Just three days before it was slated to close, after some free pizza and beer at work, I finally made time to see “Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today”. With an hour and twenty minutes until the museum closed, I had a lot of ground to cover and having done very limited research on what to expect I was going into the exhibition blind. The only context I had outside of the exhibition title “Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today”, was the numerous Instagrams I had seen friends post over the previous three and a half months: their faces in security camera footage, the flashing of pixelated televisions, an oddly placed Samsung refrigerator. Eager to make the most of my time I rushed from the elevator and turned into the wall of televisions that greet you in a flash, then draw you in like a moth to the flames. The exhibition varied in medium, size, and theme but explore one constant: the impact of the internet on art.
The exhibition was thematically organized and explored the following themes or concepts:
- Emergent ideas of the body and notions of human enhancement
- The internet as a site of both surveillance and resistance
- The circulation and control of images and information
- The possibilities for exploring identity and community afforded by virtual domains
- New economies of visibility accelerated by social media
With a little over an hour to explore, not every theme or every work was given the time it truly deserved, but the overall impact of the exhibition still resonated. Weaving through the galleries you’d see people laugh at desktop computers with the Netscape browser open, remembering when this was the cutting edge of technology. They’d shortly after run into a piece that confronts them with the interplay of surveillance and the technology, and suddenly Netscape seems less nostalgic and more like a stepping stone. With technology at the forefront of the concept, the curation of the exhibition was brilliant in its use of light and sound, drawing people in and repelling them out when it lent itself to the experience.
As always, I was entitled to pick my favorite experiences, the ones that made me linger a little longer, take a picture, or changed my perspective. Of those on display, none struck me more than Safe Conduct by Ed Atkins . Three larger screens made up of four smaller monitors play a loop set to Revel’s “Boléro”, an imagine of a video-game-esque human figure going through an airport security check, but with distortions and surreal components that lead you to think about the role technology plays in safety, invasion of the personal space (both mentally and physically), terror and fear. Each minute the music is building to a crescendo, and the imagery grows more disturbing and fractured, and the unease you feel grows; yet, knowing that the peak is near due to sonic cues you are compelled to stand still and continue to watch. After the piece reached it’s frenzied conclusion and I left the other side of the gallery after staying for nearly 10 minutes, I felt disrupted but at the same time curious. It was just one of many pieces that left me wondering about what my role as the viewer was supposed to be in the work, lingering both physically and mentally, wanting to explore further.
Some other stand out pieces for me were:
- GreenScreenRefrigeratorAction by Mark Leckey
- Gfwlist by aaajiao (Xu Wenkai)
- Tillie, the Telerobotic Doll by Lynn Hershman Leeson
One of the most fascinating things I found with this exhibition, it was extremely difficult to capture some pieces with your smartphone’s camera. There was a deep sense of irony found in trying to capture a piece of work that is directly related to the internet, to share with/on the internet, and not having the technology to appropriately capture it. My 2017 iPhone 8 was unable to capture a television screen produced in the late 90s. The irony was not lost on me as I spent my ride home laughing at the photos I took that were too dark, pixelated or just downright bad. In the current world of HD TV’s you can forgot that growing up you could not take a picture of the television without a big black band horizontally ruining your photo. I found that this ironic twist of fate lent well to the concept of the exhibition, and my interaction with it.
Another fun juxtaposition was the portion of the exhibition focused on the concept of surveillance and resistance, was also the portion of the exhibition people were taking the most photos and videos. When the image of yourself appeared on a screen, the instinct was to pull out your smartphone and take a picture of yourself (Ain’t no shame, I did it!). When looking at works that directly addressed the role of surveillance and resistance tied to technology, your surroundings became a sea of strangers with cameras. Whether that was the intent or just the outcome of the curation, it was fascinating nonetheless.
Alas, 9pm rolled around and I was forced to say goodbye to this exhibit, but I was certainly excited to see what the ICA cooks up next. I guess for those of you who missed it, you’ll just have to visit it online: https://aiai.icaboston.org/