The concept of art that lives only on the internet is far from novel. For decades, online-only works and exhibitions have popped up to display visuals meant for screens, accessible to anyone with a computer and WiFi. Since 2013, Hyperallergic has been ranking the best art in Brooklyn, New York City, and even the world — but we have not yet tackled the World Wide Web. Unbound to GPS coordinates, internet-based art has no place on these other lists, and since it isn’t fair to neglect the increasing amount of works designed specifically for cyberspace, 2015 welcomes our inaugural best-of-the-internet list.
Although digital art often appears in brick-and-mortar galleries, we decided to focus on net art that only has an online presence, as examples on view in physical spaces are fair contenders for our other best-of lists. From entire exhibitions to individual works, here are our top picks of art from the paths of the information superhighway we’ve traversed this year.
#1 – Design and Violence at designandviolence.moma.org
In the 18-month online exhibition Design and Violence, MoMA addressed an aspect of design dialogue that is often missing, namely the brutality and control facilitated by 21st-century design. Led by Paola Antonelli, senior curator in MoMA’s Department of Architecture and Design, and Jamer Hunt, director of Parsons The New School for Design’s graduate program in transdisciplinary design, the project involved thoughtful essays from writers and designers on everything from plastic handcuffs that are increasingly widespread at protests, to the 3D-printed gun that questions the possibilities of new steps in technology.
#2 – “The Download: sorry to dump on you like this.zip” at Rhizome Blog
Uploaded November 12, 2015
Paul Soulellis selected a 112 MB download by Christopher Clary, “sorry to dump on you like this.zip” (2015), for the latest in Rhizome’s The Download series, and it’s powerful. Porn helped build the internet, and here we are given a big load of gay-related pics stripped of most of their metadata. Some are dated as early as 2001 and many of the images are popular images of well-known porn actors. The 1,861-file bundle is full of oddities, like pixelated photos, extreme close-ups, and humorous filenames (a photo of a man wearing a jock strap is titled ‘congratulations on your relationship.jpg’). Soulellis explains in his introduction: “Downloading can transform a public post into private property; to download may be political.” Here the act is political, social, sexual, and a lot of other things. There’s also something uninteresting about someone else’s stash of porn, it’s perverse and dull at the same time and there’s so much to unpack. —Hrag Vartanian
#3 – The Wrong Biennale at thewrong.org
November 1, 2015–January 31, 2016
Yes, some of the works here are exhibited IRL, but it would be remiss not to mention the second iteration of the “New Digital Art Biennale.” The Wrong mostly lives online and is meant for navigation via clicks, with works located in curated pavilions taking the form of websites external to the central one.
I appreciate The Wrong for presenting a sophisticated way to navigate the world of net art — an ambitious feat, and an impressive one considering technicalities such as web hosting — and giving free reign to its over 90 curators to offer both fresh and seasoned artists a slice of cyber real estate. Boasting over 1000 artists and no theme, the biennale delivers vast randomness that chiefly underscores the many ways digital artists are experimenting with the internet, from the medium itself to its concepts (such as an irksome tribute to link rot). There are the expectancies — psychedelic glitch art and ’90s aesthetic canvases — but mostly plenty of crisp works. I applaud Crystallized Skins, which presents mesmerizing 3D models on our screens, for considering the state of collections and open archives in the digital age. Then there’s the playful but forward-thinking Call.io.pe, which merges the poetry of words, sound, and the visual. —Claire Voon
#4 – it’s doing it at itsdoing.it
December 11, 2015–January 25, 2016
Modeled after Hans Ulrich Obrist’s instruction-based do it exhibition, this group show takes its cues from directions of another kind: computer code, with each script written by a different artist. The resulting images reinvent themselves daily without the aid of the human touch, thus forcing one to consider whether computer-generated art is any less creative than more traditionally produced works. That’s up to you to decide, but the nine participating artists do present a diverse range of art, with visuals that engage with data, text, texture, perspective, and temporality. I found the exhibition to be as innovative and experimental as it is inquisitive of the boundaries of the internet. —CV
#5 – Kyle McDonald, “Exhausting a Crowd”
Through Kyle Mcdonald’s “Exhausting a Crowd,” commissioned by the Victoria and Albert Museum for their All of This Belongs to You exhibition, London’s Piccadilly Circus became one of the most intensely watched spaces of modern time. Anyone could (and still can) annotate the 12-hour video online and type dialogues for imagined encounters between friends and strangers, or just idly pass comment on a person waiting alone or the crowded bus driving by on a rainy street. It was a smart consideration of public space, surveillance, and our relationship to others when they’re removed from the physical world and forever looping in this evolving digital narrative. —AM
#6 – Body Anxiety at bodyanxiety.com
January 24, 2015
Curators Leah Schrager and Jennifer Chan pulled together 21 artists including Kate Durbin, Ann Hirsch, and Faith Holland to explore gender constructs in contemporary art in this online-only exhibition. Unlike most projects that make this list, though, Body Anxiety isn’t mainly concerned with how artists experiment with the internet as canvas but rather takes advantage of the visibility and accessibility of online platforms to celebrate the female voice.There’s an incredible range of work here, from video art to GIFs; recorded performances to drawings, and they all center on the body. A fair share of it would be billed NSFW, and the no-fucks-given attitude of these self-representations succeed in reclaiming the female body and empowering the artists through the shareability of the internet. —CV
#7 – Rafaël Rozendaal, “Almost There” at whitney.org
May 1, 2015
Since its website relaunch in 2009, the Whitney has commissioned a number of net art projects for its Sunrise/Sunset series that reveal themselves at the moment our giant star appears and disappears each day in New York City.
The latest project comes courtesy of Dutch-Brazilian artist Rafaël Rozendaal, who obscures the museum’s online pages with circles — white during sunrises; black during sunsets — that eclipse the page and spin, interacting directly with the motions of one’s cursor. “Almost There” breaks our expected view of a website, rendering it largely illegible (and useless, as a source of information) as light and shadows alike are cast over the Whitney’s own clean, minimal design. Like those of the actual natural processes, the effect makes you pause: it’s really quite stunning, made even more special by the fact that you have just 30 seconds to experience each moment. This temporality, too, makes it stand out from other internet-based works that stream or pause at one’s command. —CV
#8 – Various Rooms at panthermodern.org
It’s been a great second year for Panther Modern, the self-described “file-based exhibition space” that hosts site-specific installations for the internet so its architecture grows with every project. I’m intrigued by the idea of housing location-based artworks online, and the latest series of rooms continues to fill the 3D spaces with unexpected surprises.
Seven artists filled seven additional rooms this year, introducing a mix of environments that make me long for them to exist IRL so I could walk into them. Standouts include Jonathan Monaghan’s bizarre fusion of architecture that recalled his video work at Bitforms gallery, Mark Dorf’s gleaming city of geodes housed in a museum, and Vince McKelvie’s own rocks that seem to drip with fresh coats of iridescent paint even on my screen. —CV
#9 – Joe Hamilton, “Indirect Flights” at indirect.flights
July 7, 2015
Rendered in a Google Maps-esque style, this interactive website provides aerial views of the world, fragmented and collaged into a dense panorama that toys with one’s perspective. The dizzying landscape, which emerged from Hamilton’s residency with The Moving Museum, mixes visuals he accumulated last year while traveling in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia and images he found online. (It was also included in the Brushes exhibition.)
As you drag your cursor around, geographic boundaries collapse; images of deserts, beaches, forests, and industrial worlds collide. The view is sleek and seductive, with objects of different textures, some from brushstrokes, gliding over each other like clouds. Hamilton also takes full advantage of the possibilities of the screen, recreating the feeling of flying over the earth via satellite imagery but also simultaneously that of heading directly into a space through photographs of walls and fences. The four different sound compositions by J.G. Biberkopf echo the variety of topographies and loop — among other noises — cricket songs, mysterious creaking, and sputtering engines, creating a satisfying, vivid experience that captures the contemporary landscape. It’s also important to note that Hamilton made the effort to make the site mobile-friendly, placing the world’s terrains literally in the palm of your hands — exactly how we navigate our surroundings today. —CV
#10 — Loren Schmidt and Katie Rose Pipkin, @mothgenerator on Twitter
I’m a sucker for beautiful images that disrupt my text-heavy Twitter feed, and @mothgenerator has been one of my favorite Twitter bots that emerged this year.
It posts gorgeous imaginary moths of all shapes, sizes, and colors, and each arrives with a fantastical, scientific-sounding name derived from thousands of English and Latin moth names (like woolly-woolly gigantellerae aecedens). To introduce more fun, its creators, Loren Schmidt and Katie Rose Pipkin have also programmed it to interact with any user on Twitter: if you tweet a random word or even phrase at the account, you’ll receive a mention with your very own, custom moth. —CV
Cameron Askin, “Cameron’s World” at cameronsworld.net
This tribute to Yahoo! Geocities is commendable for its designer Cameron Askin’s devotion to the old web hosting service, collaged from his months of rummaging through archived websites and pulling texts and GIFs. Everything Askin found, he then organized neatly in rows by color and theme, with little Easter eggs for us to find through randomly clicking around the visual cacophony. “Cameron’s World” is simply fun — and sometimes all we need from the internet is pure entertainment. —CV