Saturday, July 25, 2009

Gallery 2.0


“The work we probably should have seen coming, that was only a matter of time, is Colleen Asper’s seven-by-nine-foot painted replica of the Google search engine page.”

Internet art seems like it should be the ultimate authority on contemporary cyber culture as far as artistic commentary goes. This movement, which operates under a variety of names like net.art, uses the Internet as the intended venue for exhibition, as opposed to works of art that are represented through online documentation as more of an afterthought. Because it has been addressing issues of authenticity related to authorship and appropriation for a while now, I had not expected the non-Internet artworks in Image Search (on view until July 31 at Chelsea’s P·P·O·W Gallery) to strike me as particularly innovative. I was mistaken. The group exhibition, which is about life in the age of the Internet, is very smart. For example, two artists take up the issue of collaborative authorship (or more cynically put, contested authorship): Aids-3D paid an online service in China to produce a painting for the show, and Jason Lazarus similarly made arrangements online for a message to be spray painted on the Palestinian side of the West Bank, which has been documented with a photograph.

At the library, I am currently making lesson plans to encourage the responsible evaluation and use of online images, so the appropriation of images is of special interest to me. Two of my favourite works in Image Search relate to this topic. Christoph Draeger has taken an image from Google Images of the mushroom cloud in Nagasaki and made an enlarged version comprised of a puzzle with the pieces painted a suitably grim black. Its negative space is formed by removed pieces that fragment the image, alluding to pixelation and also to the destruction of nuclear war. Equally impressive is Conrad Ventur’s video of Dolly Parton singing, taken from an anonymous online space. Projected through a rotating crystal, it too is fragmented, resulting in an ethereal image that recalls the unfixed nature of the Internet. It is also reminiscent of the disco-derived aesthetic of photographic images morphing into one another that takes the viewer back to the 1980s era of the footage…that is, for those of us old enough to remember that aesthetic.

The work we probably should have seen coming, that was only a matter of time, is Colleen Asper’s seven-by-nine-foot painted replica of the Google search engine page. Even if it could be argued to be predictable, it nevertheless rings true by highlighting the veneration of Google as the preferred source of knowledge. With the artist’s name wittily entered in the search box, it also serves as a reminder that Google is the ultimate validation of the self, at least if the results are plentiful and favourable. This is an example of appropriation that I will definitely be showing students in library instruction sessions because it taps into our visual culture effectively and also raises contentious issues about copyright. In our library instruction sessions, we definitely don’t skirt around the existence of Google: we use it as a point of reference, as a means of comparison, and even as a complement to the library’s services which are available by subscription only. If I could curate any piece into our exhibition spaces, I think Asper’s painting would be my top choice, as a gesture towards today’s youth about the library being a place of co-existence. I think the student population would absolutely love the painting. To view it, double click on the image in the third row down here. By the way, don’t reset your screen, thinking that you have accidentally been redirected to Google.

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