Playing Games: Power and Pleasure in Art After the Internet – 5/3/2016


CSCA poster

Organized by Briony Fer and Cadence Kinsey and sponsored by the UCL Centre for the Study of Contemporary Art and JFIGS, this one-day symposium engaged with relationships between art, technology and society from the last five years. With participating artists, art historians and curators transcending the immaterial, post-medium vocabularies of the Internet, the conference sought to highlight the much contested heterogeneous practices that fall under the ambit of “post-Internet”— addressing debates around labour and performance, mimicry and wordplay, subjectivity and expression, through the politics of ‘play’. In her introduction, Kinsey noted that the global economic crash that began in 2007, resulting in the underfunding of contemporary art practices, compelled more artists to experiment with new web-based technologies. Increasingly then, the digital image can be seen moving towards a new materiality, to an ever evolving post-human condition, opposing real/virtual binaries.

Panel One, engaging with narratives surrounding the art object, began with Kerstin Stakemeier’s paper, ‘Mimicking Luxury: On Art Beyond Its Reproduction’. Here, she traced the trajectory of art; from its status as an autonomous ‘useless’ luxury product, where “unreality” became luxury, to an altered status of art today, characterised less by its results and rather by the processes it is involved with. However, with the increasing financialisation of capital, luxury production has become normalised. Pushing art out of luxury to make it socially relevant needs also to account for luxury itself becoming socially relevant. Saelan Twerdy, discussing ‘Gamifying Precarity: The De- and Re-materialisation of Post-Internet Art in Brad Troemel’s Art and Aesthetics’, claimed that de-materialist enthusiasm around the Internet keeps persisting and reasserting itself. However, post-Internet art is governed instead by contradictory impulses, moving towards de-materialisation as well as re-materialisation. Twerdy, emphasising the potential of the Internet in expanding audiences for art, claiming that social networking is tied to identity-construction and self-representation as labour. The Internet then can be a proper site for a work of art even though it doesn’t exist in a ‘real’ space.

Wenny Teo, discussing humour and resistance in Chinese contemporary art and visual culture, highlighted the cultural determinacy of humour in artistic expression, especially the resistance of Chinese humour to translation. The force of humour, mostly ridicule, for social correction can be seen in Ai Weiwei’s Grass Mud Horse Covering the Middle (2009). Outlining Ai’s appropriation of digital visual culture, Teo claimed that a new generation of artists critically engaged the carnivalesque public sphere of the Chinese Internet, where ‘netizens’ and censors play a cat and mouse game, coding and decoding subversive texts which make use of the homophonic and ‘ideographic’ properties of the Chinese language. Subversion is at work here not only in relation to the content of the artwork, but also in terms of modes of circulation online.

Panel Two thematised the presence of the Subject in the public sphere, beginning with Giulia Smith’s talk on ‘Excellences and Perfections: Mise en Scène in the Work of Amalia Ulman’. Smith discussed the three Parts of Ulman’s four-month long Instagram project where the artist indulges in TMI – Too Much Information – in the form of over-sharing, over-posting, and over-tagging to keep followers hooked. Ulman arranges a meticulous mise en scène, portraying herself through the lens of an external gaze, playing subject and object, player and played. In this way, Ulman treats the Internet as a sphere of manipulation, mimicking and parodying the aesthetic dimensions of objectification of women through performing different identities. Rózsa Zita Farkas’s ‘The Work of Collaboration’ raised concerns regarding the commercial art world’s marketing of collaborations of particular cultural groups. Foregrounding Calla Henkel and Max Pitegoff’s New Theater project, she claimed that the presentation of the project as consisting of ‘an English-speaking artistic community in Berlin’ is problematic. Not to say, however, that the project itself is problematic. Even though Farkas voiced concerns around collaborative practices consisting of a labour of care within capitalist settings, she expressed optimism for projects like @gaybar – a project that is not linked to one space, but consists of the formation of space through the people who occupy it.

David Joselit’s Keynote address on ‘A Comedy of Matter’ explored what it means to live in the age of digitisation in relation to the tradition of comedy. Jokes, according to him, lead to a suspension of the laws of painting; they bring together contradictions, as seen in Jasper John’s Flag (1954-55) where the painting is and is not a flag – a transgression that, for Freud, releases it from the limits of painting and enables descent into materiality. Referring to Richard Prince’s New Portraits (2014) and Artie Vierkant’s Antoine Office, Antoine Casual, Joselit discussed the body in relation to image rights, the person and property framed by questions of ownership. The root of political freedom – the inalienable right to oneself – is distorted here. With images of the self travelling well beyond the self, post-Internet art then witnesses the ‘entrepreneur’ of oneself transitioning to the curator of oneself, with there being a reversibility of subject as matter and matter as subject, as seen in Anicka Yi’s You Can Call Me F. Post-Internet art, premised on the capacity of digital files to adopt several material guises, becomes “a comedy of matter”, whence a supposedly immaterial format paradoxically engenders diverse material states.

Harleen Kaur Bagga


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