OPEN CALL: Web-Based Art at Institute of Contemporary Art, Miami
Perhaps the art that gives us the clearest insight into our particular zeitgeist, that German notion of typifying or encapsulating the Big Ideas of one’s time, is that which uses a medium inextricable from the fabric of daily life. For the Dadaists, it was mechanical reproduction, for Pop art, industrial manufacturing. In this way, it could be said that web-based art is at the fore of a movement of art-making that uses the ephemera of our digital age – streams of personal data, the actions of artificial intelligence, virtual experience, the endless terrain of social media updates – to repurpose and challenge the precarious relationship of humanity and technology.
Newly emerged at not content to stagnate with typical museum programming, the Institute of Contemporary Art in Miami’s Design District sourced the artists for their latest exhibition via an invitation for submissions. The resultant show, OPEN CALL: Web-Based Art, is a giddily varied display of digital collage and culture-jamming that satisfies academic and punk aesthetics alike, a show that seriously considers the role of increasingly sophisticated technologies in human life and also flies in the face of convention. Via both the nontraditional submission-based format and the de-materialized nature of the works themselves, the exhibition slyly upends traditional thinking about art while foregrounding the struggle to uphold the utopian promise of a free web in our era of unending corporate infiltration and unchecked surveillance.
Mike Bode and Takuji Kogo’s video, “American Sitcom,” juxtaposes recordings of different video bloggers recounting experiences of relationships, intimacy, or self-reflection, spelled out word-by-word on screen over backgrounds like serene cloudscapes or pixelated close-ups of faces. The differing dialects of the speakers allows us to question the uniformity of language and invokes the cold sterility of voice-recognition software or computer-generated voicing. Similarly, Dionysia Mylonaki’s “Voice Booth” presents us with a video of speakers attempting to feign sympathy as recognized by an artificially intelligent rating system. A briefcase-bound apparatus visually similar to a high-tech lie detector is included with the piece. In the video, doctors clad in scrubs and administrators in professional dress struggle to nail the tone of voice the machine recognizes as ‘sympathetic,’ expressed via a wavering dot that approaches a bullseye. Each participant is forced to subdue their own audible frustration and anxious laughter when faced with the absurd problem of expressing an emotion to an unfeeling algorithm.
A more roundly psychedelic and collage-based approach is utilized by Willie Avendano in his video “tamani [143.prt2]”, a digital mash of obscure 80s footage and web salvage glitched into submission. The resulting stew of digital artifacts is anarchically subversive, bringing pioneers of found-footage re-appropriation like TV Carnage to mind. AdrienneRose Gionta also employs collage, but the basis of her piece is the videogame Second Life. Entitled “My Big Fat Summer as a Skinny Hot Chick in Second Life,” Gionta spent many hours reproducing summery activities like snorkeling, dancing, and romancing within the digital game-world. The spliced-together video log coupled with blog-post-style journal entries about the artist’s avatar’s experiences is a winkingly funny exploration of the watered-down interactions digital communities offer us. It’s also a refreshingly benign take on the medium of videogames, so often presented as vehicles for high fantasy and surrealistically elevated action, violence, and gore, that recalls the insurgent game tinkering of Cory Arcangel.
Also working with sourced imagery is Byron Peters’ “Monodramas,” a supercut of studio splash trailers, like golden-tinged clouds instantly recognizable as the TriStar logo despite the removal of all text. The piece invites viewers to consider a digital labor class, a slew of 3D artists and effects specialists that fabricate visual content in an increasingly utilitarian creative class. That the logos and identifying pieces of their work have been removed comments on the anonymity of these skilled creatives within the overarching media structure. Continuing in the absurdist vein, Andrew Norman Wilson’s “Uncertainty Seminars” presents video of a Chow Chow, Sigmund Freud’s favorite dog breed, musing via subtitles about Freud’s biography before devolving into loosely-connected imagery of Sharper Image-esque contraptions and a lingering erect penis. The piece invites playful sleuthing regarding the nature of Freudian psychoanalysis, shot through the lens of digital atomization.
Other works employed the web as both means and ends, such as UBERMORGEN’s “Ziron”, presented in the museum as a set of instructions for connecting to a Wi-Fi router. Once the user joins the network, itself an act of trust via the surrender of personal data, they are redirected to a website that presents a faux-corporate structure or doctrine via a variety of jargon-addled lists that read like the most convoluted mission statements imaginable. Listed items like “Trust”, “Comply with anything” and “Plan, initiate, and track end-consumers” subvert marketing and strategizing language into sinister non-sequiturs, a Jenny Holzer-esque cannibalization of corporate messaging. Similar themes of surveillance and user-tracking arise in Daniel Wilson’s “America Says Hello,” a custom software built to call every phone number in North America. Those who answer are presented with only silence, and their responses are recorded and compiled into an index. Across swaths of Americans repeatedly beckoning “hello,” we are able to glimpse small fractions of strangers’ lives via an errant dog bark or environmental ambiance, the tones of the speakers themselves ranging from inquisitive to severely annoyed.
Damon Zucconi uses data-aggregating software to a different end in “Slow Verb.” His program compiles lyrics to vocal trance songs, a sub-genre of dance music. The program then generate new songs on the fly via an algorithm meant to emulate the form of existing music, using only the re-situated words of other tracks. The resulting lyrics aren’t too far off the mark, commenting on formulaic methods of songwriting and the universal reach of clichés. Meanwhile, “Selfeed.com” by Jillian Mayer, Tyler Madsen, and Erik Carter presents the most direct interpretation of digital society in the exhibition via a website that streams pictures captioned with “#selfie” on the photo-sharing platform Instagram. The result is an unadulterated barrage of social media’s image fixations ranging from personal fitness, to sexualized posturing, to the omnipresent smiling headshot.
A versatile exhibition full of poignant questions about the nature of our constructed digital realities, OPEN CALL: Web-Based Art finds both absurd humor and grim reflection in web and data-derived subjects, sometimes within the same piece. Those with an inkling of interest in the alternately wondrous and dire spectrum of software and Internet developments that constantly flood and inform our daily lives will find many provocative digital curios and clever strategies of engagement within the Institute of Contemporary Art’s latest exhibition[.]
This post was contributed by David Bennett.