Ever take a look at your Facebook friend list and wonder ‘how many of these people are actually my friends?” Well, artist Tanja Hollander did, and after thinking about if for a while, she decided to find out the answer to that question by visiting all of her 626 Facebook friends. She documented the experience in an epic 5-year-long project called “Are You Really My Friend?”
It all started on New Year’s Eve 2010, when, after conversing with some of her online friends, Maine-based artist Tanja Hollander stared wondering what her relationship with all the people in her Facebook list was. She asked herself if friendships formed online were as real as offline ones and if many of her “friends” were actually just acquaintances. “Am I really friends with all these people?” Tanja told herself, and she immediately knew she had to find out.The plan was pretty straightforward, she had to go visit all her 626 of her Facebook friends, spend time with them, and take photographs of them for an art project. She ended up traveling an average two weeks per month, for a period of five years, but she actually managed to visit all the people in her friends list, documenting every encounter on her Facebook and Instagram accounts
When her epic journey ended, in 2016, Tanja Hollander had visited four continents, 12 countries, 43 U.S. states and had been welcomed in over 400 homes. Most importantly, she had found the answer to the question that started it all.
“One thing is for certain,” the artist told Upworthy. “There isn’t a difference between online friendships and offline friendships. It’s something that weaves in and out of everything we do, from work to friendship — everything, literally. There are some people that I see in person more often than friends that exist only online, but that doesn’t mean I’m closer to the people I see every day. Social media is just a different way of communicating.”
Speaking with Aplus, Hollander said that “Are You Really My Friend?” proved to be a way to create a very intimate experience with people that otherwise feel like they only exist in a virtual reality. As for photographing her friends in their own homes and often staying with them, the artist claims that it brought her closer to them in a way that most people will never experience with all of their Facebook friends.
“I feel connected to all the pictures on a different level than just friendship, they are part of this giant social experiment and art piece I made,” Hollander said. “That’s maybe hard to explain. I think there are friendships that are important at various times in our life, and that’s OK. There doesn’t need to be a hierarchy like there was in 6th grade.”
The epic art project also became the subject of a documentary which was successfully crowdfunded on Kickstarter earlier this year. It consists of footage shot by Tanja Hollander during her 5 years of globetrotting, not knowing what she should do with it. “Are You Really My Friend?”, the documentary was officially released on March 18.