Curators Eva Respini, Omar Kholeif and Pavel Pyś take on questions about art in a digital age at the last edition of Art Basel Miami Beach.
Art Radar summarises the key points of this conversation.
Speaking at Art Basel Miami Beach, curator Eva Respini notes: “I feel like I have already seen the fair via social media, and that the internet has absolutely changed how we receive the work.”
Eva Respini is Chief Curator of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, and also the curator of the exhibition “Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today”, which runs until 20 May 2018. Respini is not the only one who has an interest in examining how the internet has radically affected the way art is produced and circulated over time; Omar Kholeif, Senior Curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, is also the editor of the book You Are Here: Art After the Internet. He was also part of the curatorial team behind “I Was Raised on the Internet”, an exhibition at the MCA Chicago. Curator of Visual Arts at the Walker Art Centre, Pavel Pyś, is also working on an upcoming exhibition entitled “The Body Electric”.
Moderated by Michael Connor, Artistic Director of Rhizome, New York, the three speakers addressed the way contemporary art has developed since 1989, and discussed how their projects have tried to address certain themes and questions that have emerged over the course of their research. Highlighting relationships and interactions between artists, their art, viewers and the internet, the speakers eventually dove into broader questions that are affecting society more than ever today, such as bodies, race, gender and sexuality. Art Radar summarises some of their key points below.
The Artist and the Internet
“We’re thinking about the internet as a social construct,” Respini states. “As a set of relationships… so for us, it’s not just a network that artists are interrupting, but a set of social practices, a social construct that has changed everything.” Artists have often sought to deal with the disruptive effects of the internet on our common-held beliefs, social norms and basic assumptions. Some artists, Respini notes, have been “prescient thinkers” that actively thought about these questions and potential interactions.
“It just so happens that artists are interested in [making the effects of the Internet visible]”, Kholeif mentions. “Artists can reveal the interior contradictions and social, political implications of the internet.” Kholeif cites artist duo Eva and Franco Mattes’s BEFNOED (2014-), which stands for ‘By Everyone, For No One, Everyday’. Crowdsourcing performers, who are hired to perform impractical, unusual and even downright weird tasks, the duo disperse these videos across the internet, without heed for geography or demographic. Kholeif noted that the majority of people who responded to Eva and Franco Mattes’ calls for performers came from “third-world nation contexts”. Highlighting the forces that underpin the division between richer, western economies and other peripheral groups, Eva and Franco Mattes’ work can be described as an investigation into mechanisms that work beneath the seemingly simple and simplistic view of shock video on the internet.
Pyś, however, was quick to debunk the novelty of the relationship between artist and technology, or, as he puts it, “The kind of ‘future’ feeling of technology that we have”. Pyś noted that artists have worked with technology since the 1960s, and the questions of embodiment – representing of the body on a screen – and identity have been present even before the present generation of artists. Across time and social contexts, artists have sought to work with questions that the internet has raised, right up until the present era.
The Body and the Internet
How do we think about the body’s role with respect to the internet? Connor’s rather open-ended question, thrown first to Kholeif, seems to catch him off-guard.
“The Internet is actually a physical thing. It’s a set of wires, it’s a set of cables, it’s not just the cloud.” Kholeif starts:
When I think about the body I start thinking about the internet as a body. As a series of things. We have become so used to discussing it as this intangible thing, and actually it’s a tangible thing that we have a physical relationship to.
Trying to make a dichotomy between “body” and “internet” may be ill-placed. The Internet is something that we can have a physical relationship with, he notes.
Pyś, however, had a different response than Kholeif. He highlighted the enmeshment of the body with the internet. Smart and intelligent clothing, wearable technology and other such developments have made the barriers between internet and human body break down. Mentioning the film DICKGIRL 3D(X), directed by Swiss artist and filmmaker Sidsel Meineche Hanssen, artists have made connections between physical representations of the body, the internet, and our relationships between one another. Hanssen’s film investigates the ability of the internet and technology to experience sexuality in a different, nonconventional way, raising questions of how this may affect human relationships further down the line.
Freedom and the Internet
“Just this notion that the internet is democratic and available to all is something that I hope our show (at ICA Boston) can push back on,” Respini said. Questioning the widespread perception that the internet is a ready resource affecting much of the world, Respini cited that only 40 percent of the world’s population has easy access to the internet. Restrictive regimes, economic hardship and other factors such as war are significant barriers that keep more than half the world’s population off the internet – and off any kind of digital intervention. It is a fallacy to presume that the internet does have wide-reaching influence, it seems. Connor argued:
There’s this myth that in the 90s, people assumed that the internet is democratic and utopian entirely, and if you look at artists’ work from that time, that’s not the case. They understood that it was dystopian, that corporations and governments were trying to extract every bit of control and value that they could.
“It’s hard to maintain an optimism,” Respini said about her outlook. Referring to the political climate after Brexit and the rise of Trump, Respini notes that it was hard to expect the internet to provide any kind of solution to the divisive, vitriolic climate today. Pyś, however, thinks that it is a good time for art that addresses these issues to be looked at seriously. Connor agrees, noting that artists are also suggesting ways forward in their works, rather than merely criticising the state of affairs.
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- Sesearch as Practice, Exhibition as Inquiry, Archive as Verb: Hammad Nasar at Experimenter Curators’ Hub 2017 – November 2017 – the London-based curator, writer and researcher presented a run-down of his recent projects
- Russian Conceptualism: “Silent Resistance” – Art Basel Conversation – video – August 2017 – seminal artist Vadim Zakharov spoke with Margarita Tupitsyn about his role in the Russian Conceptualist movement
- The Post-colonial and The Personal: Biennale Talk at Art Basel 2017 – video – July 2017 – South African curator and artist Gabi Ngcobo and artist collective Elmgreen & Dragset talk about biennales in a panel at Art Basel
- “Social Media is Killing Art” debate at Art Basel in Hong Kong 2017 – summary – May 2017 – does social media reduce art to a commodity? Or is it a democratic platform that facilitates a disruption of old ways of thinking?
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