Facing the Faces: the Facebook Self-portraits of Adamo Macri

by Kenneth Radu

Self-portraiture and painting are almost synonymous. Albrecht Durer, Hans Holbein the Younger, Titian, Artemisia Gentileschi, Rembrandt, Elisabeth-Louise Vigée-Le Brun, Francisco Goya, Mary Cassatt, Paul Cézanne, Edvard Munch, Emily Carr, Frida Kahlo, a legion of others: the walls of art galleries are heavy with images of artists who present their faces for the public gaze. The paintings allow us to see whatever aspects of the individual mind and character the artist chooses to depict. Their manner of presentation, technique if you will, may convey as much invisible mind as visible matter in the painted eyes, the chiaroscuro of visage, the angle of the head, the colouring and clothing, and the selection of objects. This great tradition of self-portraiture perhaps reaches a culmination of psychological and emotional drama in Van Gogh’s work or that of Frida Kahlo who was bedridden for many years, or in the agonized self-portraits of Egon Schiele. Great physical, psychological or cultural turmoil, however, is not the only motive for self-portraits. Certainly during the long history of Western representational art many artists worthy of their palettes painted themselves for reasons other than personal despair or social chaos. The art of the art itself is a powerfully motivating force.

In the last hundred years or so, self-portraiture has shifted or assumed alternative dimensions. It has challenged psychological realism, overtly narrative gestures and immediate recognition. Modern artists have reacted to displacement of the classic self-portrait by photography and film. They create portraits in new ways or create a public mask or persona to hide the private face. Given profound cultural changes wrought by computer technology, artistic innovations and experimentation, the self-portrait is no longer defined solely by the painterly assumptions and techniques of the Renaissance or the nineteenth century. I state no more than common knowledge here. Photography, which supposedly undermines the entire notion of representation in painting, is now just one of many contemporary tools or techniques available to the artist, specifically those who work with mixed media. If the self-portrait in oils no longer has the pre-eminence it once enjoyed, the urge to portray the self nonetheless remains a source of inspiration and dynamic art. Curiously, while thinking about self-portraits and the art of Adamo Macri, I am reminded of Alfred Stieglitz’s stunning photographs of the hands of Georgia O’Keeffe: photography here captures the intensity and mind of the painter whose face remains unseen.

Artists using their own body as their subject is therefore neither new nor startling. It’s perhaps a matter of degree and exposure, as the contemporary work of Zachari Logan exemplifies, or even full participation of the artist, say, in video productions involving the body. How much of the body, what parts or specific part; what the viewer is being asked to see, if indeed, the viewer is being asked anything at all; what the purpose is of the specific choice; the relationship between new techniques and new responses; whether or not self-portraiture is necessarily confessional: these are fundamental questions the artist poses. In the act of creating, the greatest artists perhaps remain detached from the viewer, their desire not to elicit response so much as to give face to their vision, game, political or historical outrage, moral apprehension symbolically arranged, aesthetic theories, mere whimsy, erotic fantasies, or to their conception of an alternately or radically designed universe, or possibly like Van Gogh to their personal demons. The response any painting or mixed media creation stimulates in the viewers is highly subjective. No artist can really be consciously concerned with the audience in the process of making the art, even when self-portraits seemingly stare right into the heart of the viewer, or ask the crowd to see what the artists are doing or “look like.” The portraits may arouse laughter, sympathy, libido, prurience, anger, distaste, even revulsion. Some installation art, however, depends upon audience interaction and is therefore created with that in mind, but here the focus is on photographic portraits.

Adamo Macri’s self-portraits demonstrate another dimension of artistic endeavour, very often one that incorporates traditional methods, but freely adapts and expands the very boundaries of art itself. Contemporary technologies like video, computer graphics, webcam and photography, fluorescent lighting, television, fibre-optics, associations with extraneous materials found on the street, in refuse, in nature, under sinks, under the microscope: wherever the artistic eye roves, therein reside possibility and utility.

Today the studio does not always smell of linseed oil and turpentine. Regarding a series of photographic self-portraits uploaded on his Facebook pages, Macri argues that as the subject of these images, he presents only one face which contains multitudes of meaning, depending upon the viewer. In conversation with me, the artist insists that he has “one 'face' - many depictions, ad infinitum allure, it’s an artistic approach based upon restraint, so much can smelter with little at play, subtlety is a wonderful delicacy as personalized style.”

That would be a perspective seen from the inside looking out. I maintain my position, as all viewers must, of looking from the outside in, and perhaps we see many faces. What do you see is a question most often asked about any painting. In a portrait especially, what does the painter show? If the artist has produced a series of self-portraits as Picasso, Egon Schiele, Munch, as other artists have in whatever style, is it one face or many aspects of one face? Is the work many faces, variations on a theme like Monet’s water lily paintings or his series devoted to Rouen Cathedral, or, since we are talking about portraits, the dozens of self-portraits by Van Gogh? They are all distinct canvases focusing on the same subject matter. Alteration and treatment, time and context, are everything. It makes sense to consider the many faces of Adamo Macri, notwithstanding the fact that he has only one actual face existing in real time and space available for his self-portraits.

Macri combines, co-ordinates, and positions the face in deliberately artificial manners which draw attention to artifice, to manipulation of responses, to suggestiveness, to ways out of the tendency to psychologize about portraits in oil. He employs the camera within a context of mixed-media possibilities, and liberates the self-portrait from the confines and characteristics of traditional oil painting. He imbues the images with fair measures of irony, self-mockery, bravado, the provocative and sensual; he selects disparate items and directs lighting inspired by cinematic art; he relies upon carefully chosen colours in background or costume; he adds accoutrements and focuses on facial expression or even lack thereof because in Macri’s art, what is not seen is as penetrating as what is. They intimate and imply. They are beautiful but untouchable objects to admire but not desire, to admire and desire, to desire but not admire. There is a kind of male beauty here of balance and form, images inducing yearning in some, amusement in others, applause, disapproval or indifference: the public face exposed on Facebook and the private self simultaneously hidden. Voilà: we have the face of Adamo Macri, or more to the point, the faces. True, traditional portraits on canvas can achieve the same results, but the crucial difference between them and Macri’s photographs lies not only in method, but also in space and time and, most significantly, venue.

The oil painting is fixed. Of course, any artist may scrape the canvas clean, paint over, a palimpsest so to speak, discard or destroy the work entirely. In its form and appearance as it hangs incarcerated in a museum or gallery, the portrait is done for all time. Once the artist loses control of the canvas and/or dies, it is even more done. In and of itself the portrait becomes the great and priceless “work of art,” an item on the auction block, the original rendered into a fetish, its uniqueness equated with cash and gallery obsessions, and the necessary thing tourists are supposed to see in the Louvre, the Prado, the Hermitage, the Tate, or the MOMA in New York. It is confined in tactile space and is absorbed by architecture to some degree, identified with a wall and the room one enters, sits or stands in, then exits. An intriguing note, however, related to Macri’s own method of presentation, is that self-portraits by major artists now “hang” in the boundless gallery of the world-wide web. What changes is the viewer. The very nature of viewing a self-portrait is fluid and tenuous, for perception and understanding cannot be fixed like arrows in a bull’s-eye, cannot like the painterly portrait be hung on the wall.

Macri’s faces on Facebook offer an oeuvre in flux: it’s always moving, always ongoing, each picture a ‘news’ item, au courant, as the artist uploads faces to extend, complement, or create new albums. Moreover, the act of posting images on Facebook, adding and subtracting at will, highlights the tenuousness of portraiture itself, how meaning in a face undergoes subtle changes, or the overall effect of a series of images alters by self-editing. In another sense the portraits create a new reality, the utilization of cyberspace as artistic and ironic gallery, ironic in the sense that it is nowhere, yet everywhere, a limitless space without form. The art depends upon the intangible. Discussing his work, Macri is quite emphatic about the relevance of Facebook to his conception of portraiture: “I began self- portraiture with the idea of how I would approach being active on Facebook, how that would represent me and my interests as an artist. I knew there wouldn't be any photos of me on vacation in Cancun holding a lizard. I approached it as an art form, the 'verb' to Facebook. I receive countless messages from people wanting to see a full body shot of me. My reply is always … this place is called Facebook, and I take that literally.”

Unlike the finished oil painting which, once it is hung, is housed, remains lodged in place until transported for a showing elsewhere, or taken down and stored, or immured behind glass like the Mona Lisa, Macri’s faces on Facebook are not secured and walled-in. They do not hang in any conventional sense. This allows for arbitrariness and quick costume changes, so to speak. He can pick and choose whimsically or purposefully, although there is a most evident pattern at work. The pattern, however, is neither engraved in stone nor seeped into a canvas. The face is freed from the restrictions of the frame and by extension from geography itself. Hence, what makes his self-portraitures intriguing is the phenomenon of Facebook itself which in fact becomes not only the “frame” surrounding Macri’s faces, but also a medium of artistic presentation.

Playfully alert to the multiplicity of Facebook, and all the faces posted therein, Macri faces the face of his viewers viewing him on Facebook, forcing us into a quasi-voyeuristic mode of apprehension. Instead of hanging his portraits on a wall, Macri transmits his images to cyberspace, engaging with the very nature of illusion, so the face can become immediately looked at without institutional interference. Again, the Mona Lisa in the Louvre provides a curious counterpart although it is not a self-portrait of da Vinci. It exists behind glass; one stands in a crowd to view it; there are no other comparable images of the same face surrounding it; the portrait is fixed to a locale unless taken down and moved to another physical and equally confining spot in real space.

Macri’s enterprise of posting faces on Facebook, saving face, a term that carries new resonance since it is possible to extract an image from the crowd and “save” it, could be seen as narcissistic, just as Facebook itself can be analyzed as a form of collective narcissism. We recall Christopher Lasch’s famous treatise, The Culture of Narcissism. Such pathologizing of a social activity in this context, however, is both a gross distortion of the art and of the artist, and a misleading simplification of Facebook. Macri is no more narcissistic than Rembrandt or Van Gogh or Emily Carr or John Baldessari, or all of us who post on Facebook for valid reasons that have little to do with clinical narcissism.

Macri knows what he is about and he embraces not only his own face as the art, but also the mind in the mind, and the emotions of the viewer as they examine his face, looking for clues, projecting aspects of themselves onto what they see. Most often the Macri face is serene, non-committal, impassive, a physiognomic restraint containing subtleties of speech, emotion and intellect, a seeming blankness like a mannequin. In other portraits there are different positions of the eyes or lips or head. Indeed, various and plentiful responses posted under individual photos or portraits indicate the subjectivity of perception and also convey the complex intimations of the face itself. As in literature, a first person narrator is not necessarily the author, so the self-portrait of the artist posted on Facebook is not necessarily the person.

His acts of portraiture, acts because each series or sequence of photos is a visual drama or narrative, raise the question of why his photos collectively are regarded as art, whereas all the personal photos of our own faces and our friends, real or illusory given the nature of Facebook, are not. Insofar as we post pictures and personal comments, video clips and articles, cartoons and jokes, and celebrate our own activities and achievements, it’s easy to understand why Facebook can be construed as a community of narcissists, except we ask others to look at our vacation and other pictures as we look at theirs, exchanging bits of information and memory. We share photos for reasons beyond mere celebration of the self. We have no artistic vision or purpose in mind even if some conscious artistry was involved in the taking of a photo. We look at the image of others, an act that breaks self-involvement to a degree. We have no other impulse than to share information about ourselves and others in the Age of Information.

There is validity to the concept of electronic community and networking that reflects more than individual ego. True, we would not call upon most of our Facebook friends to help us move furniture or look after the dog, depending upon our individual and personal reasons for facebooking and the range of our “friends.” Something significant is operating here. As Macri himself has said: “the essence, importance, relevance: the practice as a sign and significance to contemporary life. Never before, in history was the act of photographing oneself so prevalent. Modern culture, computers, portables, social networking, the diary, personal journals magnified, this hyper-activity and need of having to photograph oneself, just about everywhere we go and whatever we do, getting it published immediately within seconds. Makes people feel more 'alive' within what’s been stigmatized cyberspace, the 'unreal' world or existence. Ironic?”

To answer a rhetorical question: yes, I think so. Macri’s portraits constitute mirrors in a less obvious way than, say, the discombobulating installation art of Ken Lum whose mirror works, specifically Mirror and Twelve Signs of Depression, force viewers to see themselves at odd angles in the juxtaposition of mirrors, to lose a sense of direction, to laugh at one’s self, then to feel discomfort from prolonged exposure to physical reflections and consequent disorientation. The question is: do we see ourselves reflected in the mirror of Macri’s face any more than we see ourselves in self-portraits by Salvador Dali or Raphael? Self-portraits by definition supposedly are revelations of artists as they see themselves or, more importantly, as they wish to be seen. Wish is connected with fantasy, a challenge perhaps to realism and reason, as artists construct their image, their body, their face which becomes the art itself. In his autobiography, Secret Life, Dali writes about one of his self-portraits: I wanted to give myself a ‘weird appearance’ as soon as possible, to compose a masterpiece with my own head.”

“Weird appearance,” “a masterpiece with my own head:” these are terms applicable to much in Macri’s photos. They bring to mind the underlying tensions of play and carnival, the subterfuge of satire, the powers of pretense, the discomfort caused by exposing in nuanced ways what has been suppressed or repressed, the spirit of carnival, mardi gras, if you will. They silently mock and sabotage conventional pieties of appearance and decorum, not to mention blowing up standard portrait idealizations by commercial photographers. This is achieved not by grotesque or violent alteration of appearance but through restraint and suggestiveness. In the history of oil painting one of the “weirdest” and most carnivalesque portraits is Giuseppe Arcimboldo’s Summer, a facial profile constructed with fruits and vegetables which is essentially allegorical in purpose. It’s not a self-portrait of anyone in particular, but a visualized concept.

In the series entitled Fortified October many of Macri’s head shots are presented in costume, so to speak, the head covered and arranged in both usual and unusual items from a standard baseball cap, to the use of a velvety-looking animal mask, to silvery chains hanging over the forehead between the eyes and draping the face. There is, however, no distortion or Mannerist allegory in the style of Arcimboldo, for Macri remains recognizably himself, allowing symbolic intent to be inferred as much as implied, and not “painted” thickly on. In all the photographs, Macri’s eyes do not look directly at the viewer which is reminiscent of Van Gogh not directly gazing at us in his self-portraits, as if the artist is unaware of an audience, itself ironic. Such poses presuppose admiration from afar: viewers wondering at what they see, the artist displaying his face in costume, in make-up, tilting the head, averting the direct gaze as if he is caught in private pre-occupation and not on public display. Yet, uploading photographs of the self on Facebook is asking for attention: the personal face as objective art, as artifice, as artifact. One is asked to look, to see what the portrait possibly means about what cannot be seen: inner life, inner drives, private dreams of artist and viewer which we are invited to interpret as we please.

The title Fortified October is at first odd. A month in the autumn strengthened, fortified like vitamins, applied to photographic portraits which do not depict falling leaves, harvested crops, chilly nights, or the walls of a fort. The pictures could well have been taken in October and the artist may mean no more than that. Macri realizes that words attached to a painting or picture, or a photographic triptych, acquire significance beyond his initial naming. For viewers, as they see, so they name, and the face on Facebook or the orchestration of photographic selves is also the presentation of a face to meet other faces. Yes, it is all one face, a public face containing a private reality from which we are excluded but are invited to visit through speculation, possibly intuition, to imagine, to engage, maybe even shape to our own fantasies and needs.

Inevitably, someone, myself for example, will think of T. S. Eliot’s The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock: “There will be time, there will be time/To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet.” Just what “self” does the artist depict for the viewer? Do we contain multiple selves, as many as the faces we present to the public? The questions are rhetorical, albeit serious, for the answers go beyond the scope of this paper as well as my ability to supply them. So what do we see in Fortified October? What does the artist mean when he dangles metallic jewellery in the form of fine chains over his face? What does the animal-looking mask portend? Then we see a severe pose in which the hair has been pulled back and confined under tight cloth, black eyebrow mascara liberally applied, the taut, angular features of the face itself brought into sharp relief. The face is at times darkened with beard stubble, other times shadowed and lit by a play of lights. In some pictures the artist resorts to large sunglasses, in others the eyes are obscured as he rakishly tilts his head and hides them under the brim of a stylish black hat. In one he seems to be sporting a bluish vest, but in the upper left corner of the picture there is a skull of bluish tinge. The meaning can be whatever the viewer sees, depending upon emotional and intellectual involvement. Although Macri is offering an interpretation of his own photos through the accoutrements applied to the head, he arrays himself beyond the standard formal photograph most of us possess, and by so doing opens up the doors of inquiry, fancy and supposition.

Macri’s face albums are individually entitled. If one studies the images and thinks of them in terms of the title words, elements of mystery and play enter the picture. For example, in one of the most recent additions to Facebook, the artist has chosen to focus on three representations of lips, full and pink, gently embracing a strawberry, either real or false fruit. Of course the triptych is both sensual and sensuous, that goes without saying, but I also find it witty, as if Macri is relying on a visual cliché or the erotic application of certain foods, and poking fun to some degree at our collective inclinations. The title of this particular triptych is Beetle of Hectares. What a beetle has to do with lips and a strawberry, and what the images have to do with the measurement of terrain, may lie more in the realm of humour and gentle mockery than it does in meaning.

We could think of scarab beetles with their bejewelled backs or Beetlejuice, the movie with its comically satanic association. We could think of insects and check other Macri images of the artist sporting oversized sunglasses which appear like eyes magnified. We could think of folk songs and strawberry fields forever or of lovers eating erotically and all the sexual connotations of mouth and tongue. We could think of the act of swallowing, as if by aiming the lens at the specific details of lips and fruit, the image says more about the viewer’s preconceptions and fantasies than it does about the artist who clearly knows the kind of response he will undoubtedly receive, some more blatantly sexual than others. The swallower swallowed by the audience. And there is a mischievous invitation here: the viewer invited to share an intimate moment with the artist, to delight in tactility and the textures of skin and the hue of fleshy pinks, the promise of potential, for the strawberry itself contains innumerable seeds. Either real or fake, the fruit is about to be bitten, swallowed, ingested.

The berry contains within itself the means to regenerate, each seed producing a little version of itself, homunculi as one of Macri’s admirers suggests. Macri himself reminds us that “the strawberry plant sows widely and propagates rapidly by runners on the ground. Each individual berry holds an average of 200 seeds. This fleshy fruit is considered a pseudocarp, meaning false fruit. Unlike other berries and fruits, the seeds are on the outer surface, their pericarp (womb) surrounds each seed making each pip the actual fruit and not the berry itself. In the triptych both the strawberry and the lips are equally presented." The seeds therefore are potential; fruition is possible. Seeds from one womb, in a manner of speaking, to be grown in the fertile matrix of another, in this case, the imagination of the artist. For all that significance, the triptych remains both sensual and funny.

Another triptych is named Quonset Hut. Adamo Macri presents his face, not directly staring outward, although in the first of the series he seems to be peering at a slant at his viewers, his head covered with a black cowl. He wears his signature dark-rimmed glasses in two pictures, eyes open, removes them in the third, eyes closed. In each he holds his head at a slightly different angle, in the last especially his head and eyes are cast down as if in a private moment of prayer or reverie. Aside from the rounded effect of the cowl which may suggest the shape of the Quonset hut and perhaps the red and seemingly metallic blue colouring of the background, what is there to justify calling this particularly intriguing set Quonset Hut? Nothing, really, for again, Macri is playing with the relationship between images and words. The words almost compel viewers to perceive the shape of the head in terms of the Quonset and yet the portrait has little to do with those hollow and empty shells, often used in the military, now as workshops and garages.

There is something decidedly monkish about the appearance. The eyes are as important as the quasi-Grecian cowl which reminds me of what a blind prophet might wear to the Acropolis on a windy day in ancient Athens. I don’t make the analogy lightly because I believe Quonset Hut has to do with perception and secrecy, with eyes that turn inward to see what we cannot see. The artist allows us to behold the face, but there is privacy still, a withdrawal, a withholding of the most secret self or desires. The viewer may speculate but cannot enter. What an ironic inversion of Facebook itself with its claim to social networking and publicity in the midst of which Macri the artist creates a most private self eliciting public admiration and the perennial gaze.

As a multi-media artist, Macri does point to an intimate, often beguiling relationship between language and image as several artists do. Consider the Prima Facie (At First Sight) work of John Baldessari. The photo of a person is placed next to many words, thereby compelling the viewer to see or judge the picture in terms of the text. The words change perception and understanding. If a picture is worth a thousand words, as the famous line goes, one word can change the picture. Macri argues that “the title itself becomes an actual element of the visual work, it’s perceived as multimedia in that manner, mediums or media, the text as medium.”

We know that the words of a painting’s title often determine how we initially react to or see a painting. The title may be a statement of obvious content, but after the painting is understood it may point to a larger significance. Obvious examples are J.E.H. MacDonald’s A Tangled Garden, and Emily Carr’s Among the Firs, both titles of which tell us what we are looking at, but they do not necessarily reveal implications, mythological resonance, emotional realities. Even without seeing the picture, anyone unfamiliar with MacDonald’s painting would be accurate in suspecting it has something to do with an overgrown, perhaps wild garden. I don’t wish to diminish the significance of this work as it remains one of my favourites given its subject and execution, but here word and image are virtually identical. One reinforces the other. Barnett Newman’s Voice of Fire, however, is striking because the canvas displays anything but our preconceptions of fire, not to mention the significance of voice. Jean-Paul Riopelle’s Quinze Chevaux Citroën, to name just one of his canvases, is another jarring and arguably tenuous association between title and painting. One can continue this exploration ad infinitum which may well be the point. Macri is alert to the significance of titles and likes to kick start speculation, as he does with Quonset Hut or Beetle of Hectares.

The Profile photographs themselves, a visual précis, provide a protracted display of character and intent, but so much more than what the Facebook word “profile” usually entails. Macri may well be bouncing his images off the meaning of profile and, yes, here he is in a series of profiles, each image offering an interpretation by its pose, and encouraging viewer participation or projection. Bearing in mind that profiles on Facebook are subject to arbitrary change, the image removed without notice, it’s not wise to create an argument about the artistic coherence of this album since pictures that appear here can and do appear elsewhere. The juxtaposition, though, of old portraits with new and the gathering of images from several albums into the Profile section effectively create a new, yet ever-ineluctable statement of intent or artistry which necessarily remains unstable.

The pictures as postcards, as it were, are sent to everyone and everywhere and can be retracted at will, for Macri indeed uses Facebook as a vibrant medium. If the artist insists that he has one face, depicting subtle variations upon a theme, and is not to be viewed in the same light as Lon Chaney, the legendary Man with a Thousand Faces, he is right. As stated in comments about Fortified October, Macri applies theatrical cosmetics to a degree, arranges and adorns his face as if creating a persona without fundamentally violating the structure of his appearance. He adds props or accoutrements like glasses, sunglasses, chains, a mask, a half-mask, but he does not disfigure or transmogrify his face to correspond with whatever character he happens to be playing. In that sense his face is one face.

He encourages viewers to think about the face, however, and slyly alters his look, draws attention to the interaction of light and reflections in the lens of his glasses, his eyes are visible, then hidden. His looking or his regard is oblique, peering off to a corner, glancing away as if seeing something we do not immediately apprehend. Animalistic masks like the ones in Fortified October acquire a symbolic function, pointing to irrational elements of personality, a kinship between human and beast. Gender blending or manipulation, masculine, feminine, androgynous: the terms are without significance, really, as Macri engages in new transmutations of his face, shifting into other faces while remaining himself.

He presents a visage severe and angular, features highlighted by cosmetics like a character in a stage play or a face showing all the concentrated restraint and control of a dancer in a modern dance company. In contrast he appears as potentially rough like an unshaven, insouciant worker on a construction site. He becomes an elusive idol behind sunglasses, or an alleged criminal in mug shots, the celebrity hiding his eyes behind white bands to protect his identity which the public already knows, the public face that is: the actor attempting disguise in the midst of public exposure and acclaim. In one of our conversations, Macri reveals his deep concern with “conceptualizing, creating by the use of the webcam and face, the restrictions imposed, the subtleties and nuances, how every detail constructs narrative, metaphors and symbolism.”

To illustrate, interspersed among the faces is another, other-worldly face as if it has emerged fully-developed from a womb, a prop similar to a rooster’s comb, a kind of organic growth extruding from his brain, his body seemingly breaking out of a womb-like substance, an image that appears elsewhere in Macri’s art. Remarkably, it’s one of the few images wherein the eyes confront the viewer directly, and it’s also important to point out the face is not Macri’s, but a model’s, a staged presence and/or appearance amidst the pictures of the artist himself. It’s a face connected with a mysterious narrative, the carefully selected details supporting a symbolic story. The headdress and womb-like background indicate Macri’s fascination with organic growth and its interfacing with the human and non-organic world. The bizarre or outré settles in, despite the initially jarring effect, naturally with the mundane. In one or two photos, for example, the artist wears a baseball cap which echoes both childhood play and contemporary male sports and camaraderie.

Like any Facebook profile, Macri’s Facebook faces can be dismantled, re-arranged, deleted or extended. Each singular photograph is part of a larger, never-to-be completed series of provocative albums, thereby changing the collection, reminding viewers of the intangibility of the portraits, of the essential unknowability of the man behind the face. The artist now possesses the freedom to manipulate his face whimsically, suddenly, just as the rest of us add and subtract and rearrange our own photos. The entire project could disappear overnight as if purloined by art thieves, or self-effaced.

That being said, clearly Macri’s artistic vision is fed by the profound revolution in technology and communication. Again, speaking with the author, Macri has expressed his view that “the general public and the younger generation aren’t all consciously aware of change and its impact. We are forced to adapt so quickly, it’s difficult to get a bird’s eye-view analysis of our behaviour and the manner in which we operate versus how things used to be, how this relates to art practice, publishing a 'visual journal' mapping out our lives, through the act of portraiture and how easy it has become my work.” In this instance, given the nature of Facebook, the artist is creator, manipulator, curator and thief, if he so chooses, of his multiple images, of his mapping in the illusory geography of cyberspace. And that is at least as challenging and complex as self-portraits framed and hanging on a wall.

Kenneth Radu has published books of fiction, poetry and non-fiction, including The Cost of Living, shortlisted for the Governor General's Award. His collection of stories A Private Performance and his first novel Distant Relations both received the Quebec Writers' Federation Award for best English-language fiction. He is also the author of the novel Flesh and Blood (HarperCollins Canada), Sex in Russia: New & Selected Stories, and Earthbound (DC Books Canada).

Facing the Faces: the Facebook Self-portraits of Adamo Macri
Essay by Kenneth RaduApril 2011
YouTube audio link