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january 30, 2001 :: 

sfmoma goes 'hyperbolic'

From: *Jason Spingarn-Koff*
Subject: 010101 --- SFMOMA Goes 'Hyperbolic'
Keywords: time, space, internet, exhibition



a subconscious?

"What if machines do have a subconscious?" asks Douglass Coupland in one of the more ironic moments of "010101," the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art's ambitious new showcase of online art. "If machines could talk to us, what would they say?"

This question, which curators picked to help contextualize the artworks, grows with meaning as you explore the exhibition--and download the required plug-ins (including Flash 5 and Pulse 3D Player), wade through cryptic interfaces and lengthy intro pages, and perhaps restart your machine after multiple crashes.

Is this machine insane? Does it hate me? Or was the museum just a bit overzealous in its first show of the new millennium?

Online art isn't always easy to view, but here the price of admission is a bit high--especially for such a high profile show that targets a wide audience.

That said, if you have a fast machine, generous bandwidth, and time to play, the staging can be thrilling and the artworks are thought- provoking.

This isn't a retrospective (like ZKM's "Net_Condition") or a collection of existing works (like the Walker's "Art Entertainment Network"). Here, in a rare show of faith to the medium, the museum commissioned all five works on view.

In addition to the artworks, SFMOMA curators have done a laudable job of experimenting with critical texts ("Think Texts"), visitor feedback, and the live streaming of artist presentations ("Site Streaming").

A highlight of the show is Mark Napier's "Feed," which reads URLs and spits out a whirlwind of colorful data. Like his previous works "Graphic Jam" and "Shredder," "Feed" expands on the notion of an application as a work of art. Interestingly enough, the piece only really came to life when I selected the URL for in cascades of pink and yellow which would surely make Coupland smile.

As SFMOMA's education director John Weber writes in a "Think Text" on Sprawl: "All of this work represents a larger stream of visual hyperconsciousness... This art is additive, not subtractive or reductive. It is excessive and hyperbolic, not minimalist."

Erik Adrigard has also made an application of sorts. His commissioned work, "Timelocator," presents an interface which continually changes with the passing of time--a "web clock." At first glance it may puzzle some viewers, recalling the simple graphic pleasures of Superbad, but not much else: a bowling ball, dice, the Wailing Wall...

But spend time with the site and you may discover a clever process at work. "Technology has become a vehicle to travel through time, rather then space," says the artist in his statement.

Perhaps the most accessible work is by the British duo Thomson & Craighead. Log in to "e-poltergeist," and your browser is taken over by a mysterious force which launches its own windows and carries out amusing searches at Pages of live queries for "Anyone there," "Please listen," and "Help me," twitch on your desktop.

Though the "Ghost in the Machine" browser freak-out is hardly original ( has mined this terrain for years), Thomson & Craighead's work transcends the gimmick. By clicking on the search results, you can wander into delightful corners of the human condition.

I clicked on a few links, and someone's post with "Please help me locate local wine tasting groups" popped up. Another page begged: "Give example how I can visit all web sex."

It's an engaging work, but one wonders how much stronger it would be if users could stumble upon it serendipitously, instead of through the confines of the museum's site.

Matthew Ritchie's commission, "The Hard Way," uses little of the Network and hardly any computation, yet it's one of the most memorable works in the show. Building upon the mythic universe he explores in his paintings and drawings, Ritchie has crafted a narrative reminiscent of computer games and comic books.

The use of the medium may not be new (relying mostly on simple hypertext schemes), but Ritchie has created a series of compelling characters, each with their own atomic elements and beautifully rendered illustrations. "Penemue. She was pure information. Her body was a library, her spinal column a crystal stairway of knowledge..."

It's more difficult to appreciate the mythic narrative from Auriea Harvey and Michael Samyn (the Belgian-based team known as Entropy8Zuper!). Their commission, "Eden.Garden 1.0," is a game-format narrative based on the story of Adam and Eve. The characters, representing the artists, are rendered in 3D using the previously mentioned "Pulse 3D" software.

After crashing my computer twice, I finally managed to explore a level-- until I became lost, with the Adam character seemingly dead on the ground and pack of giant bunnies hopping about. It's certainly amusing, but the meaning is elusive.

The online portion of "010101: Art in Technological Times" opened on January 1st, 2001. The online show will be followed by an extensive gallery exhibition on March 3. Sponsored by Intel, "010101" presents the work of over 35 artists, architects and designers who are "responding to a world altered by the increasing presence of digital media and technology," the museum said in a statement.

The next "Site Streaming" tour, with Erik Adigard and SFMOMA curator Aaron Betsky, is scheduled for February 22.


reposted with permission from *RHIZOME DIGEST: 1.26.01*


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"Rhizome Digest is a filtered, edited email journal containing writing and information on new media art, design and technology. It is published weekly via email. Digest has been published weekly since 1996."

Rhizome Digest is filtered by Alex Galloway.

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*01.01.01: art in technological times*

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