Artist Leif Harmsen is a painter and a director of short films. He attended the University of Toronto, graduated from Concordia University with art and art history honours, with a minor in creative writing, and achieved an MA in computer applications for art and art history at Birkbeck College, University of London, UK.
The following is a short interview with him on the subject of art censorship and his movement and educational campaign "Shut Your Facebook."
Kate- Please describe your artwork.
Leif- Interdisciplinary, project based, occasionally collaborative and performative. Recently working on a series of large oil paintingsthat are as much abstract colour field as they are figurative, as digital as they are oil paint on canvas, as much photographs as they are paintings, and as sexual as they are academic. You'd have to see to understand how that's all possible.
Kate- Describe the particular piece that precipitated the censorship.
Leif- I'm not sure. Facebook said they removed a picture, (or was it pictures?) but didn't say why or which one(s), and warned me that if I did whatever I did again they would remove my account or some such threat. But I could not comply, because they refused to discuss anything. They referred to "terms" that were impossibly vague. I think the most specific word they used was "explicit" which means nothing at all on it's own, or anything you imagine you want it to mean. So I could not speculate. To be on the safe side I would have to remove everything, in which case why bother with Facebook at all? Besides, I have my own website and my own contact list of people with their actual email addresses, so Facebook was just in the way and sticking it's nose in where it wasn't welcome anyway.
Kate- What was the end result? Did you get an apology? Has it affected your artwork in any way? Did you feel a lot of public support?
Leif- No. Most people didn't care and while it didn't change what artwork I'm doing, it added slightly to it's meaning given that it is already in part about censorship and personal digital communication. Others agreed with me but still felt they were getting something from Facebook, what I'm not sure. I ask, and never get a satisfactory answer. A few said, shit, you're right, and shut Facebook for good too. I am sure everyone who subscribes to Facebook would succeed better if they got their own website and used email and the telephone instead. Facebook is an endless mess. Other means of communication are far more purposeful and discreet, and ultimately more efficient and not particularly prone to censorship, coercion, abuse, identity theft and breaches of privacy. Facebook.com really is just one website, and it belongs to just one company, and that company is not your friend.
To expect an apology from Facebook is as laughable as it would be useless. Facebook can apologise all it likes but it's not going to give you the control and responsibility that you would have with your own domain name, and require to have any dignity online. Nor will Facebook stop abusing it's punters for profit. It's not your Facebook profile, it's Facebook's profile about you. They control it, so it isn't really "censorship" because facebook.com is entirely their website, not yours. Just like harmsen.net is my website, and is under my control alone. I might let you post something on my website, but that's my perogative and it would be my perogative if I were to remove it too. You control nothing on Facebook, not even your own identity. That is not a matter of opinion, it's a matter of fact. Facebook cheapens you.
Kate- Tell me more about your campaign "Shut Your Facebook."
Leif- Perogative and control are misplaced on Facebook and the like. In as much as our culture is established on Facebook, Facebook owns and controls it. You wouldn't holiday in North Korea, so why waste time on Facebook? "Shut Your Facebook" is the tip of the iceburg of a larger educational campaign to inform people of why there's a serious problem regarding ownership with Facebook and the like, so that they can learn to use the internet sensibly and protect their own interests, (such as freedom of expression,) same as they might with other forms of property like housing.
Ask yourself whose name it is in, be it a ballot, a bank account, a degree, a property or an internet domain. If it is on facebook.com, it is in Facebook's name. The fact that your name appears on a page, as though it were something that belonged to you, is a fraud. The fact that Facebook uses language such as "your profile" when it is not at all yours, is fraudulent too. They might say it comes down to semantics; fraud always does. The solution? Don't buy into it. Shut your Facebook.
A blog on art, roller derby and life.
I'm an artist and mother of two in Courtenay, BC. I've completed a project called the "Madonna and Child Project," and I'm now working on a series of roller derby inspired drawings. In my spare time I play roller derby with the Brick House Betties.