The Electronic Superhighway

The Electronic Superhighway exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery attempts to be “A major exhibition bringing together over 100 works to show the impact of computer and Internet technologies on artists from the mid-1960s to the present day.”

There’s a lot in it. Some of the original pioneers:

Heath Bunting is represented by _readme.html.

Vuk Cosic by ASCII history of moving images

Olia Lialina by My boyfriend cam back from the war

Jodi

Constant Dullaart by Jennifer in Paradise

– generative works from Nake, Mohr, etc

– a couple of Nam June Paik‘s videos

Keith Obadike’s Blackness

and so on. Some, but not all, of the things I’d expected to see, plus catalogues and other material about EAT, Cybernetic Serendipity, etc.

In the earlier works there’s a sense of playing around, just taking the technology to its limits to see what it can do. And of course an enormous amount of effort to make it do things that we would find very easy today. ( A process documented in Catherine Mason‘s book ‘A computer in the Art Room’, or in Paul Brown‘s ‘White Heat, Cold Logic’.)

In many cases, this is Walter Benjamin taken to extremes. Not only are these works ‘mechanically reproducible‘, I could have saved myself 45 minutes on the District Line and called up Bunting’s ‘_readme.html’ in my study, where I have a bigger monitor and all the time in the world to play with the hyperlinks.

Things I really liked and which justified the time on the District Line:

– discovering Roy Ascott’s work
– Peter Sedgely’s corona paintings
– Eva and Franco Mattes’ ‘My Generation‘ – we’ve all been there
– Oliver Laric’s Missile Variations, which apparently derives from an Iranian propaganda poster. (The Iranian authorities took a photograph of one missile launch and crudely photoshopped it to show five launches. Sedgely has fun with this concept.)

The whole show left me with a lot of questions. Just what is digital art and what are its boundaries? For example:
– Obadike’s Blackness is satire (compare Swift’s Modest Proposal
– Laric’s Missile Variations is the sort of thing propagandists and advertisers now do all the time. (see for example here.)
– similar things to Dullaart’s Photoshopped images occur in every book about how to make your photographs ‘artistic’.

Incidentally, the exhibition also provided me with a link to the Java Museum of net art, which as well as being a useful reference source, also links to a series of interviews undertaken over several years with a wide range of people, posing a set of questions about digital art.

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