Like most of us, my friend Mavi Staiano spends countless hours on Facebook. Stalking the profiles of crushes, leaving lolz comments on friends’ walls, jerking-off to the defaults of hot strangers—this is all normal. We can all relate. Mavi, however, has taken digital stalking a step further. Over the past three months, she collected more than 5,000 images and screen grabs from the Facebook profiles of people all over the world, most of whom she doesn’t know. She spent literally hundreds of hours trolling profiles—friends of friends, friends of friends of friends, and beyond—collecting the images of their lives. She then took these idealized images of youth and printed them on t-shirts, made them into popstar-esque posters, and framed them as if they were her own. The result of her obsession is something both beautiful and creepy, depending on how you look at it.
So Mavi, what exactly is this? Is it art? Is it for fun? Are you just a perv?
Mavi: It’s difficult for me to define. I think of it as curating images. At the start, I was just being a creep and stalking strangers, but not saving any photographs. Then one day I realized how many amazing images I had seen. It made me want to collect them, so I started screen grabbing. At first I didn’t know what I was going to do with the images. That took me a while to figure out.
When you look at all the images together, they have a very youthful, American aesthetic. Would you agree?
Yeah, definitely. The people in the photos are all very clean, fresh, pure and young. When I was little, I thought being American was so cool. Coca-Cola, McDonald’s, Macaulay Culkin—these were the coolest things on Earth to me, probably because they seemed so distant from my actual life. I’m still infatuated by very clichéd American things like road trips, skaters, cowboys, bikers and prisoners.
It’s strange how with Facebook you can essentially curate your life by editing your photos, albums and information so that you appear in a certain way. Is your work a heightened version of that? Does it portray a perfect youth?
It feels like that, doesn’t it? When I look at these images, I think, “Oh my god! I want these photos to be the photos of my youth! I want to be 16 with long beautiful hair and freckles, on a beach with my cool skater boyfriend. Like, obviously!” They are very idealistic and carefree.
I know that you’re a big fan of Richard Prince and his use of reappropriated photography. Do you feel that because you’ve found these images and screen grabbed them, that they’ve become yours?
Yeah, I do. Grouped together the way that they are, these images are my work. Screen grabbing is obviously the photography of our time!
Did you ever feel like you’re invading people’s privacy when looking at the profiles of people you don’t know?
Not really. If you don’t want people who aren’t your friends to look at your profile, you can change your settings to prevent that. I never add the people I stalk.
Why did you choose to display the images on t-shirts and posters?
It’s just the ultimate fan thing, isn’t it? We wear the t-shirts of bands we love, fans of Leonardo DiCaprio wear Titanic t-shirts—this is the same thing. I’m genuinely a fan of all the people in my work. I think being a fan is such a nice thing, and that whenever we think something nice about someone we should say it. It’s a good attitude to have.
Along with the photos, you also screen grabbed bits of digital conversations. What’s the idea behind this?
I’m a bit of a communication freak. Even though I see my friends all the time, we still constantly call each other and email, BBM, g-chat, Facebook, Twitter and so on. So many amazing things get said, but in general these digital conversations are so fast and flippant that we lose and forget about them. I started screen-grabbing bits of conversations that I felt were funny or amazing or relevant in some way, just to keep a record of them.
I was having a conversation with my journalist friend Hanna Hanra recently about how all progression in language is essentially a bastardization of what came before. Our conversations tend to be full of online slang, abbreviations and invented words. In your opinion, are words like lolz, OMG, and Marlon Rando just language moving forward?
Definitely. I think it’s so important to create new words. Everything progresses, so why should language be any different? Words like lolz and mayj might sound silly now, but fad words that stand the test of time eventually become part of our everyday language.