Aram Bartholl – Open Internet (2012)
Aram Bartholl bought some neon signs that said “open”, and then some neon signs that said “internet”. He then put them on top of each other, so they look like protest signs that say “Open Internet”. They’re double entendres, because “open” has two meanings and two uses (“open for business” and “open for all”), and it’s fun to use commercial tools for anti-commercial purposes. That’s about it.
This is disappointing. Bartholl can be great at one-liners—his light installation Speed (2006), for instance, which recreated visual effects from the game Need for Speed: Underground, was the sick bomb—but these signs just aren’t much of anything on their own.
That didn't need to be the case: on his website, Bartholl offers a video of himself wearing the “Open Internet” sign around New York with a WiFi hotspot attached; it’s a little silly, but also a heck of a lot more interesting than the video of quietly blinking signs that’s included in “C.R.E.A.M.”.
Lindsay Howard, though, chose to leave us with only the signs; that's telling. After all, electric signs have a very strange place in art: they’re magical tools that immediately and easily transmute words into salable objects. They manage to be an ever-present hit at art fairs and, simultaneously, to be the almost exclusive domain of conceptual artists (from Kosuth to Nauman, Martin Creed to Ragnar Kjartansson). It is nearly miraculous that both of those facts should be true. Why not try that silver bullet again? After all, neon was a triumph for the monetization of ideas.
As an aside, it’s weird that it’s not noted anywhere what happened to the signs. Are they an art object? Are they to be carried around with hotspots? Do they even exist anymore? That seems like the sort of detail that might be important, and it’s a point that could use some clarification.
ArtObjectCulture by Lucy Chinen & Emilie Gervais (2011)
I first ran into ArtObjectCulture two months ago, when it hosted Michael Manning and Jeff Baij’s Celestial Works (2012), a collection of new constellations with names like “Dorito” (eh) and “Ford Taurus” (S-rank) drawn from readymade stars. It’s a platform for net art, developed by Lucy Chinen and Emilie Gervais, that reduces art-making to something like object juxtaposition consultation; artists are invited to create new, online works from images found on shopping sites, and then offer the works for the combined retail price of their parts (plus, Chinen and Gervais propose, an optional 43% “value added tax”). The purchaser gets all the items depicted, plus their name on a directory on ArtObjectCulture’s site.
As a gesture, turning objects into art and charging a premium isn’t novel; turning it into a platform, though, might be. Even though the actual system isn’t much of anything—prospective works on ArtObjectCulture are generally single JPGs, divided up as image maps—there’s something enticingly now about the idea of building a frontend for declaring things art. I’d love to see the idea taken on by someone with more of the instincts of a professional web developer—manage your declared artworks, track your artistic credentials, etc.
The actual work included in C.R.E.A.M. isn’t all that interesting, though. The curatorial statement sums it up well:
“NOT KLEIN BLUE is a work by Lucy and Emilie, representing the raw material of ArtObjectCulture: hyperlinks. NOT KLEIN BLUE invites users to experience an accumulation of links to purchasable materials, which are used to construct a new art object.”
There are, in my opinion, three things going on this work.
There’s a Lisa Jevbratt-type angle, where you perhaps get a sensation of taking a plunge into the unknown on account of the multitude and illegibility of the links. In that model, the actual content of the links might be inconsequential, but that’s not certain. What are they, then? When I opened a few dozen links at random and tried to find a similarity, I couldn’t identify any beyond the idea of charity. No particular kind of charity seems to be highlighted, and even if one were, I’m not sure when the visitor would have time to notice. In a work with random viewer entry into a complex system, like this one, Jevbratt’s 1:1, Art and Language’s Index 01 (1972), or Nam June Paik’s Random Access (1963), how does one communicate the relative likelihood of various outcomes? Even if 70% of the links on the page were to go to cat charities, how many links would a viewer need to click before he could discern an unusual number of cat links? I’m not sure whether this is a technical issue, to be solved with professional standards, or an idea to be forever idled as a “big thought”.
There’s also the original ArtObjectCulture angle, which here translates awkwardly: you can give some amount of money to a charity, and then I suppose you can also donate to Art Micro-Patronage, and then you’ll get a work worth some amount, maybe? Are we to buy all of the objects available? Some? None? It’s unclear. This is an exhibition of a platform that aims to present simple package deals with a clear agent of artistic transformation, and it’s not clear what I’m to buy, how much it costs, or whether it will be an artwork. That’s a flaw.
Lastly, there’s a nod to Yves Klein and abstraction, which doesn’t seem to do anything other than throw the viewer off-track. Some of the basic principles at work here make sense: blue, on a backlit screen, is now and forever will be “link blue”, which is notable; small text can operate as both visual element and textual information, which is particularly relevant with the rise of search engine optimization as an industry; and it is cool to reference Yves Klein. Beyond that, there’s nothing here. If the links were meant to form an abstract piece, I didn’t notice.
This is a work that could have used a bit of conceptual sharpening; as it is, it wastes energy heading in too many directions at once.