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Picking aside the net

Picking aside the net
The art inside the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today is an exhibition that addresses the elephant in the room

Image Credit: Caitlin Cunningham Photography
Installation view, Art within the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today, at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston
Published: 14:10 March 14, 2018, Gulf News
By Caitlin Cunningham

I’ve been looking at the primary web page ever made public at the World Wide Web. It’s awe-inspiring — like searching at ultrasound images of an infant in utero. It has no idea of what it turns into. It has no photograph of itself. In reality, the page has no photos at all: It’s simple text, with hyperlinks. And spelling errors.

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What’s most exquisite is that at this point — 1991 — the World Wide Web thinks it’s only a research device. Clicking via the hyperlinks is like eavesdropping on a seminar of librarians. It couldn’t experience much less applicable to your existence.

Twenty-six years on, the net is vital. Protean and all-pervasive, it has converted existence, entertainment, commerce, civics, intercourse, training, intimacy, and truth as we understand it.


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The art inside the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today, at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art, examines how artists have responded to this zeitgeist-defining phenomenon. Planned over 3 years with the aid of ICA chief curator Eva Respini, with Jeffrey De Blois, the exhibition shows that artists had been at the vanguard of wondering and critiquing — however also embracing and advancing — the internet. It indicates that the net’s technical opportunities and reality-altering nature have seeped into each issue of creativity, affecting even conventional media inclusive of painting and sculpture.
It’s a huge difficulty to tackle. So it comes as no marvel that during many locations, the exhibition is difficult-going. There are artwork, photographs, and sculptures by the likes of Laura Owens, Cindy Sherman, Cory Arcangel and Albert Oehlen. But, unsurprisingly, a good deal of the artwork most urgently engaged with the net isn’t desirable to standard show.

So the show is garlanded with multimedia installations, a virtual reality providing (by way of Jon Rafman), a smattering of interactive websites and a glut of motion pictures. Many are fantastic (look out for portions via Frances Stark and Camille Henrot), however too many are of punishing period.
The feel of being led
Almost all the art embraces, as a classy precept, the arbitrariness of the net — the feel of being randomly led from breaking news to Kardashian shenanigans to YouTube kittens thru pop-up commercials for Prozac. Thus, in paintings after paintings, elaborate conceptual underpinnings collide with the Byzantine manner and a completed appearance of cultivated chaos. The wall labels, unavoidably, are Proustian — in period if not in spirit.
Despite all this (do not forget it a fair warning), the display bulges with vivid art and is almost harrowingly on-topic.
To enter it, you run the gantlet between banks of flashing television video display units. One, titled Internet Dream, is a piece made in 1994 by means of video art pioneer Nam June Paik.

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Paik, who died in 2006, is credited with the earliest use — in 1974 — of the term “digital exceptional toll road” (later tailored to “records superhighway” by means of the Clinton management). The photographs on Internet Dream’s 52 monitors appear randomly generated, however, they cohere at the center into patterned abstract imagery, like an again and again shaken kaleidoscope.
Paik’s optimism about the internet and its promise of connecting disparate human beings wasn’t off-base. The internet’s capacity to amuse, enchant, console, tell, teach, store lives and clear away limitations is nothing brief of astounding.
Still, Paik’s vision has to confront others, equally actual. The facing financial institution of monitors is a greater latest paintings, titled “thewayblackmachine.Net,” by way of a collective of artists, writers, musicians, historians and activists known as HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN? The screens display algorithmically generated snippets of cable information and beginner footage relating to police violence towards African-Americans. Much of it’s been culled from social media structures the usage of applicable hashtags, including #ferguson.
The pictures evoke strife and systemic violence and don’t cohere inside the way Paik’s does. So it can’t help but conjure the “widening gyre,” the net’s — or is it our society’s? — the tendency toward chaos.
But the work is in the long run greater involved to expose how, from the start, African-Americans engaged with social media in their very own, awesome ways. In so doing, they cast alternative narratives — of resistance; of memory (the collective’s name is a play at the Wayback Machine, an early virtual archive of the World Wide Web); and in the end, of truth-telling.
This concept of opportunity narratives — critical, improving alternatives that beautify our experience of fact; however also “opportunity information” that traduce fact — has to be on the coronary heart of any thinking about the internet.
When is an opportunity narrative an element to be cheered, paraded on palanquins and embroidered into the material of civilization? When is it nuts? And while might it look nuts but be simply what all of us secretly needed? (A category incredible artwork often occupies.)

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It is the style to mention that the internet has “modified” our lives, even “altered” our minds. It’s tougher — due to the fact we’re all implicated — to confess that online existence distorts our experience of fact and compromises our autonomy. At its simplest, the bloated hours we spend within the internet’s grip pull us far from an recognition of being physically inside the world, in the area that we percentage with different people, plants, animals, air, sound and scents, and of all of the treasured mental moves keyed to bodily proximity.
One fundamental fact approximately the internet we forget about is that it’s far itself a bodily component. We’re more used to taking into account it as immaterial, a “digital” realm. That’s what makes Trevor Paglen’s photos of NSA-tapped cables at the ground of the sea and of a signals intelligence satellite inside the night sky so arresting. The net is stuff, they remind us. Expensive, power-consuming and susceptible stuff.
But it’s additionally a discussion board for fantasy and playacting, for upended social mores, grotesquerie, and unfettered hilarity. The social members of the family the internet promotes difficulty identification to an incessant strain to perform that feels ambient, like water, in preference to causal.
No artists over the last decade have skewered this higher than Lizzie Fitch and Ryan Trecartin. Their 21-minute video, Permission Streak, filmed with handheld cameras, GoPros and drones, is screened in a carpeted mini-theatre strewn with gym mats, a “custom diving bunk,” message forums and ambient sound (the installation as a whole is referred to as “Safety Pass”).
Like all their films, Permission Streak is full of lurching discontinuities and a prevailing feel of demanding dread-infused euphoria. Fitch and Trecartin integrate on-set high jinks with disjointed modes of behavior borrowed from fact TV and social media. They deal with the one’s modes as artifacts — masks to be tried on, discarded as trash, then recycled, almost as observed items.
They don’t a lot shred the antique idea of a soul or internal existence as arrive at it pre-shredded, like worn-out lettuce in a salad bar longing to be partnered with zestier services.
Anyone who interacts with the internet leaves at the back of what the artist Lynn Hershman Leeson calls (with the infamous Trump file in mind) kompromat, “a set of compromising materials.” Most of us every day consent to the alternate-off, however with one eye closed and with the feeling that we don’t know its proper terms