Magazine article Artforum International

"Electronic Superhighway (2016-1966)": Whitechapel Gallery, London

Magazine article Artforum International

"Electronic Superhighway (2016-1966)": Whitechapel Gallery, London

Article excerpt

"Electronic Superhighway (2016-1966)"



THE SUBTITLE of "Electronic Superhighway (2016-1966)" puts forth an intriguing premise, suggesting a reverse-chronological survey that might retrace the past from the perspective of our current moment, providing the present with historically secured consistency even as it empowers the past with contemporary relevance. And such an inverse approach certainly seems appropriate to the exhibition's avowed mission of exploring the virtualization of the real catalyzed by networked technologies over the past half century. In following this narrative of disembodiment, however, the show has succeeded mostly in fragmenting the very notions of historical affinities and consequences themselves, identifying different pasts that exist with relative autonomy, each claiming relevance only for its own present.

The exhibition is divided into three sections, demarcating divergent paradigms. If there is any clear relationship between these portions of the show, it lies in their suggestion that technology has been flattening art since the 1960s. In the first section, the art of the present, ostensibly supported by an unprecedented range of sophisticated digital tools, seems nevertheless to be living a rather two-dimensional life, caught within the extreme flatness of digitized image screens. The second section stages the emergence of Net art in the '90s primarily as a relocation of the moving image onto the computer screen. The final chapter offers a panoramic exposure of works from the '90s, '80s, '70s, and '60s. Here, again, we mostly encounter a palette of images, in this case traditional artistic genres such as drawing and painting, serving both as representations of technology and as technologically constructed representations. But we also get glimpses of those fundamental reconfigurations of art that could have been at the heart of the show's historical narration, mostly in the form of documentation of two pioneering instances of artistic engagement with technology: the 1966 founding of the group Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T.) in New York, and the organization of the exhibition "Cybernetic Serendipity: The Computer and the Arts" at the Institute of Contemporary Arts in London two years later. Rather than exploring art's digitization as a history of shifting interfaces, however, the show's curatorial framework deemphasizes such structural shifts, focusing instead on more strictly visual narratives that present technology as a tool for new forms of image production.

Most of the more than seventy works on display in the densely hung first-floor gallery were produced in this decade, and all of them are indiscriminately obliged to figure a heightened sense of contemporaneity. Differences between the works, from specific choices of media to contextual meaning, are suppressed so that they may be displayed as examples of a digitally expanded image culture, which makes them feel somewhat arbitrarily chosen. For example, Constant Dullaart's series "Jennifer in Paradise," 2013-, represented here by a custom wallpaper and two lenticular prints from 2014, seems to simply surrender to digital technique, with the artist using standard Photoshop filters to serially disfigure the stock image of a woman sitting on a tropical beach that was included in early versions of the program for users to test their skills. Albert Oehlen's large-scale ink-jet and oil painting Deathoknocko, 2001, in contrast, presents painterly gestures fighting to maintain dominance of the canvas in the face of new technologies. But here both works end up looking similarly generic; when all forms are rendered as primarily technological, artistic authorship is not troubled but simply fades from view. This is clearly the case with the curators' presentation of Amalia Ulman's Excellences & Perfections, 2014. While the original work staged a carefully preproduced trail of Instagram posts that seemed to document the downfall and resurgence of a young female artist over the span of several months, visitors to the show see only two large-scale, painterly reproductions of Instagram posts, each showing the artist taking an exaggerated selfie. …

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