Domenico Quaranta, curator of Collect the WWWorld.
It was the New York opening of Collect the WWWorld, a collection of internet-inspired art, and an impressive number of stylish Brooklyn creatives had turned out for the occasion. Sipping Franzia and introducing themselves by saying things like, "I’m from the internet. Actually, from ____ on Tumblr," the patrons were in for a stimulating display. The exhibit included a wall-sized collage of hundreds of images taken from the internet; a smashed keyboard and desktop computer playing the viral video of an "angry German kid" destroying his computer in a fit of rage; an oversized absurdist animation projected on a wall, complemented by a soundtrack of loud human grunting.
"I wanted to make a show that showed the impact of the internet on contemporary art."
The gallery show was an accompaniment to the digital collection housed on the Collect the WWWorld Tumblr, which has accrued more than 300 works that demonstrate "the practice of exploring, collecting, archiving, manipulating, reusing huge amounts of visual material produced by popular culture and advertising." Basically, it’s sampling from the wealth of images, text, and video available on the web, and making art around it.
"I wanted to make a show that showed the impact of the internet on contemporary art, but try to make something that would make sense to the general audience," explained Domenico Quaranta, an Italian art critic and the curator of Collect the WWWorld.
Attendees at the Collect the WWWorld exhibit in Brooklyn.
It’s possible to experience this art on two levels. Most of the works are irreverent and charming, and can be appreciated simply for their cleverness, like Niko Pricen’s A Collection of Images, which consists of a list of image file names. But there’s often more insight to be had. For example, Elisa Giardina Papa’s compilation of YouTube clips of kids begging their webcams for ideas for videos, is cute on its face. But it’s also meant to show how society now pressures ordinary people to produce content for the internet, even when they’re too young to have something to say. "If you see just one video on YouTube, it doesn’t make sense to you," Quaranta explained. But as a collection, a thesis emerges.
As a collection, a thesis emerges
Similarly, the artist Kevin Bewersdorf builds his works around Google image results for certain keywords. Google image search result for "exhausted" printed onto blanket, tie, dog leash and golf towel by Walgreens.com, was the one included in the recent exhibit. The blanket, tie, and dog showed a Caucasian man holding a limp and sleeping boy who is presumably his son. Whoever took the picture and uploaded it to the internet probably wasn’t trying to make a statement, but Bewersdorf noticed that the image bore a striking accidental resemblance to Michaelangelo’s Piata, in which the Virgin Mary holds her dead son.
"In a situation in which everyone is a producer, artists are post-producers who collect everything and give it meaning," Quaranta said.
Kevin Bewersdorf's Google image search result for "exhausted" printed onto blanket, tie, dog leash and golf towel by Walgreens.com.Source: Postmasters.
The project and affiliated artists are part of a new generation of remix art, continuing a tradition that started in the 1960s as part of the contemporary art movement and refined in later years as "appropriation art." Quaranta compares his collection to the conceptual artists Hans-Peter Feldmann, who rearranges mundane objects and scenes, and the infamous "re-photographer" Richard Prince, who is being sued for copyright violation for using another photographer’s work in his collages.
The project is part of a new generation of remix art
Quaranta’s not sure how long the project will run, and he’s still collecting submissions. The physical exhibition of Collect the WWWorld started in Quaranta’s native Italy a year ago, before traveling to Switzerland and then to New York. The project has also produced a book with the project’s full name, "Collect the WWWorld: The Artist as Archivist in the Internet Age."
Collect the WWWorld attempts to encapsulate an art movement with no strict definition or label. However, it’s closely related to the "net art" and "New Aesthetic" digital art movements. Both terms encompass creative work influenced by an internet-centric culture. The works are usually amalgamations of pieces of the web, best appreciated by internet connoisseurs who recognize and enjoy the references.
My generation, by Eva and Franco Mattes.
Other works on display included Once Upon, by Olia Lialina and Dragan Espenschied, a triptych of computers displaying mashups between modern websites and their 90s counterparts. A link list with a grainy picture of Sandra Bullock is labeled "Pinterest," the "dancing baby" animated .gif is superimposed onto YouTube, and a table of avatars is declared to be "Google+." Another piece, The Universal Texture by Clement Valla, consisted of two blown-up Google Street View images printed on canvases, one on the floor and one slumped against a wall.
The three-room gallery where the exhibit was held is something of a New York hub for this type of art. The space was founded by Igal Nassima, a programmer, artist, and a graduate of New York University’s interactive media program, ITP. Nassima runs the space with his co-director, Lindsay Howard. Nassima lives above the gallery with two fellow ITP grads, and has built a community around the space that attracts net artists, New Aesthetic artists, and their fans.
Elisa Giardina Papa's need ideass!?!PLZ!!.
Mark Triant, resident of 319 Scholes and ITP grad, attempted to explain the motif by invoking the image-sharing forum Dump.fm. The site, based in New York, became popular with a niche of techie artists who use it to produce wacky, retro-looking digital art.
319 Scholes became a home for a lot of these artists, as it evolved from a gathering space to a gallery. "It was always sort of a party venue," Triant recalled. The parties sounded not unlike interactive art exhibits themselves. "We had a Chatroulette rave here once," Triant said. "We’d get some guy jacking off in front of his computer, and half of them would stop when they realized they were in front of a room of people, and half would keep going, and we’d heckle them."
Gradually, the space transitioned from internet-inspired parties to internet-inspired art shows. It became a venue for student projects coming out of ITP, and then started displaying experimental art and tech works.
"We had a Chatroulette rave here once."
It’s tough to throw a single label on the art this eccentric movement is creating. Attempts to do so often end up sounding garbled, like "byproducts of the democratization of media creation" or "art capable of acknowledging the presence and impact of this unprecedented medium of distribution and dissemination."
Part of this difficulty comes from the fact these works are so disparate. It’s hard to see how a screen grab of a Facebook page is in the same category as a copier printing black-and-white images from the web with the words "ENDLESS OPPORTUNITIES" spelled out in large letters on the wall, for example. However, these pieces all satisfy the same need: to draw some insight from the huge piles of information being compiled on the internet and slowly forgotten.
Upstairs, in the apartment pad above the gallery, Quaranta and Nassima relaxed on couches as the apartment’s black, fluffy feline resident padded across the cushions. The sounds of the show thudded through the floor as the pair discussed the impact of the internet on creativity and web-native art projects like Dump.fm and the erotic site Beautiful Agony, which features user-submitted photos and videos of people’s faces as they orgasm. "Only on the internet can you find that kind of documentary material," Quaranta marveled. "It’s not just appropriation art or contemporary art. It’s using content that is provided by the internet for the development of archives."
Clarification: An earlier version of this story said 319 Scholes is run by Igal Nassima. While he founded the space, Lindsay Howard organizes exhibitions as its curatorial director.