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Memery: Imitation, Memory, and Internet Culture

Apr 3, 2011–Jan 22, 2012
Galleries

An "Internet meme" is a form or concept that spreads via the Web, whether through email forwarding, viral videos, or blogs. Memes tend to lose our attention as quickly as they capture it. Although they may recede from view, memes never fully cease to exist, surviving in the backs of our minds and in the ever-expanding network of servers that make up the Internet. In the realm of digital memory, what seems to have disappeared may simply be lying dormant in the recesses of a hard drive.

Does the Internet only consist of ephemera, or does it contain something more permanent? What roles do time and memory play in an ever-evolving online world? What is the relationship between passing fads and enduring icons? Taking these questions as its point of departure, Memery examines the connections between memes and memory in online culture.

Memory is one of the informing principles of museums, which house and preserve works of art from the near and distant past. If memory is embedded in the structure of the Internet, then it too can serve as a repository for cultural artifacts. Museums and the Internet, however, have an uncertain relationship in the presentation and preservation of culture. What is the importance of having a physical encounter in a gallery when virtual tours are available online? What is the role of museums, which traditionally preserve objects, when it comes to digital art? Conflicts and compromises between physical settings and online spaces underlie much of the work in this show.

Working across a range of media, the nine artists in the show mine the Internet - drawing on YouTube videos, pictures from Flickr or Tumblr, website logos, social networking sites, and webchat programs. Some appropriate and reconfigure existing content; others translate intangible data into physical objects; others assemble elements into archives or catalogs.

The exhibition includes work from AIDS-3D, John Michael Boling, Mark Callahan, Constant Dullaart, Martijn Hendriks, Brian Kane, Oliver Laric, Rob Matthews, and Penelope Umbrico.

About the Artists

AIDS-3D  is a collaboration between Daniel Keller and Nik Kosmas, two American artists living in Berlin. Using the Internet as their primary tool, they create object-based works that explore networks and issues of replication. Their sculpture, Berserker, combines the body of a classical figure with the head of an extra-terrestrial life form. The hybrid creature holds in its hand a USB drive with the plans for its own fabrication, playing on the self-replication and mutation of forms in a digital world.

Through juxtaposition and careful editing, New York-based artist John Michael Boling highlights moments of absurdity and serendipity that he finds online. As its title might suggest, Four Weddings and a Funeral synchronizes videos from four weddings and a funeral posted on YouTube, exploiting the public nature of a forum that is often used to host very personal memories. The simultaneous events become difficult to parse. Their individual character gives way to a cacophonous, at times grating, whole.

Mark Callahan, of Athens, GA, creates subtle, haunting portraits based on popular Internet content. Callahanís 24-Hour Miss South Carolina stretches a 30-second viral video of a confused beauty pageant contestant into a 24-hour loop. The work plays with the idea that Miss South Carolina is always giving her speech somewhere on the Internet. As memory of the original video fades, however, Callahanís work begins to acquire new meanings and associations. Memery also debuts House and Universe a new work in which Callahan erases the figures from popular YouTube video blogs, leaving only empty rooms in sight. Simultaneously interior studies, stage sets, and glimpses into contemporary homes, these views draw attention to the semi-public nature of private space in an era of web-cam broadcasting.

Dutch-born and Berlin-based artist Constant Dullaart identifies recurrent themes across the Internet, then re-mixes and re-contextualizes them. Often working with banal images or tiresome website interfaces, Dullaart transforms this source material just enough to highlight some of its inherent strangeness. The exhibition includes two works that play with common imagery found on social networking and photo-sharing sites. No Sunshine is a series of picturesque sunsets with their primary element, the sun, removed. In Poser, Dullaart digitally inserts himself in a series of family portraits from the Internet. Fidgeting as he poses, the artist seems uncomfortable about his position in pictures that feel private, despite their public dissemination online.

Hailing from the Netherlands, Martijn Hendriks continually departs from, and returns to, online culture as he works across a range of media. Much of his previous work is derived from Internet-based source material; recently he has become invested in the challenge of translating this online subject matter into traditional artistic forms. In the Black of this Long Night attempts to organize Google Image search results according to the ways that the pictures have been defaced. Hendriksí new work takes a seemingly inconsequential image from a blog and turns it into a monumental abstraction, exploring how the value of the image changes when transformed through different media and modes of circulation.

Brian Kane, an artist and designer living in Cambridge, MA, has recently begun making work that plays with the border between electronic interfaces and real life by creating monumental, physical forms out of familiar Internet icons, culled from places ranging from Google Maps to online chat rooms. Waiting for Google plays with the "spinning rainbow" loading/waiting symbol, familiar to users of Mac computers. The moment of waiting that we generally seek to minimize becomes the subject of scrutiny. Magnifying this icon to a tremendous scale, Kane creates an endless and outsize duration.

Through meticulous sorting of found material and careful splicing of footage, Berlin-based artist  Oliver Laric creates montages that draw upon the repeated forms and familiar tropes of online media. His video essay Versions calls our attention to the circulation of icons across time and media, from the distant past to the present day, from religious icons to digital culture. His video 50/50 pieces together hundreds of different performances of 50 Cent's hit song "In Da Club" posted to YouTube, humorously showing how a single piece of pop music can live innumerable lives.

London-based graphic designer and artist Rob Matthews experiments with the translation of objects, images, and ideas from one medium to another. His works display the playful and sometimes precarious or unwieldy results of his investigations into the authenticity of contemporary media. Wikipedia displays his attempt to give physical form to a web site: 5,000 pages of special features printed from Wikipedia, bound into an absurdly large (but still insufficiently comprehensive) volume.

Penelope Umbrico, who lives and works in Brooklyn, is an avid collector of images through which she identifies strange phenomena and trends in online visual culture. Suns From Flickr assembles hundreds of photographs of sunsets found on Flickr. Each sunset, depicting a fleeting moment in time, becomes a timeless and universal pictorial structure. People with Suns from Flickr, her new work in Memery, looks at the online response to Suns From Flickr, presenting pictures that viewers have taken in front of the work as it has been shown in various international settings.

Curated by Emily Leisz Carr and Oliver Wunsch, interns from the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art, Memery is part of the continuing series of MASS MoCA exhibitions presented in collaboration with the Clark Art Institute in support of MASS MoCA and the Williams College Graduate Program in the History of Art. The exhibition is also made possible by the contribution of the Mondriaan Foundation, Amsterdam. Special thanks to Cline Cellars Winery.

Martijn Hendriks, Untitled, 2011

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
   
 
 
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