Morgane Billuart at Gianni Manhattan, Vienna

Social media navigation is a game. Was it ever anything but a game? It is now additionally, undoubtedly, a marketplace, and it feels like a form of Stockholm Syndrome to involve oneself with the rigmarole at all. Those who claim not to use social media are becoming few and far between, and this is especially unfeasible for freelancers. Promoting oneself on social media is, indeed, a rite of passage; one utterly saturated in cringe and gritted teeth, but a rite of passage nonetheless. The price we pay for this promotion is not clear, and will vary from person to person. A method I might find to be unbearable, self-aggrandising or cheap, might feel strictly necessary for another independent worker (and vice versa).

Installation view: Morgane Billuart, The Trade, 2024. Short film, 13'58. Gianni Manhattan, Vienna. Image courtesy of the gallery.

These ideas are a starting point for the video work The Trade by Taipei-based artist Morgane Billuart, being shown at Gianni Manhattan in Vienna. It would be a hastily-made conclusion to suggest that the work is dystopian per se, but in it we are thrown into an animated world in the not-too-distant future, whereby viewings of an individual's artwork on social media are earned from viewing the content of another maker. A very balanced transaction. Okay, yes that is dystopian. Ultimately, we are hardened to the reality and possibilities of what social media may become, especially now that it is mostly joyless in its current form. 

The aesthetics of Billuart's film are exquisite and keep the viewer compelled to follow the story. Its animation is crisp and futuristic, in keeping with the presumed time period of the film. When we see Kalla, The Trade's protagonist, accessing the social media platform through which she must consume seemingly endless amounts of content in order to project her own work out to an audience, we see her sitting at a desk in a dark room in an apartment complex. At the mercy of the social media platform, the perspective pans out to many other figures in identical apartments, partaking in identical activities. The lack of facial expressions on each figure is particularly haunting. The sheer solitude of consuming so much content is rarely addressed directly in discussions about why younger generations feel so lonely, isolated and often socially ill-equipped, but Billuart does a sumptuous job of making this social observation abundantly clear.

Still: Morgane Billuart, The Trade, 2024. Short film, 13'58. Image courtesy of the artist.

Any talk of real currency is avoided throughout the short film, whereby the exposure is the main motive for our protagonist, and indeed all the creators. This isn't such an alien concept, given the precarious work offered to young creatives is often unpaid or close enough.

Eerily, the social platform in Billuart's film has a voice, a rather sultry yet authoritative female voice. When Kallas falls behind on watching others' content, which we are reminded she must do in order to showcase her own work, the voice says, "other traders are waiting for you. Please let me know when you're done." When we work and produce content for the algorithm and the platform, the concept that we are doing so for devoted human followers is a way of keeping the content-making machine moving. In this being largely untrue (how many followers would care if a creator stopped posting?), the isolation deepens. Thankfully, we are not at the stage of overly-personified social media platforms (I don't count the current forms of the likes of Alexa and Siri), but this pseudo-personal touch certainly pushes the concepts firmly into the dystopian. 

Meme courtesy of 

Gianni Manhattan, much like several other contemporary art spaces in Vienna, feels like a hidden lair, a clandestine cave in the big city. The space boasts an incredibly sartisfying concrete interior separated into two spaces: the main exhibition gallery and the adjoining KINO, a screening space in which Billuart's film can be found. KINO's cosy and confined area draws the viewer in, especially in the case of The Trade, where an electronic soundtrack can be heard from outside the curtain. Billuart has done something smart with this film; it would be easy to make an uncomplicatedly dystopian, or even simply critical, piece about the state of social media platforms. Many have done that, and it will be a topic of interest for the foreseeable future. But by implementing slick aesthetics and leading with visuals as opposed to a dialogue, we are drawn to witness the effects of increasingly ubiquitous platforms as personal, and something that succeeds in dividing and conquering, whether we use social media as a marketing tool or for leisure. The Trade is a sombre reminder that our time is the sole component of our lives, and we are placing this temporal fabric on the marketplace on a daily basis.

The Trade, an exhibition of work by Morgane Billuart. 26 April - 25 May 2024. Gianni Manhattan, Vienna.

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