Molly Soda is an art darling of a generation that grew up with the internet as a constant companion. Stream Gallery’s current show, SAME, was curated by Soda and features work by her and four other artists exploring the phenomenon of identifying with others’ posts and images on social media sites like Instagram and Tumblr. Whether they be expressive memes, reality TV clips, or selfies, these posts are often reblogged, retweeted, and reposted with captions like “me as hell,” “selfie,” “it me,” and of course, “same.”
The gallery’s entryway is dominated by a large TV screen showing Sarah Cohen’s work “Teenage girl dances in room alone.” This collection of fuzzy webcam videos of the artist dancing in a room alone is neither particularly well-made nor interesting; the contents are indiscernible from what comes up in the search results for “me dancing” on YouTube. Soda has actually uploaded a large collection of videos of herself on YouTube over the past five or so years, dancing to everything from pop punk to Taylor Swift. Talking about Cohen’s piece with Bedford + Bowery, she beamed, “If you’ve looked at my YouTube channel, there are over 300 [videos] of me doing that exact thing.” The played-out adage regarding art, ‘My kid could do that,’ feels uncomfortably appropriate here, because the fact of the matter is, most adolescents with a MacBook actually have. Cohen’s piece doesn’t fall flat simply because it uses a ubiquitous 21st-century method of production, but because it doesn’t have enough of a voice or a distinct style to distinguish itself from the sea in which it wades.
Soda’s own contributions to the exhibition pleasantly show an evolution in her practice. As she has come to be recognized for her digital work like zines, GIFs, videos, and other forms of new media, it’s interesting to see her return to her photography roots (she has a BFA in the medium). Two dark, grainy photographs are printed on pieces of fabric hung up by binder clips. One of these is a paparazzi-style close-up of the artist behind the wheel of a car, unabashedly biting into a sandwich. The work is both moody and playful, catching Soda in the act of something as intimate and everyday as having a meal. One of the reasons for Soda’s success as an artist is her ability to take these quotidian facts of life and spin them into something that’s simultaneously familiar and takes on a life of its own.
Noorann Matties’s photographs feel amateur and self-indulgent in a way similar to Cohen’s work. Showing various dimly-lit domestic settings littered with empty bottles and food containers, they are meant to “explore mental illness.” Yet the series reads more like snapshots of a messy roommate — which, admittedly, feeds well into the show’s theme, but feels mundane. The hazy photos fall somewhere between candid and posed, and their generic composition feels nonproprietary. The most obvious work is a self-portrait of Matties holding her camera and openly sobbing in front of a mirror. In a different curatorial context, among some of Matties’s other, stronger pieces, this photo could have opened up a larger dialogue about vulnerability on the internet; here, lost within the rest of the series, it gripes to the viewer, ‘I’m sad!’
The only non-photographic contribution comes from Brie Moreno, whose series My Morning Routine features awkwardly drawn square panels of caricatures doing their hair and makeup. Moreno’s work feels relatable in its domesticity, while still contributing its own style and intricacies, such as the abstracted hair shape that awkwardly changes in each frame, like an impotent Medusa. Laurence Philomène’s series of photographs featuring models in an orange wig exhibits the most technical finesse of the show. Working with a sugary color palette and choosing to mostly obscure the faces of the models wearing the wig, Philomene composes her pictures so elegantly, it would feel silly to spend time gendering their subjects. She instead offers up ambiguous bodies onto which viewers can transpose themselves.
While SAME does delve into the experience of relating to virtual manifestations of strangers on the internet, it also reads as complacent and underdeveloped in the way it goes about evoking sameness. At what point does postinternet work just become a reproduction of the web IRL? SAME exhibits work the vast majority of the Western millennial generation is used to seeing on a daily basis on Tumblr, Snapchat, and other digital communities. Without an evolutionary push forward, perhaps by including other methods of production or reproduction more evocative of life online, the show feels a couple years too late.
SAME continues at Stream Gallery (1196 Myrtle Avenue, Bushwick, Brooklyn) through August 23.
Correction: This article originally misstated the gender of Laurence Philomène. It has been fixed.
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I still have real difficulty with the catch phrase, “Post Internet” since the artists to which it is applied are generally far more complex than the term. In my experience, when artists are good on Internet, they are equally capable in a white cube. I feel that the savagery of some of these words is more indicative of pompous ignorance of the art process than a useful critical dialogue.
You misgendered Laurence you doofus
mamiya 7: the perfect selfie camera for the modern world
Maybe it falls under the concept of “I’m using a serious camera, so clearly my work must be super super serious as well”.
you’ve gotta be pretty serious to take an in-focus mirror selfie with a rangefinder.
use of ‘new technology’ — 3d printing, google street view, chatroulette, second life, supercuts on youtube, large injket printers, whatever — often means that the first ones calling it ‘art’ are actually just copying what’s already been done by non-artists. it has almost resulted in an arms (art) race: be the first to go big with it and claim it as yours. first to use video software on a video cam! first to use a drone! an economic algorithm! you’ve staked your territory in history… often despite a dearth of, or search for, ideas extending beyond the medium. http://www.nu4ya.com
Really well put. We should want and expect artists to transcend the mentality of an early YouTube commenter exclaiming “FIRST!”
It is almost like a generation took “the medium is the message” too literally with no exploration of the wider concepts that aphorism is meant to point to.
Also, has ANYONE cared about someone dancing on video since the heyday of Nam Jun Pike?
I’m kind of curious if the dancing video in the gallery is meant to say anything that the same video (and the hundreds of others by this artists) on youtube doesn’t. Then, of course, I would like to know what these videos are supposed to say that the thousands of other videos by other young women and girls dancing alone in their rooms don’t say, despite not being considered art.
Other than saying it is vaguely about identity, I’m just not seeing much to this video. If it is about identity or some such, then it is still pretty anemic in comparison to other artists like Cindy Sherman who actually did deal with identity.
I hate to say it, but this is another show where you can point to each artist and say which other far better artist they are aping, even if those far better artists were at times not all that great themselves.
black women use the internet too
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