If you’ve been following the joint Pronunciation Book/ @Horse_eBooks art project announcement, then you know about its new ARG component, Bear Sterns Bravo. You probably noticed the address at the very bottom of the site for “Bravospam.” It happens to be six blocks away from our office, so we stopped by — and lived to tell about it.
The Fitzroy Gallery at 195 Chrystie Street is an incredibly tiny hole-in-the-wall art exhibition space, which are more common here in New York than you’d think. For today’s performance the windows are covered in white blinds, and the only indicators that you’ve come to the right place are the little “Bravospam” sign, above, and this:
Oh, great. That’s not foreboding at all!
Once you walk in, there are two rooms — one in which a number of projectors are playing 9-minute “spam loop” videos against black walls. There’s also a well-dressed guy in a very nice suit who’s overseeing this part of the exhibit while holding an ipad. If you sheepishly wave at him, then he will probably wave back.
There are four projection pieces in total, each numbered 1 through 4; most of them appear to be made up of clips of people staring creepily into the camera, including this redheaded guy (Update: the ARG character’s name is Henri):
He basically looks just like that, as a matter of fact, but without the girl next to him. Susan Orlean, the reporter from The New Yorker who first broke the story, also shows up in one of the videos; the dark haired woman from the reveal video appears in another. And then some iteration of the Tomorrow-Head guy that everyone discovered in the 77 Days crowdsource project showed up, too (if you try to access a mobile version of the Bear Sterns Bravo site, he appears there as well):
Update: apparently the Tomorrow Head guy is Jackie Dalton, the fake CEO of Bear Stearns in the ARG:
Beyond the projections is another room with a single white wall, against which is a desk covered in papers and phones. Here, Jacob Bakkila, the creative director at Buzzfeed who took control of @horse_ebooks back in September 2011, sits answering a phone with tweets from the now infamous feed.
When I was there, it was just Bakkila and me and another handler in the room, so I felt weird about holding up my phone to capture the event. Silly me, of course that’s what they want you to do! Someone braver than I managed to take a Vine earlier in the day of both Bakkila and another guy (Bender?) performing together, so you can see it for yourself:
It occurred to me while watching that Bakkila also sounds ominously like the Pronunciation Book guy, too, though that doesn’t necessarily mean that he supplied the voice for the channel. It’s not outside the realm of possibility, of course, but it’s more likely that Bakkila was trying to emulate an already existing performance.
It wasn’t until I left the back room and started to make my way towards the exit that I noticed this explanation propped up against the window — I’m guessing that’s done on purpose to make you take in all the absurdity first before you figure out just what the heck is going on.
This I managed to capture in a picture, but the guy in the suit was looking at me the whole time and I felt real weird about it. It reads as follows:
We are influenced by data.
On September 14, 2011, Jacob Bakkila began the conceptual art installation Horse_ebooks. He has since performed, in secret, as a spambot on the social network Twitter, posting a piece of spam roughly every two hours for 72 days. Each spam fragment is recycled information: an often-incomplete snipped of text drawn from a previously published work, occasionally including a link to a website selling low-quality self-help books. The installation is available on the internet at twitter.com/horse_ebooks.
In the back gallery is the performance art piece Horse_ebooks 2. A phone number has been shared online, inviting the world to call and recieve spam messages similar to those posted in the installation.
In the front gallery art the video art pieces Spam Loops 1-4. The Loops depict people waiting to be spoken to. They extend the moment of conversation between statement and response.
Jacob Bakkila and Thomas Bender
Executive Producer Seena Jon
Software Developer Jamie Niemask
I’ll admit, I forgot about the number until just that second, so of course I immediately ran outside to call it and see what happened. After more rings than usual, I got Bakkila — he picked up, immediately started to talk (It started “An evening will suffice you to expect…” but he was speaking too quickly for me to get the rest), and hang up just as I’d seen him do in the back gallery. In fact, I swear I could hear the phone ringing on his desk from outside.
The number, by the way, is (213)-444-0102. I recommend you call it. When else are you going to get the chance to have a piece of the Internet speak directly to you with an actual human mouth?
Yeah, that feels about right.
Meanwhile in related links
- If you missed the original reveal, check it out here
- Man, we were so wrong with that Battlestar thing
- Our own in-house theory was pretty wrong, too