Curated by Nana Seo, “//Free Rider//:” marks its territory as Hong Kong’s answer to the New Museum’s “Free” and Carol Yinghua Lu’s “You are not a Gadget,” demonstrating local engagement with ongoing conversations of the relationship between art and the internet in a timely and sexy manner but, like those other two prior exhibitions, ultimately failing to add anything really new to the more innovative corners of networked practice. The focus here is ostensibly on the telling of stories through the construction of new languages, although many of the projects included seem compelling in their own right without reference to any broader or nebulous notion of internet culture; that is to say, this is plainly and avowedly contemporary art with an internet focus, not internet art in its latest guise.
The strongest work comes from the Berlin-based Susanne Buerner, who is currently in the process of producing a translated and localized edition of her tract Vanishing Point: How to Disappear in America without a Trace (2006) based on the idea of disappearing in China. Based on an anonymous and unattributed mass of text culled from futurist posts online (which later and controversially also became the subject of a Seth Price piece), the book is an exercise in the absurdity of content generation, drawing models native to new media into the contemporary art system. Aside from the unfortunately simplistic gesture of shifting images in the new publication from blue to red (reflecting, no doubt, prevailing German anxieties toward Chinese politics), the new version promises an intriguing comparative study in both internet cultures and the possibilities of divergent national infrastructures.
Other work, particularly from Hong Kong artist Wong Ka-wing, appears more problematic. Adopting the Dead Drops (2010) project initiated by Aram Bartholl in New York in which the artist cemented USB pen drives into walls in public places for the transmission of forbidden or sensitive data through a closed, alternative system, Wong simply implements this idea in Guangzhou, storing in a large number of drives positioned across the city a packet of files including software to bypass internet censorship (colloquially known as the GFW or Great Firewall) and ideas for use. Actual use scenarios and documentation aside, which came off quite successfully, the project feels half-baked: not only reusing a faddish idea popularized less than a year ago without any substantive or formal additions or alterations of his own, Wong also positions himself in the role of an artist-savior for China coming from the free world, a disturbing notion that contributes nothing to cross-border ecologies of practice and exchange.
-- Robin Peckham
(All images courtesy of Experimenta and the arists.)