How does contemporary art fail to provide unusual perspectives on the everyday characterized by an exponential growth in the production of any kind of images and videos? What is the boundary between a digital reality consisting of archives of huge size and daily life? What aesthetics is interesting to talk about in these digital native years? These are just some of the questions to which an answer was attempted in the exhibition Collect the WWWorld. The Artist as Archivist in the Internet Age, curated by Domenico Quaranta.
The event, organized in Brescia for the LINK Center for the Arts of the Information Age, was accompanied by a full calendar of special events throughout its duration from last 24th September to 15th October.
In the statement of intent of the show one can read: “Collect the WWWorld wants to show how the Internet generation is giving new impetus to an artistic practice opened in the 60s by conceptual art, and developed in subsequent decades in the form of appropriation and postproduction : a practice that sees the artist explore, collect, store, manipulate and reuse large amounts of visual material drawn from popular culture and the world of communication. “
Nevertheless, this was only a premise to an idea that was born from two key insights. On the one hand there is the awareness of the role assumed in our lives by the more or less conscious storage or simply the accumulation of enormous amount of data on our computers. Within the digital fruition, archiving is not only conditioned in the spasmodic collection, but also in the nature of what it collects.
A counterbalance to this is the unstoppable trend to outsource one’s own memory, that is, to entrust to external databases our memories and our most ephemeral thoughts. This may constitute a danger not only in regards to issues concerning privacy, as someone might assume, but also because the architecture of these files is not neutral and allows us to recover our data and those of others through ” icy grid structures that trap our memories.” The only individuals who still offer resistance to the standardization of our memories are the so-called professional surfers, users who redistribute and reorganize the contents of the network according to their own inclinations and personal tastes.
In this context, the figure of the artist-as-archivist-and-collector takes on a new significance. In the history of art there are examples of this kind from Merzbau’s Kurt Schwitters to the Joseph Cornell‘s collections, but the different works in this exhibition have to deal with the massive spread of remix and re-appropriation, all practices widely available to the fingertips of any teenager. Even the curator writes: “The artists in this exhibition live in the present [...];in the dawn of an age that is completely reshaping the relationship between avant-garde and mass culture, professional and amateur”.
These 26 artists from around the world, or, as Josephine Bosma defines them, “profateur” that is, professionals and amateur profiteers, learnt a living on the streets of the network and appropriated practices that are now an integral part of their work. The images and videos online, catalogues and classified by different search engines, orphaned and pulled away from their contexts, become the palete with which the authors realize their works, recontextualizing them and creating different meanings.
This is what does Jon Rafman, by collecting images during his long journeys through the streets of Google Street View. This artist liberates the images from the automated process that made them part of an instrument, collecting and offering them as key moments, as unique experiences. On the contrary, Hans-Peter Feldmann proposes a presentation grid similar to the one offered by Google Images Search, in order to present the collected images on the Beautiful Agony site dedicated to the beauty of human orgasm.
However, what’s most interesting is not only the recontextualization but also the desire to not let the storage process go unnoticed. In doing so Evan Roth shows data stored by the browser during his own navigation session with Personal Internet Cache Archive, while Aleksandra Domanovic reconstructs the film Annie Hall in Anhedonia, byusing images of Getty Images and the criteria with which they are listed.
This is only a small part of the exhibition. I agree with Oliver Larch‘s statement in the catalog: “I like the interpretations and mediated experience: books about books, exhibition catalogs, interpretations of films. I’ve never seen some of my favorite artworks and my movies: they have only been described to me “
For this reason I would suggest any reader to experience this meta-experience by visiting the different materials online, from the catalog to the video of Jodi‘s performance, the opening event of the exhibition on the sitehttp://www.linkartcenter.eu/. However, I hope that this constitutes just a pre-experience for those who will have the good luck to see it live in other parts of Europe in the next months.