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Monday, August 01, 2005

Practical Jokes, Mechanical GIFs, and Art Data

Last week, with an invitation from friends, I had a chance to see the latest Rhizome-curated exhibition at the New Museum. The show, RHIZOME ArtBase 101, presents 40 works of Internet art from Rhizome’s collection of over 1500 pieces and projects.

Grouping the works according to ten themes, this small exhibition gives a surprisingly complete and compelling overview of the development and current state of the practice.

Several of the show’s pieces can be enjoyed from any networked computer. Nike Ground, for example, uses modified culture-jamming practices to play a practical joke on the city of Vienna. For this piece, the collective 0100101110101101.org appropriated Nike’s marketing tactics to convince citizens of Vienna that Nike was taking over the Karlsplatz, re-branding it as Nikeplatz. Documentary photographs, conceptual drawings of the large swoosh sculpture planned for the site (right), and video interviews with outraged Vienna residents are available for browsing on the group’s website.

MTAA’s contribution to the exhibition, One Year Performance Video (screen capture at left), has been bottled for gallery presentation but actually lives best in an interactive fashion on the web. Part of this collective’s Updates Series, the piece re-imagines Sam Hseih’s yearlong imprisonment/performance from 1978-79. But this time the viewers rather than the artists must commit to staying with the work for a year’s duration. Registered visitors to the project’s website have the time they spend running the piece tracked. When the work has been viewed for a year (somewhere north of 31 million seconds), the viewer becomes a collector as MTAA hands over 34 megabytes of unique “art data” that describes a year’s data stream. (To create your own account, log in and start watching here.)

A sculptural installation by Matt Barton and Paper Rad is the one piece in the show that can’t be fully appreciated in the virtual world. The piece, extreme animalz: the movie: part 1 is best described as an homage to the animated GIF—the almost obsolete, pre-Flash method of animating web images. The piece combines screens of Paper Rad’s animated animal GIFs with toy animals and taxidermied animal heads. The installation comes to life when activated by a motion detector—the stuffed animals spinning, twisting, and shimmying manically in a manner than brings into the real world the frantic energy of Paper Rad’s computer animation. When the piece starts and the wall begins to shake with activity, everything else in the gallery stops as it becomes impossible to do anything but stare and smile at such a crazy, controlled spectacle. (Video of the piece in motion is available in a NY1 feature on the show in both high bandwidth and low bandwidth streams (via).)

Far from showcasing tech art by tech artists that can only be appreciated by other techies, this show presents an emerging body of art that sparks thought about new uses for a technology that is mostly deployed for commercial ends. Anyone interested in artistic practice today (Luddites included) will appreciate the current state of the art as shown here.

RHIZOME Artbase 101 is on display at the New Museum of Contemporary Art through September 10, 2005.

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