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Art in the Age of the Internet

The future is now.

by John Carlos Cantu

From the February, 2019 issue

There's not much point waiting for the Internet art of tomorrow. As Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today demonstrates, this postmodern multimedia art arena is already here.

The UMMA exhibit of thirty-six artworks includes painting, video, sculpture, photography, web-based projects, and performance art in an exhilarating future-world setting. The gallery statement tells us that art in virtually every medium has "been radically transformed by the cultural impact of the internet," and the exhibit supports that claim: it is a cornucopia with scant connection to the traditional benchmarks of modernism.

Though there isn't much to unify the works beyond a nod to digital revolutions in various media, the exhibit does have a pointed political dimension. An excursion past Mexican-Canadian multimedia artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer's 1992 "Surface Tension" (reworked in 2004) portends the future as a single oversized humanoid eye tracks its viewer horizontally from one side of the Taubman Gallery to the other. Hemmer's inspiration came from his realization that part of the consequence of America's wars in Iraq was increasingly ubiquitous surveillance in this country. Big Brother is watching you … even in art galleries.

Also evoking an unsettling gaze, Liverpool installation artist Kate Cooper's "RIGGED" (2014-15) features a digital video of a computer-enhanced model with an accompanying soundtrack. The model's features and physique are hyper-idealized to illustrate what Cooper identifies as a link between "female bodies found in commercials and pornography," and Cooper's spoken commentary on the soundtrack voices concerns about her sense of self and the impact of such commodification.

Exploring similar themes, New York city-based artist Jon Kessler uses Ridley Scott's 1982 future noir classic Blade Runner as his inspiration for "Noriko." The 1994 mixed-media work features a Duratrans publicity photograph (a large backlit color photo) of famed Japanese actress Noriko Sakai placed behind a flickering yellow light bulb attached to a motorized vertical brace moving slowly up and down in front of the picture, creating what Kessler calls a "consumer aesthetic."

With references to chat rooms, blogs, video-sharing websites, and all manner of audiovisual technology, the works are often breathtaking. Three decades is scarcely enough time to absorb the personal and social upheavals of the Internet, but this exhibit, which runs through April 7, gives us an enlivening glimpse of where the future of art is headed.     (end of article)

[Originally published in February, 2019.]


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