American Live Artist Brian Lobel Questions Why Purging Your Facebook Friends Is Art

Can one’s own life be used as a space for performance?

UK-based “live artist” Brian Lobel sure had and is still doing so! In an exploration of how we interact with digital media, the American has spent 50 hours giving strangers a minute each to decide which of his 1300 Facebook friends to keep or delete. Aptly named “Purge”, the performance will be part of NUS Arts Festival 2016, Wonder.

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Curious as to what friendship means in this age of technology and convenience, we find out from the man himself about the “selfie movement”, nuclear weapons, as well as how the Internet behaves pretty much like an ex-lover.


Popspoken: Hi Brian. On your performance; why Facebook and not any other social media platforms?

Brian Lobel: Facebook is the social network I use the most. The performance is not an advertisement for Facebook, nor is it a critique, but I am fascinated by the word “FRIEND” and this is used by Facebook in different ways than Twitter or Instagram etc. “Purge” explores what it means to be a friend, versus what it means to be a follower.

What’s your relationship with Facebook like?

BL: I use it all the time, as many do. I’m not so big with other apps, or networks, and I really hope people don’t move away from Facebook, just because then I’ll need to re-organise my friendship group… For me, Facebook is part of life, I don’t distinguish (often) real-life friends from friends I connect with online.

Facebook is also where I connect with my political self, it’s where I follow news, it’s where I learn where my friends are. It’s like a big collective brain and memory deposit box. Sometimes this is overwhelming and scary (some things and some people we are meant to forget and disconnect with) and this is what I’m fascinated by.

I am so thankful for digital technology, especially those that help me see my friends and nephews and nieces from afar. I still miss hugs from my loved ones, but I’m so happy I have this in-between with them.

“Purge” Logo By Mamoru Iriguchi

What body gesture would you think best encompasses friendship?

BL: Sharing silence, sitting together not saying anything. Laying on a bed together and watching a TV show. For me, it is doing nothing with someone that is the sign that you really love them.

If one physical movement is able to cross time and space through the Internet to reach another person across the world, what movement do you think it should be? Why?

BL: All of my nieces and nephews are learning to read right now… and ALL I WANT TO DO IS GIVE THEM HIGH FIVES! I really wish I could stick my hand out when they read a big word. This I miss.

If the Internet was a person, what would you think he/she would look like? And how would he/she move?

BL: The Internet is like an ex that you’re trying to be friends with. It can be lovely and intimate… but also filled with traps, and viruses, and breakdowns, and malfunctions.


What are your thoughts on the selfie movement gaining hype in recent years?

BL: I hate selfies! And because I’m tall and long-armed, I’m always responsible for them. I need to get/am afraid of getting a selfie stick. I’m in love with the fact that last year had more selfie-related deaths than shark attacks… WE ARE KILLING OURSELVES BY LOOKING TOO MUCH AT OURSELVES. I also miss asking strangers to take my picture, that is a nice way to connect with people.

Do you believe that life can be entirely digitalised in the near future?

BL: I think we’re already there, aren’t we?

If you are able to make a choice to remove one scientific invention, be it machinery, medicine or whatever, what would it be?

BL: Nuclear weapons and drones. I curse the day people started fighting people with anything other than fists and swords. Technology is beautiful and important and life-changing and amazing…. I am so sad when great minds are used to figure out new ways to kill others.

Tell us about your dream project in your career as an artist, teacher and a fellow human-being.

BL: I have so many projects I’m dreaming about (and working on at the moment). I have a very strong desire to create performances with my family members at the moment, mostly so we can tour together… Or a performance which I give around a table over a Korean BBQ grill – I’m just learning how to make great marinades, and I find eating together to be incredibly intimate and fun and I think that this activity has the potential for a lot of art making.



As part of WONDER: the NUS Arts Festival 2016
Date: 24 – 25 March 2016
Time: 8PM
Venue: Yale-NUS Performance Hall
Admission: $25


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