in Toronto (prior to that he had been living for a few years in Amsterdam and we became friends), for a so-called artist residency and then we sent an announcement by mail about a cancelled event in Power Plant. That was a collaborative fiction/work of art/reflection.



Subject: <My Real Face>
From: <mouchette@mouchette.org>
Date: <Thu, 28 June 2001 01:32:40 + 0500>
To: <fanclub@mouchette.org>

I recently took part in a series of public presentations on web art at the Power Plant in Toronto. “Connecting the Dots: Web Art and the Bigger Picture” brought together many prominent critics, curators and new media artists to discuss the impact of net.art on established practices and institutions.

Mouchette.org was featured as a typical example of an invented web identity based on a fiction mixing the role of the creator and the artwork in one virtual figure. With the co-operation of the Gallery I had arranged that my 12 year old friend Kyla would stand in for the web character. Kyla would do the website presentation and surf the best pages as a sort of performance for the audience, who would be well aware that she was merely playing the part. We had rehearsed many of Mouchette’s stock phrases and she knew how to browse her favourite parts of the site. An hour before the presentation I got a call that Kyla had come down with food poisoning and could not appear. In a panic I gave in to pressure from the organisers and agreed to give the presentation myself although I’d never intended go public in my own city. I went to the podium and said: “my name is Mouchette, I live in Amsterdam, I am nearly 13 years old…”

The audience reaction to seeing a Canadian artist coming out as Mouchette was unexpectedly chilly. Nobody laughed and the questions that came after a long silence were aggressive, even hostile. People seemed offended that a white middle-aged man would play with issues of femininity and child abuse. I was asked what my position on child abuse was as if I was the abuser. Some of my friends in the audience started asking very personal questions, suddenly inquiring what I had been up to while living in Amsterdam last year. At this point, I felt so embarrassed that I could barely speak. Even the moderator’s attempts to shift the discussion back to a more critical perspective on web art could not restore the atmosphere of an artistic discussion.

I realised that the art audience and my personal friends might have felt betrayed by my coming out as an alternate persona, but I felt even more betrayed by the fact that no-one supported my identity construction as an artistic project. I have nothing but regret for my foolish candour, and I already fear the embarrassment of having to deal with this double identity in my social life in Toronto.

Now you might ask yourself: who is this writing? How much of this story of the Toronto artist is true, how much is made up or exaggerated? How many people witnessed these events? And will they talk about it? Were there facts?

Are you the art context?

Is this an artwork?





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