Wandering the Wastelands of Facebook

Cover of Gary Deirmendjian, ‘A Prevailing Sense of Disquiet,’ Hardie Grant Books, 2020, Melbourne.

This essay was written in 2018 and has since been published in the book: Gary Deirmendjian, A Prevailing Sense of Disquiet, Hardie Grant Books, 2020, Melbourne.

Wandering the Wastelands of Facebook
by Tracey Clement

While I wouldn’t call myself a Luddite exactly, when it comes to technology, I am certainly not an early adopter. By the time I got my first smart phone I was old enough to be a trailer-trash great grandma. And I only joined Facebook in February 2016, almost a dozen years to the day after it was launched.

After less than two years, in January of 2018, I totally got the shits with Facebook and I stopped following almost all of the actual people I know. I simply could not bear the endless bragging – all those perfect partners, perky cats, sexy careers, and hipster meals– for one second longer. I was disenchanted, but I shouldn’t have been surprised. After all, if not exactly custom-built for it, Facebook is nevertheless the ideal platform for a continuous virtual pissing contest in which everyone competes to have (or to appear to have) the best something…

And artists are the absolute worst. (I do not exempt myself. I am as guilty as the next of shamelessly self-promoting my latest show, article or win.) Anyway, using their secret ‘unfollow’ function (which allows you to get rid of someone without them knowing that you’ve done it) I ruthlessly pruned until pretty much all that was left in my FB feed was Art Guide (where I work), The Guardian, The New Yorker, and Gary Deirmendjian.

Suddenly Facebook was awesome! I was on top of world news, I got to read great articles, and Deirmendjian provided a welcome chance to see the world through the idiosyncratic eyes of a restless artist. His FB posts are a window onto Sydney as he sees it on his seemingly endless wanderings. Deirmendjian is one of the very few artists who is actually using Facebook as a medium, making the most of its largely untapped potential as a creative outlet, rather than as a propaganda machine. His whimsical, intriguing and oblique photographs are little visual haikus accompanied by witty bursts of text: a rare treat, delivered daily.

During that long hot summer of my discontent, Deirmendjian brought a smile to my face with a zigzag on the pavement transformed into an asphalt snake by his observation, “the serpent cometh…” Here Deirmendjian performed a kind of alchemy, no less miraculous for being fleeting. Other favourites from early 2018 included an image of one of those disposable yellow bikes all mangled and melted with a note wondering if Dali had predicted global warming; a philosophical tree portrait “hampered by the constraints of one’s own roots …”; an air conditioning duct dribbling in the street labelled “drivel”; and, perfectly capturing the mood of Sydney oppressed by the firm wet grasp of relentless heat and humidity, an image of the city titled “into the furnace…”

Gary Deirmendjian is the best kind of Facebook friend, the kind only FB can offer: a clever and entertaining stranger. Sometime in April 2018, just after I finally met Deirmendjian face-to face for the first time, I had to re-follow all my real-world acquaintances. Things can get awkward in a culture in which you are somehow supposed to know that someone has just been to Uzbekistan, or won a major prize, or had a baby, without actually having spoken to them in months. But Deirmendjian, who I still don’t really know, is still my favourite FB friend, the one whose posts I most look forward to. As his hashtags indicate, he really is a flaneur, an urban nomad, an observer of the incidental, a wanderer and a wonderer. Long may he roam both the streets of Sydney and the wastelands of Facebook.

Tracey Clement is an artist and arts writer living in Sydney. She is an Editor at Art Guide Australia and she shamelessly promotes her own work on Facebook.