New at the ICA: Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today
A new exhibition at the Institute of Contemporary Art opens today, focusing on the impact of the internet on visual art. I was able to attend a preview yesterday, and the show is an interesting look at the ways that technology has changed the world since 1989, in both positive and negative ways. This exhibition is a part of a regional collaboration on Art + Tech, with concurrent exhibitions or programming on this theme at 13 other local institutions.
The show is arranged under a set of themes. Networks and circulation looks at how images can be reproduced and circulated. For example, the artist Gretchen Bender noticed during sporting games that the American flag was shown on screen and then “dissolved” as the game restarted. By pressing the pause button, she was able to notice the strangeness of this reproduced dissolving flag — a moment that goes unnoticed for most viewers. By creating a fabric flag in that image she draws attention to it’s strangeness.
My favorite piece in the show was towards the end of this section. Camille Henrot’s Grosse Fatigue (2013) is a video put together while she was at the Smithsonian. We hear phrases from various creation myths and stories while drawer after drawer of the Smithsonian archives is opened, showing preserved animal specimens or statuettes, and browser window on top of browser window is opened with more images and videos layering on top of one another. I found the effect mesmerizing.
The next section examined the concept of hybrids or cyborgs. Many of these works present the human body as fragmented or translated into avatars. A video installation by Kate Cooper features hyper-real computer-generated models of women. When we can use technology to create “perfect” bodies, how will that effect the ways we look at real people?
The section on virtual worlds featured work inspired by computer generated spaces. Some are focused on video games and the never-ending landscape that they create, while a particularly humorous installation by Mark Leckey has a smart fridge as the protagonist, set against a green screen onto which anything could be projected. The artist recited the fridge manual as well as philosophy other texts, and this audio is played through the speakers.
The next set of works focus on surveillance. The last few years saw huge revelations on the extent of global surveillance, but as much as it can be used by governments, these abilities can also subvert state media, as seen with social media during the Arab Spring. (This also made me think about the use of cell phone cameras in police brutality cases, or crimes in general.) The gallery includes two dolls that are surveilling the room (like nanny cams!), a giant eye that tracks the viewers and follows them as they pass, and photos of satellites and undersea cables that make all of this surveillance possible. The gallery room itself has a sign letting you know that you are under surveillance!
The final room in the exhibition looks at performances of the self, self-representation and community online. Many of us have Facebook or Instagram accounts (or blogs!), and are thinking about these issues ourselves. We are always deciding how to present ourselves, whether in person or online, but the online representation can have an additional layer of distance. I know I am often wondering how to share the things I find beautiful while still recognizing the less “Instagram-worthy” parts of my day, and how personal to be online. A photograph from well-known artist Cindy Sherman shows various versions of her posing as a women at a party enjoying themselves partly for the benefit of the cameras. The painted bronze statue by Frank Benson depicts the trans DJ and artist Juliana Huxtable, and was modeled from real life with a 3D printer, and then modified.
A few pieces outside of the main exhibition space are connected to technology as well — for example, a virtual reality simulation depicts Boston Harbor as it is, before a tidal wave comes up over the museum and the simulator shows a dystopian version of the space — yikes!
Exhibitions and lectures on this theme can also be seen all around the region. Check out the website for Art +Tech to see more. The internet has had such a huge impact on the rest of our culture, so it is exciting to see more investigations of this impact! We didn’t get a chance to check it out yet, but the concurrent exhibition Before Projection: Video Sculpture 1974-1995 at the MIT List Visual Arts Center also looks thought-provoking. During these years, the only way to view video and use it in artwork was on a monitor, and while we are so used to large-scale projections these days, it represents a huge shift.
See also: While you are at the ICA, don’t miss the exhibition of Nicholas Nixon’s photographs. The series depicting his wife, Bebe, and her three sisters yearly over the decades is so moving. What a way to capture the passage of time.