Initiated by a generation of artists that has grown up with the Internet, the practices and methods of the Internet are moving over to the exhibition space. The process of materializing the digital is not taking place without a struggle, however. The Netherlands Media Art Institute is devoting an exhibition to this theme.
Nowadays, Web 2.0 and its social structure is commonplace knowledge. The social aspect of the Web has driven its technological side to the background. Artists are also more concerned with the social dimension of Web 2.0, both as a concept and a way of forming contacts. As artist Aram Bartholl says in an interview: ‘One should consider the various channels of communication, those that are available and at your disposal, and think about what they do with someone.’ Bartholl is well known for his projects and performances in which he brings aspects of the digital world into the physical world. His main argument is that the online world has a great impact on people and the way they perceive their reality. But the shift between the virtual and the physical is often not directly visible, as with works like Speech Bubble (2007), in which volunteers trail people with a large chat text balloon on a stick, or Tweet Bubble Series (2009), featuring Twitter texts that can be attached to a shirt. All of a sudden the overt publicness that we’re so used to on the Internet seems silly and overexposed.
Other artists are taking a less literal stance. These artists, most of them so-called ‘digital natives’, search, cut, paste, mix and mash up the Internet and then reuse it to distribute their work. New works are created on the spot in a continuous stream of comments and versions on commercial platforms like YouTube, or surfing club websites like Nasty Nets and Spirit Surfers. At the same time, a parallel movement has emerged, and many artists have also started to look at offline space to further their experiments, presenting their work in small underground galleries or Internet cafes. Now museums are also showing an interest in the phenomenon of Internet-based art. The New Museum in New York presented Free (2010), an exhibition in which curator Lauren Cornell aimed to show how the Internet has changed our notion of public space. According to Cornell, that communal space has expanded and moved from schools or the streets to other, more distributed forms of collectivity. These new networks are characterized by greater social connectedness and a highly visual, hybrid commons of information.
Annet Dekker is a curator and researcher based in Amsterdam and London.
Netherlands Media Art Institute, Amsterdam
9 December 2011 – 5 February 2012