Following a string of exhibitions enthusiastically heralding the arrival of Post-internet art, it seems we have come to a point where we can reflect on its implications and pitfalls. Including work by almost 30 artists and collectives, ‘Private Settings’, curated by Natalia Sielewicz, focused not so much on the internet as a tool but on its impact on the practices of identity-making.
For some artists, submersion in the digital realm is an alienating and fragmenting experience. Installed within a small cupboard in which the viewer could sit and watch, a screen showed a set of works by Jon Rafman: Cockpit (2014), Mainsqueeze (2014) and Still Life (Beta Male) (2013), a mind-boggling compilation of 8-bit graphics and slices taken from manga erotica and the imagery of various other fetish cultures found in the far recesses of the web. For his piece Blue (#3B5998) (2012), Gregor Rózański re-edited Derek Jarman’s film of the same name, substituting the original hue with that now employed by the world’s most popular social media platform (a shade termed ‘International Facebook Blue’ by the artist). The droning, automated voice-over tells the story of progressing insanity caused by ‘info-xication’ or information overload. By contrast Takeshi Murata, in his ‘Synthesizers’ series (2012), meticulously pieces together still lifes using digital ‘ready-mades’ of rooms bought from online stores aimed at graphic designers. Cool, glossy, distant: these interiors are too perfect to be believably inhabited by humans.
On the other end of the spectrum were works in which the web emerges as an instrument of economic exploitation. For Soft Staycation (Gaze Track Edit) (2013), Daniel Keller hired a group of jobless expat freelancers via Craigslist to watch a compilation of adverts commissioned by tourist boards from different countries. The resulting video, displayed on a crumpled LED curtain screen and made using gaze-tracking technology to record the viewers’ zones of interest, resembles a desperate attempt to recall a once-heard story, punctuated by occasional flashes of clarity. For his Outsourced Views, Visual Economies (2013–14), Yuri Pattison used the ‘crowdsourcing internet marketplace’, Amazon Mechanical Turk, to post a job advert asking workers to provide digital images of the view out of their office window; Pattison was interested in how measures to protect privacy are developing a new class of anonymous, dehumanized workers. Thinkspiration (2014), a recent work by New York’s DIS collective, borrows from the aesthetics of TV commercials. In sequences of slow-motion shots, a group of athletes (or models) are seen jogging through a night cityscape in hip outfits adorned with the faces of fashionable Leftist thinkers, including Slavoj Žižek and Noam Chomsky.
‘Private Settings’ also brought together a number of interesting perspectives that, using traditional media, not so much explore the recesses of the web as reflect on its pervasiveness. Pamela Rosenkranz’s Untouched by the Air of the 21. Century (My Colour Hurts) (2014) consists of four paintings on coloured Spandex sheets and a Fiji plastic water bottle filled with pinkish make-up fluid that sits on a plinth. Highlighting the physical traces of an individual, the work questions the way we use commercial goods to express our identity. Jason Loebs tackled the classic themes of the artist’s studio and gesture, including monochromatic prints from Servic(escape)s (2014) that were taken with an infrared camera, which show the different heat-emitting objects (not surprisingly, items of digital equipment) that are the tools of today’s artist. The works in the ‘Untitled (Body Painting)’ (2013) series by Korakrit Arunanondchai create Action paintings on denim (a material that is now popular in the artist’s native Thailand), combining signs of individuality with the ultimate symbol of generic international fashion.
While not fetishizing Post-internet art as a specific genre, or belatedly celebrating the arrival of social media, ‘Private Settings’ straddles the line between the digital and the analogue, focusing on the inevitably shifting perspective of young artists. For many of those born in the 1980s, the seemingly parallel realm of the online world is already an integral element of their practice. Is there a difference between art made before and after the internet? Obviously. ‘As you look at the screen’, says the voice in the opening lines of Rafman’s work, ‘it is possible to believe you are gazing into eternity.’ Many (including me), thought of it, perhaps mistakenly, as a place to search for answers rather than questions.