eL Seed's new Zoom collage Art is the shortest path from one human being to another human being (2020) Courtesy of the artist
The artist eL Seed has created a new digital collage using the ubiquitous online video chat platform Zoom, which has surged in popularity following coronavirus lockdowns. Comprised of screen views of 49 participants, the composite image reveals faces from around the world in front of a colourful new print by the artist. It features a quote written in the French-Tunisian artists signature “calligraffiti” style of Arabic lettering by the French novelist and former minister of cultural affairs Georges André Malraux: “Art is the shortest path from one man to another and a bridge between nations”.
“I always say art is a pretext. [With this project I am] more than ever convinced by this statement,” eL Seed says in a statement. “Through art and technology, 49 people from many different countries and backgrounds were united to share a unique moment of humanity.”
Creating the collage raised many technological complications given that chat participants are ordered seemingly at random when displayed in "gallery view" during a Zoom video call. eL Seed says he had to study the logic of the platform to work out where each participant would be placed in the 49-screen layout. He then digitally divvied up the print and sent the apportioned "piece" to each person to use as a virtual background, a function available on Zoom that allows a user to change the background against which they appear to an image of their choosing.
The musical partners Aloe Blacc and Maya Jupiter performed for the participants Courtesy of the artist
Even more complicating, each participant had to be admitted to the Zoom “meeting” in the correct order to ensure the collage would come together. This, paired with varying internet connections of the participants—in locations including China, Pakistan, Tunisia, Italy, the UK, Rwanda and Romania—meant that the final image took over an hour to create.
The artist likens the process to conducting a symphony. “Each person was a single instrument playing a solo. Person by person, I could witness the artwork taking shape," he says. “As the conductor, I just had to synchronise the participants [to] shape the final picture.”
The creation of the work also had a performative element with, eL Seed invited some of the works participants to share songs and dance during the process of orchestrating the work. The US musician Aloe Blacc sang some of his hits including The Man (2013) and Love is the Answer (2013) with accompaniment by his wife and fellow singer Maya Jupiter. Additional performances came from the Dutch dancers Norah, Yarah and Rosa, Instagram stars who have appeared on the Ellen DeGeneres Show.