Facebook Hacks, Chats, and the infiltration of Teens in My Life
Over the past two years of working with Mammalian Diving Reflex, most of my social life has been spent hanging out with the Torontonians[i], a group of youth based in Parkdale, an underserved neighborhood in Toronto. Our recent collaborations include monthly dance parties in the neighborhood, a teen residency at the art-centric Gladstone Hotel, and a few pop-up performances for the Art Gallery of Ontario. But most of the time, we usually hang out in the office (our shared space), go for a bite, do homework together, or walk around the neighborhood for hours.
My relationship with the youth is not entirely unique: I am part of a larger network of ‘adult friends’ made up of connections in the arts community that the Torontonians have garnered over the course of five years collaborating with Mammalian. Whatever we do and who ever we work with, we go at lengths to foreground the Torontonians as our collaborators, friends, and peers in an effort to spark intergenerational friendships between art professionals and the teens. This is one of Mammalian’s core principles as a means of lending social capital within the city’s often-exclusionary cultural industry.
As part my practice, the teens and I aren’t just work colleagues: they’ve become some of my closest friends over the years. A motely crew of about 10 youth, Chozin Tenzin, Sanjay Ratnan, Nerupa Somasale, Virginia Antonipillai, Kiam Liam Bellisimo, Ahash Jeeva, Isabel Ahat, Dana Lui, and Kathy Vuu, they do not only occupy my attention at work, they have infiltrate my life, dominating many of my social channels of communication (text messages, email, online chats). Facebook is a telling indicator of the extent to which they have become a part of my own social identity. Between the hours of 6pm – 10pm, I am usually on Facebook chat, exchanging phatic gestures with a few of the youth, often in the form of random emoticons, rants, or fart jokes.
In the first year of working with youth, a series of bawdy Facebook status-hacks, unmistakably the handiwork of the teens, attracted more ‘likes’ and comments from my friends than my own status updates. The hacks made such an impression that their proximity to me extended offline and into conversations between myself, my roommate, boyfriend, sister, and close friends––who began to ask questions about them. Over the course of our various collaborations, my Facebook platform is now concentrated with photos, comments, and activity related to the Torontonians. This abundance of activity is slowly acclimatizing the audience of my Facebook profile who are beginning to understand the Torontonians less as “teens first” per se, but as my equals, members of an art collective, and most importantly, as my friends.
[i] In 2010, 14-year-old teen and former Mammalian collaborator, Sanjay Ratnan, approached Mammaliann Diving Reflex requesting artistic programming for young people in Parkdale. In response, we formed a collective called The Torontonians, a group of youth we have worked with in the neighbourhood ever since to create performance, video and other cultural products, devise mentorship programs, and build a network of artists, arts organizations and young people across the city. Visit their blog here.
About the contributor: Annie Wong is an artist, arts educator, and writer. Her work is conceptually diverse and explores various practices such as experimental pedagogy, endurance as performance, and relational aesthetics. She holds a BA in English Literature and a Master’s Degree in Communication and Culture from York University. She is currently the Young Mammals Director of Mammalian Diving Reflex and collaborates with young people to create socially engaged art. For more information, please visit: mammalian.ca