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, 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.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Gearing up for my first performance

“The performance will be informed by my new understanding of space as a precious commodity in Manhattan. I’ll be counting on people infringing on my personal space so they are close enough to become part of the performance…”

Last week, I took the overnight bus to Toronto and turned around immediately with my husband to renew my employment paperwork for the US and to add him to mine as a frequent visitor. Along the way, we saw graffiti that said “Read more!” repeatedly. The librarian in me smiled, while the rest of me ached for sleep. I’ve been too tired to heed the advice of the graffiti and get any reading done, but I have been plotting an unconventional way to encourage reading: weather permitting, I’ll be doing a performance this week that will prompt unwitting viewers to read my body. To inscribe words on my own body will surely prove as unsettling as being on the receiving end of a stranger's written comments about my body, but it needs to be done to address the injustice of the latter incident (the details of which I won’t dwell on here), plus it’ll relate to my previous cocoon sculptures that address the phenomenon of text-based socialization through baby clothing.

Too tired to read, I’ve indulged in watching my DVD set of the television show, Felicity. The main character, a college freshman played by Keri Russell (who is now a real-life New Yorker) describes Manhattan as a blizzard in which she is but a snowflake. That line makes me think about the difficulty of capturing someone’s attention in New York. It would be a lot easier to do a performance in my hometown where there is less visual stimulation, but I think I’ve found the perfect place to do the performance in New York. It’s actually the same place where I got the idea for the performance, after seeing a woman wearing the same kind of clothing on which I want to comment. I’ve never done a performance; the closest I’ve come is modeling wearable art for photographic documentation. I’m not quite sure how I will gear myself up for it, but I will admit that I’m making this post to ensure accountability. I’ve stated that it will happen, so now I have to go through with it.

As I’m used to thinking of sculpture with a frontal focus, it will be very strange for me to become the sculpture in a sense and to be moving through space. A quotation by Louise Bourgeois that I saw on the week-end at the Dia:Beacon keeps going through my mind even though I can’t remember the continuation of it: “Space is an illusion.” While walking around the top floor of the stunning gallery to view her work, I believed she was right. Moving towards the bench where my husband sat, I perceived a stationary sculpture to be animated as he went in and out of my field of vision. Likewise, from different vantage points, the security guard was eclipsed by a hanging Bourgeois. But I also had a knee-jerk reaction to the suggestion that space is an illusion. “Oh really?” I thought. Having ample space is the difference between hitting your head on the paper towel dispenser and the doorknob in a puny Manhattan restaurant bathroom and not; it’s the difference between getting a parking space at 2 am and having to go to a parking garage and take a taxi back because your neighbourhood is too rough. (I will recall memories like these when I look at the photograph I just purchased by James Prez of graffiti that says ‘New York Fucking City’). The performance will be informed by my new understanding of space as a precious commodity in Manhattan. I’ll be counting on people infringing on my personal space so they are close enough to become part of the performance, to act as the conceptual completion to the act of assemblage.

I’m off to Pearl Paint to procure some materials for the performance. Stay tuned for photographs this week-end.

P.S. I was in fact foiled by the rain. Now I am just waiting for a time that is convenient for both me and my photographer-husband.