The Strange Art World of Craigslist

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Most working artists have day jobs, and the creative class is filled with actor-waiters and poet-copywriters. Working artists also have to be crafty to survive. At Artsy, Scott Indrisek looks at the ways working artists use Craigslist to find materials and subjects. Established in 1995 as an open web bazaar, people still use the spare-looking website for everything from finding used washing machines to kinky sex. Artists have found a particularly welcoming group of people on Craigslist willing to engage in experimental projects, many of them challenging and risqué.

For Cathy (2009), Tam posted a Craigslist ad offering cash to a couple who would let him observe, and film, an ordinary dinner in their home. “It became an odd, uncomfortable evening for me,” he admits, “though Cathy seemed totally fine with it. It was such a strange, strange encounter.”

The resulting video—in which its subjects eat fried chicken and chat while Tam perches on a chair in the background—left him conflicted. “I felt very ashamed of what I had done,” he says. “I couldn’t explain what was happening. And I think that’s part of the work: this uncertainty of what this relationship is, and the feelings of discomfort.”

Tam was making these videos in Los Angeles, and he believes the city’s demographics are what made Craigslist so successful for him. “A lot of the people I was encountering considered themselves actors,” he says. “There’s this surplus labor in L.A. So, despite how strange it was, people there are very familiar with being in front of a camera. People will always think anything could be their break—even this weird art guy showing up at their doorstep.”

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