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Ryan Trecartin + Tumblr = River of the Net

by Kyle Chayka on October 7, 2010

[CAUTION: RIVEROFTHE.NET CONTENT AND LINKS TO TRECARTIN'S WORK MAY BE NSFW]

If you didn’t catch the project’s announcement Tuesday on ArtFagCity, Ryan Trecartin (video artist extraordinaire, Youtube star) and David Karp (founder of Tumblr) have launched riverofthe.net, a crowd-sourced video project that strikes a balance between social media site, contemporary art piece, and documentary archive. The website collects videos ten seconds or less in length, uploaded by users. Videos are tagged and aggregated by a maximum of three terms, terms that are collected at the bottom of the site’s homepage in an ever-expanding, lo-fi html list that visually recalls sites like Craigslist.

So far, the list is a kind of Ryan Trecartin-inflected stream of consciousness, complete with everything from “sexy feet” (a video of someone pulling off a sock in a sultry manner), the omnipresent “Lady Gaga,” and “bitches be @ the club,” which links to a video of giraffes fighting, violently. Your guess is as good as mine, but that’s Trecartin’s style for you. The tags allow visitors to free associate; the choice of a single term launches you out onto a “river” of videos that share the selected tag. As the site grows, expect the library to get bigger — the tag list has expanded exponentially after just a day in public.

The "yoga" tag from riverofthe.net

Trecartin got paired with Karp as the result of Rhizome’s “Seven on Seven,” a conference that matched artists with techies. The riverofthe.net project is the most compelling result of the conference so far, and does a good job at integrating the worlds of art and tech in an innovative way rather than just throwing the disparate groups at each other and seeing what sticks. Trecartin’s frenetic YouTube-friendly art is a particularly apt fit for Karp’s image-collage engine. The chance encounters with strange videos are more surreal than YouTube, yet more focused than ’net surfing clubs.

The videos up on the site thus far read as a kind of source material mood board for Trecartin’s larger video works, one imagines the artist bookmarking random clips like these in the process of coming up with I-BE AREA. The creepy suburban allure of “sexy feet” brings up the same kind of uncomfortable that Trecartin provokes in his videos, and the tags are inimitably his: a mixture of internet slang, club kiss-offs, and drag show chic. Where Ryan’s videos are manifestations of camp and kitsch, riverofthe.net is camp and kitsch in their wild state, raw from the internet’s mirror of society. The “yoga” tag is a little more wholesome, but just as voyeuristic.

Still, the end product isn’t perfect: the flow of the site seems to stop after a single video, lacking the breadth or the refresh mechanism to keep going. I’m not sure if this is a personal bug or a larger issue, but it seems the biggest issue of the piece for me. It’ll take some time to develop, but hopefully support of this project will continue after its initial release. Social media like this is a tough sell to go viral overnight, but as an art project it’s worth devoting the energy and time to allow it to grow.

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  • Anonymous

    This probably goes without saying, but, uh, NSFW. :)

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