Is the Internet only full of ephemera, or does it contain something more permanent? This is the question addressed by the exhibition Memery: Imitation, Memory, and Internet Culture, which opens on April 3, 2011, at MASS MoCA (Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art) in North Adams, MA. The exhibition includes works from nine artists who extract lasting forms of expression from a seemingly impermanent and ever-evolving online world. In various ways, they work at the intersection of memes and memory.
A meme is an element of a culture passed from one individual to another by non-genetic means, especially imitation. An "internet meme" is an image, concept, or convention disseminated via the Web. In some cases, memes like viral videos, blog posts, etc. may develop their own recognizability, even a kind of iconic status, but are quickly forgotten and replaced by the next big thing. At the same time, the Internet constitutes an important repository of shared cultural knowledge as it hosts those memes, along with other images, news stories, social networks, and more. Memery focuses on the tensions and intersections between Internet memes as passing fads and useless information on the one hand, and as enduring icons and lasting memories on the other.
Museums function as sites of memory, housing works of art from the near and distant past. This function, however, is increasingly called into question by online culture. With virtual tours of museums increasingly available online, what is the importance of having a physical encounter in the presence of an object? How does visiting a real museum have relevance when it comes to internet art? While there are no easy answers to these questions, the artists in the exhibition engage the possibilities of translating ideas from the Internet into a physical exhibition. The relevance of museums as physical exhibition spaces, with a tradition of memorializing physical objects, is a critical issue for each of them.
Even though the nine artists represented in Memery work in different parts of the world, many of them know each other and respond to each other's works -- something that would not be possible without the Internet. The exhibition will debut a new work by Penelope Umbrico, and feature new installations in continuing series by Oliver Laric and Martijn Hendriks. Other artists include: AIDS-3D, John Michael Boling, Mark Callahan, Constant Dullaart, Brian Kane, and Rob Matthews.
About the Artists
AIDS-3D, a Berlin-based artistic duo, create mixed media work that draws upon the internet in strangely unsettling ways. Memery will exhibit Berserker, a sculpture that combines the body of a classical figure with the head of an extra-terrestrial life-form. The figure 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 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 very public nature of a forum that is often used to host very personal memories.
The work of Mark Callahan, an artist and professor in Athens, GA, slows down the fast pace of the worldwide web by creating subtle, sedate portraits of popular Internet content that is both familiar and uncanny. One work in Memery stretches the viral video of Miss South Carolina's infamous pageant question-and-answer debacle to a 24-hour loop, opening up the much-scrutinized video to a new kind of analysis. Memery will also debut a new work by Callahan, in which he erases the figure from popular YouTube video blogs and leaves only the empty room. House and Universe melds the trend of video blogging with a tradition of interior studies and architectural settings.
Dutch-born and Berlin-based artist Constant Dullaart has a knack for finding familiar themes from the Internet and re-contextualizing them in unfamiliar ways. Banal images or tiresome website interfaces evolve into their uncanny twins, transformed just enough to highlight some of their inherent strangeness. For Memery, Dullaart will exhibit two works that play on the most common photographs that people post online: the picturesque sunset and the family portrait.
Dutch artist Martijn Hendriks works across a range of media, continually departing from and returning to online culture. Much of his previous work has mined the Internet for source material; recently, he has become invested in the challenge of translating this online subject matter into traditional artistic forms. Two works, reflective of his different approaches, appear in Memery. In the Black of this Long Night attempts to organize Google Image search results according to the ways the pictures have been defaced. A new work transforms seemingly valueless images from blogs into abstract, monumental pictures for display in a gallery.
An artist and designer living in Cambridge, MA, Brian Kane 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. His work for Memery is a part-projection, part-interactive version of the familiar loading/waiting "spinning rainbow" symbol that magnifies the periods of waiting involved in the otherwise high-speed digital world.
Oliver Laric, who lives and works in Berlin, uses video from YouTube, webchat programs, and graphics software as both the raw material and the method for displaying much of his work. Through meticulous sorting of found material and careful splicing of footage, he creates montages that play with the repeated forms and familiar tropes of online media. Laric will show two video works in Memery. In Versions (2010), he calls our attention to the circulation of icons across time, both in digital culture and the distant past. His video 50/50 beautifully and humorously pieces together hundreds of different performances of a single piece of pop music posted to YouTube.
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. Memery will exhibit his attempt to physicalize a web site: 5,000 pages of special features printed from Wikipedia, bound into an absurdly large--but still insufficiently comprehensive--volume.
Penelope Umbrico, based in Brooklyn, is an avid collector of images, through which she identifies strange phenomena and inadvertent trends in online visual culture. Suns From Flickr assembles hundreds of photographs of sunsets found on Flickr, visualizing the ubiquity and universality of a specific image and the behavior of people circulating it. Her new work in Memery responds to 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.