Post Physical: Visual Reactions to the Post-Internet Age at SooLocaL
Few of us remain who have scruples about our attachment to the internet. The smartphones lodged in back pockets, almost melded into our bodies. The physical assimilation of the virtual has become normalized action. We are both here and there, in the moment of time and place with our bodies in a physical locale, and elsewhere at the exact same moment of time, engaging with a virtual self in a non-physical world beyond that time/place. The truth is, it’s automatic and we don’t actually think about how our lives have been transformed to the point that we can no longer extricate ourselves from this seamlessly interwoven technology. The result: we are in a post-internet age. We cannot go back to being pre-internet, nor function well or wholly as ourselves without it, and most would find it difficult to physically function without the internet.
All artists, like the rest of us, participate with virtual culture and utilize the internet at some level, but the artists in Post Physical at SooVac engage critically and often playfully in the space between the physical and the virtual. Bringing these issues into the “real” material space of the gallery’s white walls produces art made of everything and anything. It is only natural that artists “incorporate the existing pool of attention-grabbing stuff disseminated online as if it were paint or clay.” 1
On the surface, a disheveled aesthetic permeates the small gallery, but the thinking, the intellectual critique is anything but. The show might rather be called busy – like you’re scrolling through the internet looking for something, flicking between tabs, then you switch to your phone to answer a text. This layered way of processing and functioning operates something like the content in much of the work, as in Caitlin Warner’s Untitled, a clear acetate reprint of Gene McHugh’s physical rendering of his blog Post-Internet: Notes on the Internet and Art, 12 29 09>09 05 10. Transparent plastic screens inscribed with one day’s blog are stacked one on top of the next, a palimpsest of musings about the interplay between the internet and the art world. The viewer cannot read the filmy blog without touching and manipulating the pages to make the words readable, much like a reader maneuvers a tablet.
The way we surf the internet is the foundation of the show’s sloppy aesthetic; the constant scanning that ultimately conglomerates things; collecting, collaborating, cobbling together, even unique hand made objects. Nicholas Carroll’s sculptures are the most obvious physical manifestation of this process. Carroll’s Things That Aren’t A Helicopter is just that, everyday objects pulled in together, mostly piled into a milkcrate that lodges into a steel tube office chair that slides nicely over the sculpture podium. A used college art history textbook nestles against the right armrest, telling the viewer that the work is thinking hard about the art object and where it is heading. In fact, I would call this work one of the most abstract artworks of the exhibition, because the things brought together become so removed from their daily function without narrative that I saw only forms coming together. I found it hard to disassociate this work from that of Minneapolis artist Andy Ducett, who embraces the human qualities of everyday objects while remaining linked to elements of narrative and storytelling. In contrast, Carroll wants these objects to transport the viewer elsewhere, to move lightly and find a new set of objects with new associations not bound to one story or identity.
Oddly enough, I believe these artists are exacting and aiming at perfection and completion, but the process keeps outwitting them, and they remain forever in this interrupted state. “FUCK”, says the only oil on canvas painting, as Milhouse, of the TV series The Simpson’s, stares blankly out from it. This work immediately stood out to me as I walked into the gallery, not only because of the loud, uppercase, word, but because of the antiquated – dare I say irrelevant – media included in this post-physical show. The artist of the work in question, Garrett Perry, comments that his work expresses for him frustration to the point of resignation with the painting. But then he again picks up the paintbrush and continues to relate to his world in his chosen media. With a cartoon character who everyone knows to be benign and ineffectual rendered in a way that is off, not-quite-right, Perry belies an attempt that is abandoned with an expletive that says, “I give up.” This resignation can also refer, especially in the context of the show, to how many feel in the face of an inability to stave off the internet/digital/media onslaught.
So yes, it is a little hard to focus in this media-saturated exhibition. Mark Vomit’s I Am A God gif is the perpetrator of our sensory-weakened state. I tried to have a conversation nearby, but my friend and I kept having to reposition ourselves to keep it out of view – it literally made it difficult to be there and have a real face-to-face interaction. I Am A God speaks to that persistence of media to intervene when we least expect it, to ask for our attention, so that many artists crave to create the same attention-grabbing motions. The work is clever in its commentary, but annoying in its presence. As the title says, media is the new god of our creation, thus we adore it and lie prostrate before its power.
Resistance is futile; it is a near impossibility to avoid the seduction of the smooth screen that enlivens with a soft caress. Gone are the clunky keys of yesterday, mechanical and earthly, the magically alive screens of today wink and beckon for more contact. Norah Stone’s Artificial Utopias No. 1 articulates with satiric prowess how we’ve been taken over by the impulse to touch machines in lieu of the skin of human intimacy. The touch screen is a connection to an alternate domain of ourselves and others; the conduit to this world – the tablet – hardly feels like a machine anymore. That’s possibly because they aren’t: “they are conduits rather than discreet objects: unstable constellation of machines.”2 The physical, organic world, begins to feel static in comparison.
I am impressed by how the collection of works, coming together, bring newer and even deeper meanings to what the artworks might have were they on their own. I applaud younger artists for attempting to make sense of the anxiety around technology and the self and for producing new artistic concepts around these wider societal issues. As a professor I encounter much thoughtless acceptance of “progress” and tech advances. Like Caitlin Warner’s book filled only with reflective pages, the show reflects back on the experience of encountering an internet that constantly asks us about ourselves, our “likes”, images of ourselves or our world, that the viewer produces content. The artist, in this instance, gives the means to move beyond mindless participation and move into a more engaged encounter between the internet and ourselves.
The artists appear fully integrated with the virtual means of creating identity. I perceive this new way of being as a loss of authenticity, without a “true” sense of self. My notion of an authentic self might be outdated and require renegotiating to include the constructed, even fictional self manufactured visually and textually online. This group of artists appears to accept this mode of identity negotiation as playful, demoralizing, entertaining, stupid, productive and most importantly – mandatory. The result is that the show is drenched in irony, saturated in something foreign but already impossible to extract. So much so that I’d say this is one the few exhibitions I’ve seen in Minnesota that I would call witty. Wit is not an inherent characteristic of this upper Midwest locale, so perhaps the wit is cultivated and enhanced via a global conversation courtesy of the internet.
But more so, I think the show’s wittiness is the result of the ridiculousness of physically being in the white cube and making physical work, as well as conducting relationships that are primarily virtual, but manifest themselves physically. The ridiculousness of relational intimacy, of negotiating real relationships remains problematic. The artists represented are 21st century techno-social guinea pigs; this show represents the local avant-garde (notice my antiquated, not post-modern terminology that I use without irony). One example of this is Kat Fisher’s 12 Steps, a work that could not have been made ten years ago because of its use of newer technology. An iPhone is strapped to a worn copy of Ulysses, placed on top of a podium. A bluetooth speaker wedged behind the iPhone plays a reading of the entire book by a techno-robot voice like Siri’s. But this is not an audiobook reading. Instead the artist has transferred the original version by Joyce through 12 technical steps, until there emerges a version mutated at times beyond recognition,that takes the listener far beyond the original by bringing in words (like Syracuse) because the original text has been manipulated and misinterpreted by machination. The technical transcription process is critical and complicit, asking us to forgive the machine for getting the words wrong while at the same time asking us to enjoy the gimmick, to open to the page from which the machine reads and find new meanings not anticipated by the original. The conceptual richness of this piece is evident in many others that should entice any serious contemporary art viewer to the exhibition.