Art

When Postinternet Art Starts to All Look the Same

Sarah Cohen, still from "Teenage girl dances in room alone" (all images courtesy Stream Gallery)
Sarah Cohen, still from “Teenage girl dances in room alone” (all images courtesy Stream Gallery)

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.

Molly Soda, "Caught" (2015)
Molly Soda, “Caught” (2015)

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, "Untitled" (2015) (click to enlarge)
Noorann Matties, “Untitled” (2015) (click to enlarge)

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!’ 

Laurence Philomène, "Me Vs. Others" (2015) (click to enlarge)
Brie Moreno, from ‘My Morning Routine’ (click to enlarge)

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.

LaurencePhilomene
Laurence Philomène, “Me Vs. Others” (2015)

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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