This Artist Duo Paid a Man $1,000 for His Smartphone Photos—and Turned Them into an Artwork
“PRIVACY IS STUPID,” read a message scrawled on the side of
Eva and Franco have long since established themselves as new media pioneers, turning the technologies we take for granted into tools for artmaking. They’ve also developed a reputation for pushing boundaries and testing the limits of good taste.
Long before disgraced vlogger Logan Paul got into hot water for filming the aftermath of a suicide in Japan, the artists presented No Fun (2010), for which they concocted a faux-hanging on the interactive website ChatRoulette. For Stolen Pieces (1995–97), the duo infiltrated museums to undertake what they termed “a secret art project stealing fifty fragments from masterpieces by famous artists”—like a tuft of material pilfered from
Their latest work doesn’t involve covert invasions of privacy or outright theft, but it’s still a little uncomfortable. Riccardo Uncut (2018)—which debuted on the Whitney Museum of American Art’s website—is a nearly hour-and-a-half-long piece created using private photos and videos from the phone of a stranger named Riccardo. Eva and Franco launched an open call to find someone willing to give up access to such material for $1,000; around 34 people ended up applying.
“I can’t speak for Riccardo—I don’t know what his reasons were—but it’s clear he didn’t do it for the money,” Franco surmised, “in the same way none of us participate in social media for money. We do it for other reasons: narcissism, conformity, loneliness, boredom, fun….”
“We were looking for someone who had taken photos over the last 10 or even 15 years,” Eva added, “ahead of the mass diffusion of social media and smartphones. Riccardo’s photos seemed to represent this specific shift.”
Riccardo Uncut, as its title suggests, includes its subject’s entire phone archive. “All the photos and videos were included; we didn’t remove or edit any of them,” Eva said. “We tried to emulate the pace at which we were swiping Riccardo’s phone, going faster when we found less interesting images, and slowing down when something caught our attention.”
They also provided a looping song to augment the slideshow. “It was in one of Riccardo’s videos,” Eva explained: “A close-up of a dishwasher being unloaded while the amazing voice of Jeanne Moreau sings, in the background, ‘Each man kills the things he loves.’”
Viewers looking for high drama or salaciousness will be fairly disappointed. What we see are photos of family gatherings, vacations, dinners, Venetian gondolas, museums, and picnics. (That said, do skip ahead to the 1:04:18 mark if you want to see a man in his underwear feeding some very adorable baby boars.)
“The unedited archive reveals the nuanced images that weren’t intended for social media—including all of the blurred, mistaken, or crooked moments,” Eva said, “the red eyes and the many iterations of the same photo, taken hoping to get the perfect shot.”
The end result is captivating and confounding in equal measure; the soundtrack adds an elegiac gloss to what might otherwise be totally mundane moments. It’s also a little frustrating: Who is this Riccardo, after all? An ordinary man who travels (a lot), enjoyed the movie Call Me By Your Name, owns an adorable dog, and occasionally frequents drag performances?
Uninitiated audiences might not even register Riccardo Uncut as an artwork at all, since it has so much in common with the sort of personal-memory slideshows regularly generated and served up by Google or Facebook.
Like much of Eva and Franco Mattes’s work, the video is a social experiment as much as an art object. It’s a delicate balancing act. “If you don’t break any rules, your art is probably not viable,” Franco said. “But if you break too many rules, you run the risk of stepping outside of the game altogether.”
Scott Indrisek is Artsy’s Deputy Editor.