“Figment” – the Warhol Grave Cam

For the sake of full disclosure, I must admit that I have never been a rabid connoisseur of Andy Warhol’s work or any of its accompanying philosophies. I recognize and appreciate his status as a 20th Century master, second only in popularity, perhaps, to that other Modernist giant, Picasso.  Sure, as a young teenager, Warhol’s brash and colourful canvases, wearing their populist aspirations on their sleeve, are what got me interested in looking at art in the first place. As life unfolded and became increasingly messy and complicated, however, my interest in his peculiar (and particularly unapologetic) method of serving up surface rather than substance began to wane.

Recently however, a curious little project came to my attention and I have not been able to shake its odd magnetism. Entitled Figment, in reference to a quote in which Warhol describes what he would like inscribed on his tombstone, the Warhol Grave Cam, a live 24/7 feed of the late artist’s gravesite , which is located in the St. John the Baptist Byzantine Catholic Cemetery in suburban Pittsburgh, was created by the Andy Warhol Museum to honour what would have been the late artist’s 85th birthday.

Day and night, rain or shine, there it is…and I can’t seem to get enough. Since first glimpsing it back in early August, 2013, I have returned to it on an almost daily basis. As you can imagine, not much happens, yet my compulsion to intermittently tune in remains unabated. People occasionally come and go: young families picnic with their children; a strange-looking shirtless man plays the bagpipes; a vain teenager mugs for the camera then lifts her shirt to briefly expose her breasts; a squirrel desperately tries to drag home one of the many bananas left behind on the site as an offering. (Other popular items include Coke bottles, silver balloons and Campbell’s soup cans).

As a relatively thoughtful person, I have tried to rationalize and articulate my compulsion to tune in. Is it the oddly soothing effect that comes with staring at grass blowing in the wind? The expectation that something might happen coupled with the desire not to miss it? The comfort that comes with knowing that, when you visit, the same thing (more or less) will always be there? It’s hard to say for sure. It’s most likely all of those things. Would a lobby cam in a random apartment building have the same effect? I suppose, to a degree. But, obviously, a world-famous artist’s connection to the site adds that extra dimension of layering and meaning. And, it even has the same feel as some of his most well-known films; Empire (1964) is a good example. When you come to think of it, the grave cam seems like the ultimate last work by Warhol, an artist whose entire canon seemed to celebrate mute detachment, mind-numbing repetition and the elevation of banality over all else.