It was only a matter of time before it happened—the art biennale has gone digital.
In the early days of the web, art lovers and history geeks alike fantasied about the possibilities of the virtual gallery. Physical art can only last for so long before it begins to decay, but objects online seemingly exist forever, cyber-preserved, protected from the damages of sunlight and time.
Now that we’ve all had some time to get used to the internet, it’s obvious that the dream of the perfect web museum will probably never be realised. It turns out that time passes on the internet even faster than it does in “real life”. Links go dead, file formats get corrupted, servers crash and entire websites are lost forever. Still, there are unmistakeable advantages to showing art in an online space. Not only does net art have the potential to be totally free and accessible worldwide, the internet itself is a unique medium which many young and contemporary artists are using to create exciting new work.
If you’re looking for an introduction to the best new internet-based work, the 2015 edition of The Wrong – New Digital Art Biennale is it. Including both online and offline work from over 1000 participating artists, The Wrong is a mind-blowingly vast collection of web-based art that ranges from cute to sad to thought-provoking. Unfolding across more than 50 online exhibition spaces and 40+ “IRL” ones, The Wrong is the cumulative work of more than 90 curators. Having opened on November 1st, it will be happening until the end of January 2016, so there’s still plenty of time left to visit its many, many digital pavilions.
Trying to see all of the art on view isn’t just intimidating, though—it’s pretty much impossible. Like the internet, The Wrong is constantly changing and expanding as new artists show work on its interactive, open platforms. Just trying to get an overview of the whole thing makes you dizzy. There’s so much art here, and a lot of it is very good, but you can quickly feel as if you’re falling down a never-ending black hole of glitch art, novelty cursors, and seizure-inducing GIFs. So we picked out a few of our favourite exhibitions to get you started.
For a good feeling of what The Wrong is all about, head over to Homeostasis Lab. With the modest goal of being “the biggest digital art exhibition ever”, Homeostasis Lab is a Sao-Paolo-founded project showcasing worldwide submissions from a wide variety of artists. An unfathomable number of different works are stacked on top of each other, blending into each other, like an image-heavy webpage that’s struggling to load properly. You can click on the preview images to drag them around or open them up to see the full works. After a while your eyes might start hurting, but it’s worth it.
Speaking of eye strain, The Others is another space worth checking out, but you might want to put sunglasses on first. The graphics are fun, but if you look at them for a while they also become painful and kind of unsettling—not unlike the general experience of spending too much time online. As The Others points out, this gallery, like the web itself, exists in a liminal space “between banality and powerful creativity”. Hidden behind eerily floating pixelated images of junk food and dancing animals, The Others features some beautiful digital work from the likes of Lauren Pelc-McArthur, one of Studio Beat’s Digital Artists-in-Residence. Her pieces here feel both organic and mechanical at the same time, evoking imagery of crystals, mountains, water droplets, slugs, waves, and also—somehow—Kid Pix, that image-creating software of millennial childhoods. Futuristic and nostalgic at the same time, Pelc-McArthur’s glittering, blue- and purple-tinged, slow-moving images are completely hypnotic.
The juxtaposition of Pelc-McArthur’s work with the chaotic web-nostalgia background behind it forcibly reminds the viewer that they are looking at art on the internet, rather than in a traditional gallery space. Hypermedia Dreams is another pavilion which draws attention to this contrast in an effective way, showing understated pieces next to eye-popping retro-web visuals. Christian Petersen’s photo-gif hybrids stand out here: moving only slightly, these works depict small moments in the physical world: trees blowing in the wind outside a wind, shadows of light moving across a wooden floor. They make you forget you are online. Or do they make you more aware of it?
Toronto-based exhibition 100percentreal brings this question of online/offline awareness to the forefront of the gallery experience. 100percentreal will be showing at Xpace Cultural Centre until December 12th, but you can also view the exhibition in digital form from the comfort of your own laptop. In an essay on 100percentreal, curator Adrienne Crossman cites media theorist Nathan Jurgensen’s idea that we are now living in “an augmented reality”: that is, the divide between the virtual (the internet) and the real (everything outside your computer) has disappeared. The Wrong does an excellent job of proving this theory right, although anyone who grew up with the internet has probably already accepted it as fact. To regular users of media like Instagram and Facebook, it’s obvious that the internet is not a separate place outside of life away-from-keyboard, but rather that the internet is simply another space within our lives, another register on the school/work/home continuum. What, then, as 100percentreal seeks to examine, does this aspect of modern life mean for art? “Does art have less value when lost in an infinite Tumblr scroll?” Crossman wonders. Within this exhibition, Cat Bluemke’s Luxury International (pictured in part in this article’s featured image) does a particularly good job of trying to answer that question. But what happens to said art when, many years later, Tumblr eventually goes the way of Myspace?
Not Found is an exhibition that really forces us to think about these questions. The artists mentioned here—typical to many artists showing in The Wrong—often raise the theme of time passing quickly online via purposefully outdated-looking web graphics. Among young people on the internet there is a general reverence for the imagery of the early web. This is probably due in part to the fact that much of the early internet is gone: the rapid advancement of internet technology has rendered it inaccessible or deleted. Finding a ten-year-old website is a rare occurrence. A decade therefore feels like a century or more in internet time.
The Not Found exhibition brings this fact to our attention by displaying net art works that are no longer active—art that has been “lost or displaced”. When you click on the links displayed, you find error pages reading “404 Page Not Found” or “403 Entry Forbidden”. It’s a strangely unnerving experience, not unlike the feeling you might have when, after making a trip to visit a gallery, you discover that it is permanently closed. This feeling of loss is even more striking in an online context, because there might be no way of ever seeing the art in those empty sites again. Decayed old paintings can be restored by experts with fine brushes and careful hands, but who’s going to find the ancient code of defunct net art sites and bring them back online?
Given the current media preoccupation with online privacy, it’s easy to forget how easy it can be for parts of the internet to simply stop functioning and effectively disappear. We think that online is forever. But just as a painting slowly disintegrates after years of exposure to air and sunlight, so does art on the internet slowly become inaccessible. The Wrong, which lasts only a few months, is a good reminder of the impermanence of the internet—and the importance of preserving the art that exists within it.
Find out more about The Wrong here.