Artists Turn GoFundMe Comments Into A 'Get Well Soon!' Card For A Sick System

Sep 29, 2020
Originally published on September 29, 2020 12:53 pm

The popular crowdsourcing site GoFundMe is a go-to place to appeal for help with rent, medicine, child care and favorite causes. Along with donations, supporters leave comments ranging from "Can't wait for you to have the glasses you need!" to "Best of everything big guy," to simply "Get well soon!"

Artists Sam Lavigne and Tega Brain have turned those well wishes into an artwork called Get Well Soon! It consists of more than 200,000 comments scraped from GoFundMe and arranged alphabetically in relentless rows of hope, cheer and sympathy.

There's a feeling of overwhelming sadness. We're thinking about it as an archive of well wishes, but an archive that shouldn't exist, that exists because of a terrible structural inequality that we all face. - Sam Lavigne

The work was commissioned by Chronus Art Center in Shanghai, Art Center Nabi in Seoul and the New Museum in New York, just before the coronavirus permeated public consciousness.

Many of the comments are admittedly generic, but each functions as a window into an individual world of struggle. "I think what stands out as you read more and more, is there's a feeling of overwhelming sadness," Lavigne observes. "We're thinking about it as an archive of well wishes, but an archive that shouldn't exist, that exists because of a terrible structural inequality that we all face."

Co-creator Tega Brain adds, "What sort of dystopia has produced this type of system?"

She says Get Well Soon! reflects a system in which people's experiences become content, content becomes intellectual property and privacy is up for grabs.

Artist duo Sam Lavigne and Tega Brain, who created Get Well Soon! earlier this year.
Hannah Jayanti / Sam Lavigne

"Companies like Google and Facebook were literally founded by scraping information off websites," she notes. What else are we giving up, she wonders, when stories of hardship and resilience become part of a for-profit company's revenue stream?

Since GoFundMe was founded a decade ago, it has made hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue while raising more than $9 billion for various needs and causes.

Still, says Lavigne, "We're never going to donate our way out of a health crisis. We're never going to donate our way out of a housing or employment crisis. And yet we're constantly asked to do that."

Get Well Soon! is meant to be a get well e-card of sorts, he adds, to a sick and dysfunctional system.

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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

These days, the crowdfunding site GoFundMe is full of appeals for help with rent, medicine and child care. Along with donations, supporters can leave comments like these.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Best of everything, big guy.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Best of everything and many prayers your way.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Best of health to your baby.

MARTIN: A couple of artists decided to use the comments on GoFundMe as raw material for a work of art. NPR's Neda Ulaby has more.

NEDA ULABY, BYLINE: This online artwork is called "Get Well Soon!" It's more than 200,000 comments arranged in tight alphabetical rows of hope, cheer and sympathy. So much data, so few words.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: Best of luck.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: Best of good luck.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Best of luck and good luck in finding your cure.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #6: Best of luck. And, hopefully, this nightmare time will be over soon.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #7: Best of luck. Stay strong.

ULABY: Yes, they're generic, says artist Sam Lavigne, who's one of the works creators.

SAM LAVIGNE: But I think what stands out is as you read more and more of them and you kind of read them all together, there's a feeling of - for me at least, a feeling of overwhelming sadness.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Can't wait for you to come back cancer-free.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #8: Can't wait for you to come home, and we can all hang out again. We miss you.

ULABY: Each comment is a window, he says, into someone's struggle, loss or love.

LAVIGNE: We're thinking about it as an archive of well wishes but an archive that shouldn't exist, that exists because of a terrible structural inequality that we all face.

TEGA BRAIN: What sort of dystopia (laughter) has produced this type of system?

ULABY: "Get Well Soon!'s" co-creator, Tega Brain, says this artwork reflects a system where human experience becomes content. Content is intellectual property. And privacy is up for grabs, as it has been for many years.

BRAIN: Companies like Google and Facebook were literally founded on scraping information off websites.

ULABY: So that's what these artists did. They scraped GoFundMe for these comments to comment on how the Internet currently works, with data scraping spun into the social media that underpins so much of what we do.

BRAIN: As a practice, I think this is something that we absolutely need to be thinking through and how it commodifies things like experience or, like, communication and what that means.

ULABY: Since it was founded more than a decade ago, GoFundMe has made hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue while raising more than 9 billion for things people need, like wheelchairs and operations. But, says artist Sam Lavigne...

LAVIGNE: We're never going to donate our way out of a health care crisis. We're never going to donate our way out of the housing crisis or unemployment crisis. And yet we're constantly being asked to do that.

ULABY: This artwork is a get-well card of sorts, he says, to a sick and dysfunctional system.

Neda Ulaby, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.