Notes from the Epicenter: The Art World Comes of Age
I recently heard someone define the "Internet community" as "everyone affected by the Internet -- that is, everyone." That means consumers, designers, writers, deliverers, renters, politicians, corporate heads, financiers, Americans, Africans, Mexicans, artists. All of these kinds of people, and many more, have seen the Internet affect their world view, their reality, their living space, their vocation, their craft. In the recently unveiled Web exhibit 010101: Art in Technological Times , the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art examines how the Internet has changed fine art, and how fine art can change the Internet.
Web Imitates Art
The exhibit, which will gain an offline component on March 3, opened on the Web on the first day of the new year -- a day that, when converted to a numbered date (010101), bears a fascinating resemblance to a line of computer code. And just as the way we code our time and our computers is becoming more alike than different, so the workings of the Web – the nodes, the networks, the connections, the code -- are becoming more like what we call art.
What I've always enjoyed about the different crafts and forms of expression we call art is that, when they work, they evoke a feeling, or a thought, or a question, in the viewer. They offer an angled view of the world, one where the relationships between elements have shifted just enough to make us think. SFMOMA's 010101 exhibit has done this masterfully.
Flash of Brilliance
The main interface, which makes the best use of Flash animation I've seen, offers quotes from writers and thinkers (and aren't these basically the same?) on such Internet Age topics as anonymity, nomad-ism, detritus, and sprawl.
Examining the global yet oddly isolated nature of today's lives, James Hillman asks:
"Who's in the next flat? Who's in 14-B? I don't know who they are but boy, I'm on the phone, car phone, toilet phone, plane phone, my mistress is in Chicago, the other woman I'm with is in DC, my ex-wife is in Phoenix, my mother in Hawaii, and I have four children living all over the country. I have faxes coming in day and night, I can plug into all the world's stock prices, commodity exchanges, I am everywhere, man. But I don't know who's in 14-B."
The Internet, the great connector, the great connection, is also the great isolator and the great isolation. What does it mean about the way we are changing that we can talk instantaneously to someone in the countryside of Kenya, yet at the same time sit alone in a one-room apartment within a teeming American city?
This question and many others are raised through the Web installations the museum commissioned for the exhibit. Erik Adigard's "Timelocater" (see below) explores what time means to a network. (I've always wondered about the genesis of the curious Internet-necessitated term "real time.") Auriea Harvey and Michael Samyn's "eden.garden 1.0" investigates the provisions of narrative structures and how they can be affected by the Web medium. The exhibit also explores the experiences of humans in virtual spaces, such as the characters in video games (especially interesting to me as I've been playing a lot of Gauntlet Legends lately). Mark Napier's "Feed" turns the code underneath a Web page into a constantly regenerating mass of graphs and connected lines that has a surprising aesthetic beauty.
It's easy to focus on what affects us in the moment -- whether WebVan will go out of business, how much the stock price of Amazon.com has plummeted -- but the Internet has larger implications for the future and for life on Earth, and the way it is incorporated into our daily existence raises questions that deserve examination. As Erik Davis puts it on the 010101 Web site:
"The horizon melts into a limitless question mark and, like the cartographers of old, we glimpse yawning monstrosities and mind-forged utopias beyond the edges of our paltry and provisional maps."
Read more by Andrea Dudrow.