Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art Opens ‘Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today’
By Doug Hall, Contributing Writer, February 8, 2018
When you think of the internet, you generally take for granted that it’s mostly a tool for your own personal or professional use, with all the bells and whistles. But when you dig below that surface, and start to explore beyond the technology, as stated by Barbara Lee, Chief Curator at the Institute of Contemporary Art, you begin to see “how all art has been radically transformed by the cultural impact of the internet.” The ICA’s Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today, which opened yesterday, is the first major thematic group exhibition in the United States to “examine the radical impact of the internet culture on visual art.”
This expansive, hugely interactive and timely exhibit is filled with “gotcha” moments that turn the mirror back on you, the viewer of the internet, reflecting culture and society and individualism in video and artistic interpretation and alternative “takes on reality.” Featuring 60 artists, collaborations, and collectives, the exhibition is comprised of over 70 works across a variety of mediums, including painting, performance, photography, sculpture, video, web-based projects, and virtual reality. With the use and access of the internet becoming an expectation and assumption, this potent tool that effects all our lives, as relayed by Ms. Lee, “has transformed attitudes and mores, affecting how societies see themselves.” With a broad range of works and wide ranging themes, this current exhibit succeeds in delivering a dynamic representation which confronts its audience in an examination of how the internet has radically changed the field of art and the culture in which we live.
Divided into five thematic sections: “Networks and Circulation,” “Hybrid Bodies,” “Virtual Worlds,” “States of Surveillance,” and “Performing the Self,” Art in the Age of the Internet looks at the implications of these subjects. At an opening event, Jill Medvedow, ICA’s Ellen Matilda Poss Director, spoke directly to the thrust of the exhibit content as “facing these changes in art alongside the internet — our understanding of self, privacy, community, and virtual and physical space and the way artists convey, explore and challenge them.”
Several examples of artist’s work highlight and emphasize aspects of the internet’s cultural impact and use as an art form. In the “Networks and Circulation” gallery section, video artist Camille Henrot’s Grosse Fatigue is a 13-minute multi-image video that intentionally saturates the viewer with an overwhelming number of opening video screen windows – creating chaos with a kaleidoscope of images popping-up, de-sensitizing and overwhelming as it saturates the audience with a visual assault. In the “Hybrid Bodies” thematic gallery, video artist Ed Akins’ Safe Conduct uses a digital avatar on a 3 channel HD monitor display to show the airport security process evolving to a breaking-down of body parts to be checked through the x-ray machine instead of just shoes and hand-bags, as we watch the avatar remove his nose and then ears and place them in the bin for screening. In the “Virtual Worlds” gallery, artist Harun Farocki brings you up close to the chilling reality of “video games” by using actual US military computer battle training for the Afghanistan conflict. You, the audience, watch on split screen, soldiers “playing” real-time computer games, examples from actual battles, and the resulting simulation of tank and hummer patrols tracking and “killing” its enemy targets in a desert environment simulation.
In our current world of hypersensitivity to surveillance, the “States of Surveillance” gallery feeds your paranoia, by offering several artist’s work right out of George Orwell’s 1984. Big Brother is alive and well and watching you. There are two seemingly precious, harmless dolls on stand displays (Lynn Hershman Leeson’s CybeRoberta and Tillie, the Telerobotic Doll) who’s eyes are actually video lenses watching all that occurs in this gallery space and you can connect and watch at home too! (see webcam site at aiai.icaboston.org). Finally, in the “Performing Self” gallery we have an adult animation by Frances Stark titled My Best Thing, which at a glance looks like a simple interaction between two cartoon Adam- and Eve-like characters on a video screen, but, in fact, the dialogue is from the female artist’s recording of an internet sex chat room she joined including the actual verbal conversation, which is not censored and sexually explicit. All in all, these themed galleries and artists combine to offer a full treatment of ideas, implications and impact of cultural changes occurring alongside the rise of the internet.
The phrase, “be careful what you wish for,” often used to describe the pitfalls of sudden fame or fortune, could easily apply to a society wishing for just the benefits of the internet, as an all-in-one-bag technology and communication tool. ICA’s Art in the Age of the Internet instead gives viewers a chance to register and reflect upon, by artist’s conveyance, the issues and challenges “of our understanding of self, privacy, community, and virtual and physical space” – all courtesy of the information highway.
Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today at The Institute of Contemporary Art, 25 Harbor Shore Drive, Boston, MA 02210, runs through May 20, 2018. For more information on this exhibit and the museum click here.
Cover: Sondra Perry, ‘Graft and Ash for a Three Monitor Workstation’ (2016); video (color, sound; 9:05 minutes) and bicycle workstation; courtesy the artist and The Museum of Modern Art, New York; photo by Caitlin Cunningham; © Sondra Perry.