also tubes

Feb 1- Mar 28

Jeff Thompson – I Feel Love for Others – 2019

Faith Holland, Amay Kataria, Everest Pipkin, Jeff Thompson, Lee Tusman

In this meditation on the interrelationships between humans and the internet, artists deploy code-based projects pondering the functions and limits of the body in a broad sense, and the ways in which our technologies reflect, accentuate, or further problematize these characteristics. The exhibition serves as a glimpse into one way that we might experience these works as they live on in networked spaces.

Essay

It is no coincidence that asking someone about electricity regularly results in a comparative analysis where plumbing and the flow of water serve to bring a clearer understanding of the magic behind flickering screens. It is perfectly reasonable after all. With any luck, most students of electricity took a bath long before they tried to understand the 60W bulbs in the vanity.

Be that as it may, in a career-defining moment, Alaska Senator Ted Stevens described the internet as:

“…not something that you just dump something on. It’s not a big truck. It’s a series of tubes.”

We might be wise to question whether Stevens knew very little about the internet, or whether he merely chose the most clumsy pedagogical tool in his repertoire (in fact, anyone who knows much about packet switching or traffic shaping knows that the internet is a bit like a series of tubes, though it is not in fact, a series of tubes). Unfortunately for Stevens, his remarks landed on the ears of a generation who would come to be known as digital natives that were gladly taking control of the Web 2.0 tubes. Stevens words were criticized on the Daily Show and they moved from national television onto the net, he became the star of music videos and remixes, and his search results far-outnumbered most everyone I have ever met. Quite interestingly, whatever useful conversation he might have intended about net-neutrality was lost, and instead, his meandering metaphor became fodder for those digital natives who felt misunderstood, and effectively misrepresented, by the generations who preceded them.

Maybe this exhibition is about making Net Art after that memory, but that’s not really what I spend my time thinking about. What I’m really thinking about is my bathtub. Or a bathtub. Or, I’m thinking about the future – the one where a tiny human will experience electricity before taking a bath (Is that the future, is that already happening?). In his work, Amay Kataria asks “Can machines be our companions? Can they feel and express themselves as we do?” – but also, I need to know, can they pour the baby’s bathwater? Will the machines teach your child to control the faucet using bandwidth metaphors? Do the machines know that you’re children are made of the same stuff that they’re floating in? A rather organized series of TCP packets swimming in a pool of countless aimless TCP Packets. 

The artists selected for this exhibition create critical reflection points for thinking about how much we are in fact like the internet, and how much it has grown to be like us. Their work grows out of networked experiences and engagement with a visual language racing at all deliberate speed. Through various modes, these artists compare experiences online with those familiar to life inside a human body.

Everest Pipkin hides bodily functions in the console (in this case, a tool built into contemporary web browsers), unseen, unless you know where to look. Undoubtedly the viewer is asked to engage with a host of questions that ask us to consider differently abled bodies, what bodies show us, what they hide, and the ways in which all of those functions mirror the behaviors of technical interfaces.

In “Babble Wall”, Amay Kataria explores a sentimental voice assistant constantly listening to its surroundings and desperately wanting to be stimulated by humans around it. He asks “By using technologies like Artificial Intelligence, can machines convince us to blur the lines between a living and a non-living being, such that we give them the same care, affection, and attention like we give to other living beings?

Faith Holland mines the internet for our deepest pleasures, then she hides them from us in her work “Visual Orgasms.” She describes the work thusly: “Filmic media has put pressure on sex to be visually consumable. Actors perform for a camera and an audience, for maximum visibility rather than pleasure… Visual Orgasms exaggerates this mandate to ‘make-visible’ by creating excessive moving image collages that depict metaphors for orgasm with no actual depiction of sex.”

In Lee Tusman’s avatars the viewer is impersonated by digital animations who follow along with our sounds (presumably vocal) and raise questions about how we talk about ourselves IRL and then online.The urge to challenge and subvert the technology might be raised, or we might play with this temporary avatar; I wonder what could it mean to loan this platform my voice and who have I become?

Jeff Thompson develops coded projects that raise questions about computers, networked technology and the way that code presents itself to us. In his elevated Turing Test “I Feel Love for Others,” Thompson develops a browser plugin that stands in for the familiar “I am not a computer” meant to reduce spam and bot submissions across internet forms.