[-empyre-] Josephine Bosma exhibition review from Oslo

Below is a review that Josephine Bosma posted (orginally to the CRUMB list) about an exhibition in Oslo/Norway that I am responsible for called "Written in Stone - a net.art archaeology", currently showing at the Museum for Contemporary Art. It fits pretty well into some of the recent discussions on this list.

The original posting is here:
<http://www.jiscmail.ac.uk/cgi-bin/wa.exe?A2=ind0304&L=new-media- curating&T=0&F=&S=&P=61>

Hope some of you will get the chance to visit Oslo before May 25th - there is also an extensive Paul McCarthy video restrospective on show there..

Comments/questions welcome.

Per Platou

Written in Stone, a net.art archeology

Norway: it seems too far from the usual places to be sometimes.
But now there is a nice reason to visit it. A week ago (March 23rd)
a remarkable exhibition opened at the Oslo Museum of Contemporary Art.
Artist Per Platou has curated an exhibition on net.art which is an
odd mixture of artistic installation and almost archeological
introduction to what was probably the most infamous period in
network art: net.art. The exhibition concentrates on Jodi, Alexei
Shulgin, Heath Bunting, Olia Lialina and Vuk Cosic. The largest part
of the exhibition is not about the art works though, which is what is
so extraordinary, even strange if you will. Most of the exhibition is
taken up by a trip through memory lane, by objects and paraphernalia
which somehow reflect the atmosphere of net.art in the mid nineties.

The first thing you see when you enter the exhibition is a small white
pillar with a Perspex cube on it. It stands, all alone, in the middle
of a high, nineteenth century space. In it we see a small golden marble
or ball on a red velvet pillow. It represents the dot in net.art. It
is the dot, the dot on a velvet pillow. If that is not ironic enough,
behind the golden dot, in the alcoves behind marble pillars, are five
more of these boxes, with objects representing the five (or six, since
Jodi are two people) artists in the exhibition. There is for instance a
knife, for Heath Bunting, who got into a lot of trouble for carrying a
knife in Great Britain. (further on in the exhibition you will find
print outs of the whole story behind the knife, copied from Bunting's
web site.) There is also a dried bunch of roses, representing both the
roses Vuk Cosic placed at the Jeffrey Shaw/Benjamin Weil installation
at 'net_condition', the huge exhibition about net culture at the ZKM in
1999, to mark the death of net.art, and the roses Cornelia Sollfrank
gave to Vuk Cosic at the opening of his net.art pavilion at the Venice
Biennale in 2001. The strangest objects at the exhibition however must
be the little busts of every individual artist. They were created from
photo's taken from the web, photo's of Olia Lialina, Joan Heemskerk,
Dirk Paesmans, Heath Bunting, Vuk Cosic and Alexei Shulgin. The result
is six oddly similar looking heads. Some with glasses, some with
slightly longer hair then the rest.
The title of the exhibition points at the ironic work by Joachim Blank
and Karl Heinz Jeron (in collaboration with Alexei Shulgin and Natalie
Bookchin) called 'introduction to net.art', which shows this well known
text by Shulgin and Bookchin carved into stone tablets. The tablets
are hanging behind the 'dot', opposite the entrance. Seeing them
there, with the objects representing the artists (a typewriter with
a sheet of paper full of gibberish to represent Jodi) in front of them,
the little busts to the right and screenshots of well known web sites
in heavy golden frames (Jodi's '404', Lialina's 'Agatha Appears' and
more) to the left of them, creates a feeling of romantic nostalgia and
an almost painful sense of decay at the same time. This exhibition has
little to do with any historical overviews or theme shows of net.art.
This exhibition is almost all atmosphere and personal experience. Even
if this is what makes it most vulnerable, this is also what makes it
strong. I have seldom seen a net art exhibition that convinced me and
I am beginning to think this is why: exhibiting net art is all about
commitment, because it is simply not possible to avoid interpretation
if you want to exhibit this art in a way that engages the audience
in an exhibition space beyond the click of a mouse. What is interesting
about this is that it brings the curator very close to a net art
experience on line, the curator somehow reveals her or his individual
approach and motivations, even more so then with creating an exhibition
of existing material objects. The difference for the audience, between
visiting such an exhibition and experiencing different projects and art
web sites on line, is that the audience is at the mercy of (or rather:
captured by) the approach of the curator.
In this case the curator has chosen to pay a very personal tribute to
a period of net art he loves, showing the art works from this period
from three different perspectives. I have already described the main
room of the exhibition, but there are three more. Two of these are
filled with small paraphernalia, leftovers and 'souvenirs'. Here we
find anything from the original workspace poster and the Polish CD-Rom
that was created from Vuk Cosic's hijack of the Documenta X web site
to small material works created by other artists then those who are
represented in the main room. Here we find for instance the paper
shopping bag by Mouchette, with the image of the woman sticking her
tongue to a glass plate. There is also a photo of Cornelia Sollfrank
hugging a keyboard and of the performance group she used to be part of:
Innen. Etoy is represented by a Lego truck which one can order from
their web site. Thomson and Craighead have their tea towels with images
from the 'E-Poltergeist' project hanging on the wall. RTMark's cheap
watch in a golden cardboard box with the text "Time isn't money" is
also in one of the displays. Watercolors from Hakim Bey's office, a
Superman T-shirt worn by Vuk Cosic and a vest worn by Olia Lialina are
mixed with prints from mailing list texts by Netochka Nezvanova,
Tilman Baumgaertel or the (fake) books on the history of net.art by
Vuk Cosic. Especially the room with Lialina's vest is a trip down
memory lane.
Then the third room is where the audience can experience net art
closest to its original form. This is a video room, in which a video
of somebody browsing the web sites of the artists is shown. The
computer has simply been connected to a VCR, so we see what happens on
the screen of a computer. Showing net art with a beamer is always
dangerous. Some works become much stronger, especially those that are
mostly dependent on simple or abstract visuals. It is harder to show
more complex works this way though, especially work in which the
audience is asked to participate somehow. Choosing to record a
personal journey through some artists' sites is, like this entire
exhibition, a way to reveal aspects of the works in question which an
exhibition audience often would miss, because it is too inexperienced
or uncomfortable to explore something on a computer in a public
setting. To me this room felt a bit odd though. Maybe here the
experience of someone else browsing for you becomes too close to ones
own experiences, threatening it somehow. Funny is that the rest of the
exhibition did not have this effect on me. I remember seeing 'Net
Affects', an exhibition in which five beamers showed the work of
twenty artists. There the works had been taken off the web too and
played from stand alone computers. Whereas the video in 'written in
stone' shows the works in the pace of one person browsing, at 'Net
Affects' the artists had been asked to create 'self-refreshing' html
pages which jumped from one web page to another, without any further
human interference, creating a film or video like experience as well.
It was very impressive, and some works really stood out, making me
appreciate browser based art more then I did before. I am not saying
I did not like the video set up in Oslo, it just somehow made me feel
Yet the entire exhibition is on the edge of the acceptable, but in this
case (comparing it to for instance net_condition) the edge is not an
unpleasant place to be. For instance: net_condition was 'unbrowsable'
and impersonal. It in some ways exhibited an overkill on correctness,
in avoiding the horrible A-word (art) by talking about 'exhibiting net
culture', and it tried to show everything at the same time, erasing the
possibility to pay respect to individual works. 'Written in Stone' is
humorous and personal. It is an extraordinary exhibition, even if I am
tempted to call a large part of it an art installation by the curator.
One interesting detail to it is that the audience can create its own
catalogue on site, but also on line. On site, at the museum, two computers
which are on line, a printer, a copy machine and the possibility to bind
the pages you have selected create something highly unusual: different,
individual catalogues which all have the same ISBN number. Unfortunately
the ISBN number is something the on line audience has to do without.

exhibition web site (all in Norwegian, but still browsable):

articles on the web from which a catalogue can be compiled:

works represented in browsing video:

dot on velvet pillow:

Jodi in golden frame:

Net Affects


J * *****************************

Additional links:
The official link to the exhibition incl. promo blurb

And Josephine's text for the online catalogue, entitled
"The Dot on a Velvet Pillow - Net.art Nostalgia and net art today" can be found here:

(Please note that her text was written long before she had seen the actual exhibition.)

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