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Memery: Imitation, Memory, and Internet Culture

  • Exhibition

  • April 3, 2011 – January 22, 2012
  • MASS MoCA

An “Internet meme” is a form or concept that spreads via the Web, whether through email forwarding, viral videos, or blogs. Memes tend to lose our attention as quickly as they capture it. Although they may recede from view, memes never fully cease to exist, surviving in the backs of our minds and in the ever-expanding network of servers that make up the Internet. In the realm of digital memory, what seems to have disappeared may simply be lying dormant in the recesses of a hard drive.

Does the Internet only consist of ephemera, or does it contain something more permanent? What roles do time and memory play in an ever-evolving online world? What is the relationship between passing fads and enduring icons? Taking these questions as its point of departure, Memery examined the connections between memes and memory in online culture.

Memory is one of the informing principles of museums, which house and preserve works of art from the near and distant past. If memory is embedded in the structure of the Internet, then it too can serve as a repository for cultural artifacts. Museums and the Internet, however, have an uncertain relationship in the presentation and preservation of culture. What is the importance of having a physical encounter in a gallery when virtual tours are available online? What is the role of museums, which traditionally preserve objects, when it comes to digital art? Conflicts and compromises between physical settings and online spaces underlay much of the work in this show.

Working across a range of media, the nine artists in the show mined the Internet — drawing on YouTube videos, pictures from Flickr or Tumblr, website logos, social networking sites, and webchat programs. Some appropriated and reconfigured existing content; others translated intangible data into physical objects; others assembled elements into archives or catalogs.

The exhibition included work from AIDS-3D, John Michael Boling, Mark Callahan, Constant Dullaart, Martijn Hendriks, Brian Kane, Oliver Laric, Rob Matthews, and Penelope Umbrico.

About the Artists

AIDS-3D is a collaboration between Daniel Keller and Nik Kosmas, two American artists living in Berlin. Using the Internet as their primary tool, they created object-based works that explored networks and issues of replication. Their sculpture, Berserker, combined the body of a classical figure with the head of an extraterrestrial life form. The hybrid creature held 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 highlighted moments of absurdity and serendipity that he found online. As its title might suggest, Four Weddings and a Funeral synchronized videos from four weddings and a funeral posted on YouTube, exploiting the public nature of a forum that is often used to host very personal memories. The simultaneous events became difficult to parse. Their individual character gave way to a cacophonous, at times grating, whole.

Mark Callahan, of Athens, GA, created subtle, haunting portraits based on popular Internet content. Callahan’s 24-Hour Miss South Carolina stretched a 30-second viral video of a confused beauty pageant contestant into a 24-hour loop. The work played with the idea that Miss South Carolina is always giving her speech somewhere on the Internet. As the memory of the original video fades, however, Callahan’s work begins to acquire new meanings and associations. Memery also debuted House and Universe, a new work in which Callahan erased the figures from popular YouTube video blogs, leaving only empty rooms in sight. Simultaneously interior studies, stage sets, and glimpses into contemporary homes, these views draw attention to the semi-public nature of private space in an era of web-cam broadcasting.

Dutch-born and Berlin-based artist Constant Dullaart identified recurrent themes across the Internet, then re-mixed and re-contextualized them. Often working with banal images or tiresome website interfaces, Dullaart transformed this source material just enough to highlight some of its inherent strangeness. The exhibition included two works that played with common imagery found on social networking and photo-sharing sites. No Sunshine was a series of picturesque sunsets with their primary element, the sun, removed. In Poser, Dullaart digitally inserted himself in a series of family portraits from the Internet. Fidgeting as he posed, the artist seemed uncomfortable about his position in pictures that felt private, despite their public dissemination online.

Hailing from the Netherlands, Martijn Hendriks continually departed from and returned to, online culture as he worked across a range of media. Much of his previous work was derived from Internet-based source material, but he became invested in the challenge of translating this online subject matter into traditional artistic forms. In the Black of this Long Night attempted to organize Google Image search results according to the ways that the pictures were defaced. Hendriks’ work took a seemingly inconsequential image from a blog and turned it into a monumental abstraction, exploring how the value of the image changed when transformed through different media and modes of circulation.

Brian Kane, an artist and designer living in Cambridge, MA, made work that played 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. Waiting for Google plays with the “spinning rainbow” loading/waiting symbol, familiar to users of Mac computers. The moment of waiting that we generally seek to minimize becomes the subject of scrutiny. Magnifying this icon to a tremendous scale, Kane created an endless and outsize duration.

Through meticulous sorting of found material and careful splicing of footage, Berlin-based artist Oliver Laric created montages that drew upon the repeated forms and familiar tropes of online media. His video essay Versions called attention to the circulation of icons across time and media, from the distant past to the present day, from religious icons to digital culture. His video 50/50 pieced together hundreds of different performances of 50 Cent’s hit song “In Da Club” posted to YouTube, humorously showing how a single piece of pop music can live innumerable lives.

London-based graphic designer and artist Rob Matthews experimented with the translation of objects, images, and ideas from one medium to another. His works displayed the playful and sometimes precarious or unwieldy results of his investigations into the authenticity of contemporary media. Wikipedia displayed his attempt to give physical form to a website: 5,000 pages of special features printed from Wikipedia, bound into an absurdly large (but still insufficiently comprehensive) volume.

Penelope Umbrico, who lives and works in Brooklyn, is an avid collector of images through which she identifies strange phenomena and trends in online visual culture. Suns From Flickr assembled hundreds of photographs of sunsets found on Flickr. Each sunset, depicting a fleeting moment in time, became a timeless and universal pictorial structure. People with Suns from Flickr looked at 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.

AIDS-3D [Daniel Kelley and Nik Kosmas], Berserker, 2009
MDF, acrylic, USB stick with CAD file

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