Broadway & Spring St, New York, NY 10012

Neighborhood: SoHo

“I want to crawl head first into a small cave and curl up into a fetal position.”
-From Tanya Corrin’s journal, February 7, 2001

Tanya Corrin and I are having brunch in Little Italy and discussing reality TV shows like ‘Survivor’ and ‘The Real World.’ She’s saying that she doesn’t think that they’re real at all, that they’re almost comletely insincere, manipulated even. “I think what we did is much more real than ‘Temptation Island’,” she says.

“Temptation Island, forget about it,” I reply.

She says she stopped watching after the first episode, and asks me if I had kept watching. I admit that I started in the middle and watched till the end, to which she excitedly demands to know how it all turned out.

“The end was crazy,” I say, “you totally thought these couples were ill-suited for one another in the first place. There’s no point in feeling sorry for them anyway because the idea was that people stupid enough to…subject themselves to this…(Tanya says this part in unison with me) deserve to break up and be laughed at.”

She chuckles for a moment, and then pauses, and then says, “Wait…wait a minute, what you just said applies to Josh and I!”

She starts laughing again, tentatively at first, and then picks up momentum. Her laughter is infectious and I can’t help joining her, in part because her comment is my favorite combination of razor sharp and self-mocking, and in part because I’m slightly embarrassed for her.

We laugh together for a few more prolonged minutes, and then Tanya speaks again and I try to compose myself.

“It’s true,” she says, “we subjected ourselves to 32 cameras. In the throes of a four year relationship, we subjected ourselves to viewers, we broke up, and I don’t think we’re getting back together. And I think people are making fun of us.”

“At night when you lie helpless on the bed little hands reach out of the lens and attach strings to your soul.” – From Tanya Corrin’s journal, February 7, 2001

The 32 cameras Tanya Corrin is referring to constitute the We Live In Public Experiment, an artistic installation/ internet venture/ sociological investigation which has granted her a minor celebrity status in some media circles. The Experiment is, or was, (depending on how vitally you view Tanya’s involvement) composed of: Tanya Corrin; her currently ex-boyfriend, internet entrepreneur Josh Harris; 32 cameras; and a 4000 sq. ft. Soho loft.

For a 100 days, Josh and Tanya were to live in an entirely public environment where cameras and audio recorders were trained on them and their cats for 24 hours a day. The footage was streamed live and unedited onto their website, where the viewer could choose which camera and perspective he or she would like to explore.

Josh had high hopes for the Experiment when it was introduced, writing in a statement to the New York Post late last year: “Generations of future New Yorkers will be able to see how we live at the turn of the millennium. The We Live in Public Experiment archives our daily life in the world’s most important city at the dawn of a new era for man. Future generations of intelligent life will use this record of NYC to better understand the time and space that we all now occupy.”

Josh was also quoted as saying that he and Tanya would conceive their first child in public.

As for Josh’s first prophecy, only time will tell. But unfortunately the second did not come to fruition, and instead of having a baby with Harris, Tanya moved out of the loft on Day 78, ending her four-year relationship with him. As she writes in her now notorious New York Observer piece, “Josh would say anything to get attention, even if it meant betraying me. I didn’t know if it was living in cyberspace that has caused him to lose his bearings, but it was too dangerous to stick around.”

The precise reasons behind the breakup are still unclear, even to Tanya and Josh themselves. Tanya comments that, “we became polarized and responded very differently [to the experiment]…Josh pulled away and stopped communicating, and I needed to communicate and really needed to understand and feel comfortable…A lot of people say they’re not surprised that we broke up, but then on the other hand, a really good couple would have bonded, and would have really supported each other and probably created a more powerful relationship.”

Josh is still living in public, even though the 100 days are up, because a licensing agreement promised the technology in the loft to one of the site’s producers through May, and though he’d like to move out, Josh still hasn’t found another place yet.

“I awoke and saw the devil hovering 2 feet over my head. He looked like a little kiddie cartoon, but breathed pure evil through and through.” -from Tanya Corrin’s journal entry dated February 7, 2001

“If I were Josh and I were living there right now, I wouldn’t turn the cameras off either,” Tanya says. “I’m glad to be out of there and I wouldn’t trade it for anything, but you were there, didn’t you experience that heightened sense of reality, you know, aliveness?”

I was there, for a night, at a party thrown by another website, and I’m not sure ‘aliveness’ is exactly the word I’d use to describe it. The experience was memorable, certainly, but memorable more in the way losing your virginity is memorable; you’re glad you only have to go through it once.

Getting into the place was a vaguely Orwellian experience—lots of checkpoints and many security guards, and watching your image move from one closed circuit view screen to the next. My immediate response to the aesthetics of the place was favorable. It was a gorgeous, extremely expensive looking space, complete with light hardwood floors, impossibliy high ceilings, and too much stainless steel kitchen equipment to take in in one view. But it was hard to imagine anyone living there; the place seemed like a movie set, or a futuristic museum installation.

I sat at the Broadway end of the loft for most of the night, a couple of feet below a tiny camera installed in the wall behind me. To my right was a rather large projection screen suspended from tracks along the ceiling, matching the three other screens hanging about 25 feet apart down the length of the room.

I glanced from time to time at the producers and editors, cloistered away in an Oz-like office in the upstairs part of the loft, controlling which images from the 32 cameras would appear on a given screen at a given time. From the vantage point of the blue leather chair I was occupying, I had a clear view two of the four screens, and was able to watch what was going on at the far end of the room, as well as a splice between the scene in the bedroom and the bathroom.

Whenever the bathroom cameras were displayed, a complex wave of excitement moved through the crowd. The giddiness was a combination of the childish amusement of seeing unaware bare asses, but also an uncomfortable vicarious embarrassment for those same bare asses.

To me, the view from the bathroom cam reminded me of being in a car going up a steep hill: seeing more and more of the curvilinear horizon emerge as you move closer to it, until finally you’re atop it. There was also a tiny camera drilled into the toilet bowl, but that was a different story that invariably ended with a flush.

Halfway into the night, a friend I ran into at the party began to express anxiety over her own inevitable visit to the bathroom.

“Stop drinking then,” I told her, but alas, she persisted.

Finally, when she couldn’t hold it any longer, she ordered me to go into the bathroom with her and block the camera while she attended to herself, but at that moment I felt like staying exactly where I was. “Come on!” she whined, practically hopping on one leg.

“No,” I said, “Just go by yourself. If both of us were in there at the same time we’d never know if you were on camera anyway, so it wouldn’t matter if I blocked it or not.”

This logic made perfect sense to me at the time that I said it, probably because I wasn’t the one that had to go.

“But what about the Internet?” she cried.

“Who cares about the Internet!” I replied.

But she continued to beg and plead, and after a few more seconds I took pity on her, and reluctantly gave up my seat to follow her to the bathroom line.

The camera was easy to obscure, I could eclipse the entire lens with my thumb, which is what I did as my back was to the toilet.

Later, at the bar, I remarked to the woman next to me that we could see an image of ourselves projected on the screen on the far end of the loft projected on the screen in front of us.

“It’s all very meta, isn’t it,” she replied as she turned on her heel, and I had to agree.

Tanya is interested in hearing about my experience at the loft, and really the most novel thing I have to report to her is the bathroom fiasco. Being at one isolated party for only a few hours, the internet and its thousands of viewers were never really on my mind. I was more concerned with the insular community of the few hundred people at the loft, and who was seeing what of whom strictly within the room.

“Living in public was like having your home filled with 130,000 strangers and friends, constantly,” Tanya is saying, “and every one of them was asking questions, had needs and demands, you were never alone and you always felt obliged to be doing something,” She said.

“You can go and change, you can use the bathroom, you can fall apart in tears, and everyone will have some perspective of you…people will always have an opinion on what you do, and when you put yourself out there, there will be more opinions.”

“The truth is the truth, whether it’s virtual or real.” -from Tanya Corrin’s journal entry dated February 10, 2001

For someone who only a month ago suffered from a self-described breakdown in front of 130,000 viewers, Tanya Corrin seems to exhibit a preternatural resilience.

She speaks optimistically with a tinge of wistfullness as she finishes her eggs with salmon, speaking on all that she has learned from her experiences.

“I know what it is like to really give up myself and my identity, and now I’m on the outside again and I am finding my identity and myself again, and I know the value of my identity and I won’t be giving it away so easily again.”

When she says this I have to admit I believe her, and as she stares out the window, I ask her about her plans for the future and she can’t stop smiling, her words brimming with confidence.

“Josh feels New York has kind of drained him,” she says very deliberately, “and that the city has lost luster for him. I think I’m just starting to feel the luster, I’m starting to feel it feeding me. I feel like I’m at a launching point, and I understand that power is something you possess. That seems like one of the number one rules of New York. I really think I’ve found a path.”

And on this we are silent, both of us looking out the window now.

I can’t help but feel almost proud of Tanya, even though I’ve just met her today. I feel most people would still be huddling in a dark corner somewhere after going through what Tanya has, but she’s not. She’s here, at this table, wearing a bright orange mohair coat and continuing to reveal herself to me, and to everyone for that matter.

As we’re getting ready to leave, I ask Tanya about her own personal map of New York, the one in her mind, her memory, her emotional landmarks. I ask her what it feels like to walk down the street where she used to live in public.

She pauses for many moments, and when she speaks again, her words are fragmented, broken, and her voice approaches an almost poetic cadence.

“When I walk by I will sometimes look up and I feel this cloud, I experience this static, like TV static, and many voices…air: thick…confusion…questions…many, many questions and not very many answers…answers coming back garbled. And it makes me feel like the air of Broadway and Lower Manhattan is pure and fresh, in comparison. I’m glad I’m not in there. I’m glad I’m breathing this air, rather than that air.”

This image came from, a fan site.

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