Ego-surfing: What Happens When This Artist Searches for Herself on Google

Hadas Hassid goes through the looking glass in this sarcastic exhibition.

Hadas Hassid is searching for herself. Her 
current exhibition, at Julie M. Gallery in Tel Aviv (until May 31), titled “Hadas Hassid,” is one of the finest shows of drawings seen here in quite some time. It’s rife with sarcasm and suffused with intimacy, but also with its opposite – extroversion – and takes the concepts of private and public to their far limits. It’s a conceptual exhibition, but personality-driven, and its foundation is the search engine Google.

The concept itself is simple: Hassid did a search for her name – known as “egosurfing” – and then made colored-pencil drawings of the screens her search produced, creating print-screen transcriptions. The drawings are not displayed in the gallery in chronological order, but according to the order of the results (a drawing of the most popular result, and so on, based on what Google came up with), all of identical size: that of the PC screen. References to previous exhibitions by Hassid, redrawn images of her from the web, sites of legal judgments in which her name appears, reviews of her work, prizes she received and exhibitions in which she took part, all these and more appear in fragmented form, without the complete information, as they are seen on the computer screen, framed by advertisements, logos, banners, links and icons.

The result is a deeply humorous, non-hierarchic 
retrospective of self-creation, an extension of the 
notion of self in the expanses of the Internet, like a 
visual resumé according to the logic of the virtual. The exhibition is entirely a paper-and-pencil affair.

The infantile, utterly basic structure by which the drawing paper becomes a universe is given complex treatment by Hassid. At the bottom of each drawing is the familiar row of icons standing for “Start – Libraries – Explorer – Chrome – Photoshop,” as in a picture by a child, who first marks the earth, grounding the white page. Above is the “Open home page – Close – Restore – Minimize” series, like a skyline. In the space between them lies the world.

Moments of irony abound. The world of content – that of Hassid and that of the Israeli field of art overall – encounters the blind, disinterested violence of “online identity management.” One drawing shows the search itself. It’s a search for “Hadas Hassid” (including the quotation marks), and beneath it are the search results, including “Images for Hadas Hassid” with 
examples of her work. Another drawing depicts a search in Google Images, which includes, alongside her works, her portrait and images of other artists as well. One search turns up a transcript from a court case: “Hassid vs. Ministry of Education / Head Office Et Al.,” before Judge Ido Kafkafi in Ashdod Magistrate’s Court. There are links to art sites and a host of others. It is 
effectively a visual chronicle of empty traces, which contain everything except Hadas Hassid.

Her technique is traditional and classic: meticulous, restrained drawing, which copies and strives for the anatomically precise reproduction of the screen, including all the secondary information, the titles, the icons, the logos, the references and the things you have to click on in order to “really” see them. The self, one’s biography, one’s life’s work are imprisoned in the delimiting aesthetic in the way windows appear.

Together with the self-search under the entry “Hadas Hassid,” we absorb the accompanying panoply of trivia and surplus information, the surrounding distractions and interferences. Juxtaposing them are offers of a Sukkot vacation or a festival, art of a different kind, a laconic description of dates and times, results that 
repeat themselves, deep but truncated interpretation, sometimes stuck in a crass commercial-entertainment context that casts it in a ridiculous light. In short, everything is there but slips by, the self is elusive, melts and blurs within the array of frames that are supposed to structure it. The search for the marvelous is antithetical to Google. On the contrary, in the search that takes place amid “Online vacation,” “Liquidation of huge 
collection of paintings” and “Digital editions for only 4.90 shekels,” the self is completely objectified, 
mediated; it has a consecutive and meaningful virtual representation, and therefore it exists.

There is also a collision between languages: the 
language of art (“Julie M. Gallery is pleased to invite you”); the language of communication (“current show” or “art news”); and computer language (“enter,” “click here”). The different registers generate an ironic 
effect, casting the search itself in a mocking light. Yet another clash is apparent between the aesthetics of Israeli art, its pretensions, and the graphic language of the design of the sites, the logos and the advertisements, and the language of its content. In some cases the disparities are genuinely funny.

The exhibition’s underlying structures reflect a complete forgoing of “privacy policy” or “information 
security” – which is to say, in non-Google terms, that the show is a mental striptease, an exposé of fragile narcissism, defenseless neurosis. But the hand that draws the self, a tradition rife with anxiety and fraught with implications, is tamed and anti-expressive here, imprisoned in a dominating, censoring superego – namely, Google.

Hassid’s mimicry is wonderful. The more she puts pencil to paper in those small, obedient broken lines, like the steps of a foot-bound Chinese noblewoman, the more she deletes herself. The more she deletes, the more she creates a sensitive seismograph that charts her biographical pain. So that in the end, even though the drawings are ostensibly technical in character, 
ego-drained, as though wrought by the precise hand of a Torah scribe, they give expression to a primal roar of “I was here.”