If you're following St. Petersburg artist Sheree Rensel, aka @wizzlewolf, on Twitter — that's to say, if you've signed up to read her "tweets" or 140-character updates throughout the day — you can pretty much count on receiving a smile-inducing greeting routinely at around 9 a.m. It goes something like this:
"Good morning ART Tweople!"
(For those not already fluent in Twitterspeak, tweople — or tweeple — is a blend of "Twitter" and "people" used to refer to other users of the service. To learn more Twitterisms, consider consulting a twictionary, like the one at twictionary.pbworks.com).
A self-described "hyperactive" early adopter, Rensel has taught visual art to emotionally and developmentally disabled kids at a public school in Gulfport for 17 years, incorporating digital projects like photo portfolios and basic animation into the curriculum when possible. A mixed media artist by practice, Rensel — who describes her age as 50-something — uses Twitter mainly to keep up with other artists whose work she admires.
"I don't want to be one of those ladies that's still talking about Mary Cassatt at the art league," she says.
After beefing up her Twitter presence in April (though she'd initially signed up two years earlier), it dawned on Rensel that she could use the service to collaborate with her followers rather than simply broadcasting messages at them. For instance, why not organize an exhibition of Twitter-based artists? Naturally, she tweeted the idea.
Three months later, Rensel and 23 other artists from around the world (mainly the US but also Canada, the UK and Australia) have banded together loosely to create Twitter: 140. The would-be exhibition features works of art (all wall-mountable) that look to the social networking service for inspiration on several counts. Not only is each participating artist a Twitter user — their works take Twitter as a thematic jumping-off point, too, often integrating language, qwerty symbols and the iconic Twitter bluebird. To boot, no work is larger than 140 square inches, and no artist statement or bio is longer than 140 words.
For Rensel, a Detroit native whose background includes an MFA from Wayne State University and tours of duty as an exhibition coordinator and gallery director, managing the collaborative process online hasn't been any harder — or any easier — than in real life. On a blog created specifically to facilitate the exhibition, she frequently describes her enthusiasm and frustration in passionate terms.
With digital images in hand, Rensel and her group are looking now for exhibition venues. (When a venue is booked, artists will individually mail their work to the gallery, she explains.) With participants in Brooklyn, California, Texas and Arizona, among other locales, Rensel hopes the exhibition will find a respectable home...or two or three. (She's the only Florida-based artist participating.)
"I'm not saying that we're going to be in uptown Manhattan, but on the other hand we're not going to be showing in the back of the laundromat," she says.
For now, Rensel's just relieved that her worst-case scenario didn't come to pass. ("This might be a real flop," she admits thinking at the outset.) Though the artists in Twitter: 140 run the gamut from experienced to emerging, in general the submissions were better than she expected. Only one artist, who was not accepted, sent in a painting of a vase of flowers accompanied by a dubious statement regarding its relationship to Twitter.
What Rensel has learned will surely come in handy during her next project: organizing an exhibition via — you guessed it — Facebook.