Art

Internet Art Safari

Williamsburg's Internet Garage During the Speed Show (all photos by author)

This past Wednesday, June 8, curator Lindsay Howard mounted a guerrilla “Speed Show” at an internet cafe in Williamsburg. Featuring the websites of eight internet-based artists and collectives as art objects, the exhibition presented a different way of showing net art: in its natural, interactive habitat.

The Internet Garage is an unabashedly grungy space. In the internet cafe just off Bedford Avenue in the infamous neighborhood — read hipster — mini mall, I found Howard crouched at one of the computers. Chipped black plastic monitors controlled by decaying keyboards, relics from some earlier decade, the computers fit the garage’s lo-fi vibe. So did the art, a series of artist homepages, GIF-collecting Tumblrs and retro-net aesthetic portfolios.

Speed Shows are, for the uninitiated (which included myself), a particular format of net art exhibition in which artists take over a pre-existing internet cafe, renting out all of the establishment’s computers for a set period of time and installing their work (for more on the speed show format, check out my Q&A with Lindsay Howard). The context hews much closer to net art’s native habitat, single users finding work on their home computers, than would a white-cube gallery show with immaculate HDTVs and projectors.

Entitled Awareness of Everything, Howard’s exhibition embraced the idea that the work of net artists can’t really be narrowed down to a single piece; rather, their oeuvre includes everything they have created on the internet, a diffuse gesamtkunstwerk of JPEGs, animations, desktop wallpapers and site hacks. By curating Awareness of Everything, Howard was examining artists work “across the web” rather than as singular objects, the curator told me, trying to figure out “how to talk about distributed art,” instead of the classical idea of the individual work.

At left, the essay that inspired Howard's curation, at right, Body by Body's 2010 lookbook

The overall effect of looking at these junky banks of computers replete with net art was reminiscent of peeking into an artist’s studio, a divulging of where and how these works were made. Seeing the sites together in physical space, rather in abstract proximity as browser tabs, made it much easier to get a visual read on their similarities and differences. One of the problems of such a theoretical show was that the works (websites) on display aren’t really immediately engaging — it takes some playing and interacting to uncover what makes them interesting. Add to that the fact that net art is still very niche, imbued with an insider’s vocabulary of imagery, formats and memes, and it makes for a slow read for those not already invested in the scene.

DIS Magazine’s homepage is striking, with an array of off-kilter fashion shoots inspired by net aesthetics. Jasper Elings’s Tumblr stood out because of the artist’s GIF works, 3D stock images mashed together in often hilarious ways, sometimes set spinning nonsensically: a man rotates on his bed’s headboard, a rubber duck does loop-de-loops. In an interesting conceptual project, Emilio Gomariz’s Triangulation Blog Interactive is a series of triangle-based embeddable flash animations that fans could publish on their own websites, viral advertising for Gomariz.

Curator Lindsay Howard among the computers

Does it make a difference, seeing these works in a physical context versus on your own at a computer? It does. The difference is subtle, but significant: this relaxed presentation allows internet art to exist in a different system, both commercial and aesthetic, than sculpture or painting. The exhibition format embraces net art’s democratic, free culture inclinations without casting the medium in the mold pre-commercialized “high art.”

Howard noted that the Internet Garage had a personal note of nostalgia to it — it was the place she went for wi-fi and refuge when first she moved to Williamsburg and lived in an apartment without internet. Not unlike street art, the Speed Show’s internet-cafe context brings a new read to the work on display, investing it with the memories of actual spaces as opposed to the blank canvas of the white cube.

It’s tough to find a gallery space that could have the same associations. Below is a list of the artists and works included in Awareness of Everything, missing the physical context and proximity. Peruse at your leisure.

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Artists and works included in Awareness of Everything

Awareness of Everything took place on Wednesday, June 8 from 7pm–10pm at the Internet Garage (218 Bedford Avenue, Williamsburg, Brooklyn).

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