Flash Points

“Free” and Online Experience

Lisa Oppenheim, "The Sun is Always Setting Somewhere Else," 2006. 35mm slide projection. Courtesy the artist.

Free, an exhibition that opens October 20 at the New Museum, will explore the web’s impact on how we digest information and experience public space through the work of twenty-three artists working in a wide range of mediums. I chatted with curator Lauren Cornell, Executive Director of Rhizome and New Museum Adjunct Curator, about how these artists are engaging with the online experience.

Rachel Craft: The web has broadened our notion of public space, and forever altered how we share and receive information.  We’ve come to expect a certain level of openness and immediacy from these interactions. What kind of impact has this had on how we experience art?

Lauren Cornell
: I can’t generalize the experience of art, but I can say the Internet has created new kinds of art experiences. Artists have created exhibition platforms that expand exhibition spaces past galleries and museums, and carried over web content and logic into a broad range of disciplines.

RC:  I’m curious to learn more about how the expectation of openness in our online experiences impacts how artists are engaging with viewers on the web.  How is this reflected in the work of artists in Free?

LC: There is one work in the show that directly speaks to online experience. It’s a piece by the artist Joel Holmberg who derives inspiration, in his own words, from the “contemporary Internet user experience.” It’s a project called Legendary Account (2007-2010) and it involves the artist asking profound, existential questions in the user-generated forum Yahoo Answers, which is commonly used for questions like “where is the nearest pet store?” Holmberg’s questions, which include “How does it feel to be in love?” or “How do I best convince someone I am an artist,” or “How do I occupy space?”—subvert the simple Q&A service, requiring users to select categories like “Pets” or “Home Maintenance” before posting. His questions are too big; they bust in and kind of break things down, compelling commenters to interpret and grapple with philosophical questions. The work exists both online, in a series of answers on Holmberg’s Yahoo Answers account, and will exist in the gallery as installation, with documentation of the questions and answers as long scrolls on the wall.

RC:  Will your installation of these works differ from a more traditional exhibition viewing experience? What are you hoping the visitor takes away from their interaction with Free?

LC: No, it won’t. But, I do encourage everyone to wear 3D glasses. (Just kidding.) With the exception of Ryan Trecartin‘s and David Karp‘s work, which will be an open stream of videos uploaded to a site they made collaboratively, called Ten, the show’s installation doesn’t cross into innovation.  It includes photography, sculpture, video, installation, sound and performance—these are common gallery fare today. And in a way, thats a point I’m trying to make. Many artists working with the Internet now, and since it began, engage its formal possibilities (networks, code, participation, etc). Rhizome – the nonprofit I direct – supports these practices daily. But, I also wanted to explore the ways artists are tangling with its influence across a range of contemporary art forms. Free will look at the broader effects of the Internet, how it is changing the cultural landscape for artists, particularly around ideas of information and publicness, and the many ways they are engaging this, celebrating it and fighting it.


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