January 12, 2016

The Monopolies Don’t Have A Monopoly. Internet, David Bowie, and the Exponential N E thing

Maximilian Schmoetzer, Preliminary Material for 2022, 2015

Can something be written this week without thinking about David Bowie? Browsing my Facebook-feed yesterday, I found out that David Bowie was quite genius about the internet, and this 15 years ago, in an interview by the British journalist Jeremy Paxman, who was probing him: "Isn’t it just a tool?" Whereas music had once attracted Bowie for its subversive potential, now the internet, so he said, carried “that flag of the subversive and possibly rebellious, chaotic, nihilistic...Forget about the Microsoft element, the monopolies don’t have a monopoly, maybe on programs.” In the interview the pop singer made an interesting philosophy about the development of the internet, visual arts and music. Whereas the 1960s and 1970s were all about singularity, about one person leading the forces, a fragmentation has taken place since then, one in which the audience is as important as whoever is playing, similar to the internet with its interplay between the user and provider. “I don’t think we’ve even seen the tip of the iceberg." Bowie said, "The potential of what the internet is going to do to society, both good and bad, is unimaginable. I think we’re on the grasp of something exhilarating and terrifying .”

Maximilian Schmoetzer, Preliminary Material for 2022, 2015

As a blogger, I can only agree of course. But even in 2016, art blogging is not seen as something to be taken seriously. The art world is always running behind, funnily enough. And what about the arts themselves? The problem with new media is that it’s so quickly old media, so that when you’re only counting on the “new”-aspect you’re bound to be stuck. Take the Transmediale Festival, which still thinks it’s the hottest thing in town, whereas it couldn’t be more 1990s. Last Friday, however, I visited the (internet) exhibition Exponential N E thing, curated by Vera Tollmann, featuring the work of the UdK research group Objects as Media of Reflexivity, which, so says the internet, “investigates if and how reflexivity can be spread and sustained through the »mediation« of real, tangible objects (sculptures, alienated tools, etc.)”. If this explanation is hard to comprehend for you, then that’s totally fine, it’s the whole idea actually, just like the internet is hard to see. And that’s what the exhibition Exponential N E thing seems to be about: about things and anything. 

The emphasis on the “thing-ness” of internet seems bizarre at first sight since the internet is the least material manifestation ever and it occupies no fixed space. So why the need to fixate it? This might go together with the art world’s current tendency toward materiality, fighting a lost fight, because it’s the memory image that counts in the end, which involves exactly what David Bowie was talking about in his interview, that grey space between the art work and the audience. We know that contemporary art, unlike former art, is not there to last materially (conservators will tell you so), but that doesn’t mean it cannot sustain itself for a long time to come, just like oral culture. Anyway, I’m loosing track, but what I wanted to say is that I always have a slight resistance to internet art, thinking it’s much too 1/1 with our society. Similar to how you should transcend your parents in life, I think it’s good for artists to transcend the material of their time. I’m sure David Bowie wasn’t thinking about using flickering internet screens in everything we create, but rather about internet’s qualities, like its flatness and lack of original. Take for instance Picasso. When Gertrude Stein took an airplane in the 1940s and saw the fragmented landscape down below, she point out that that’s cubism, and Picasso had never been in an airplane. 

Exponential N E thing had me thinking though. I liked the curating, which was kept simple, without any hipster cushions on the floor to lounge in. Its location at the Museum of Photography was fitting and I was happy to see that the museum is finally open for some expansion of the medium of photography. The work that mesmerized me most was the one by Maximilian Schmoetzer, a video titled Preliminary Material for 2022 (2015). It's a quite surreal science fiction about the year 2022, which is not that far, but it was science-fiction nevertheless, cutting from one scene to another, resisting a cohesive narrative both visually and in voice-over, with a funny dancing robot. Funny, sleek, and flashy as it was, it scared simultaneously and it was able to maintain that particular mystery that makes art art. 

Appropriately, I had a Whatsapp conversation with my friend Shuai about it afterwards:

“It’s like experiencing the not so distanced future all at once”; 
“Consumerism... Collapse of our society”; 
“Surveillance”; 
“Terrorism”; 
“Basically all that is current today”; 
“But with a glimpse of the near future”; 
“I thought it was quite funny, with the dancing. It didn’t look that pessimistic”; 
“And the quiet snow flakes”; 
“I think it was not overly negative”;
“But just kind of realistic”;
“But future realism”;
“I thought it was very sleek”;
“Why does everything that is internet art has to be so dystopic? Are they saying one can find a safe, alternative place in the internet? I think the curator said something like that”
“Like I said.... I don’t think it is depressive”;
“It is not dystopia”;
“It is like how it is today essentially”

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