With the mainstream adoption of digital life, the avenues of art have employed virtuality beyond the ubiquitous online gallery tour.
The sculptures, installations and performances in online worlds and avatars are both permanent and non-existent. With the online experience a conceptual component of these spatially inaccessible and wasteless works, they frequently play with fictitious commodities and their relationship to the commercial and historical contexts of the art world. Money may be exchanged, as in M+M’s Meet the Artist’s Wife… or performers may stage new work along with repeats of seminal performance art, such as in Eva and Franco Mattes’ Re-Enactments. Others such as Andreas Angelidakis have created online monuments and regenerations of buildings, playing with the duality of a fantasy world with no history but that relates to one that does.
As these art-making platforms have expanded, so have new questions of reality, authorship and authenticity. With the added medium of the Internet – and in particular, of imagined three-dimensional public space in a two-dimensional, personal picture – comes some amount of cloaking. The physicality of person and object become irrelevant in this fantasy space, unbound by physics and intellectual property – each re-enactment of installation and performance becomes a digital translation and pastiche, with its own layered and often humourous associations. As all is virtual, there is little consequence to artist or audience response, allowing for all the “what-ifs” to be explored.
As often happens with new art methods, this digital framework that originally situated itself outside the tradition art systems grew to be observed within the art mainstream. Now the likes of Rhizome and Berlin’s Transmediale provide a platform for internet-based work, and whilst it can’t exactly be considered old news, internet art is not as novel as it was five or even ten years ago.
However, a recent branch of Internet art, in its dual role as art medium and art space, has moved away from the protective nature of a distancing medium, utilizing the vulnerability and remaining “taboos” within the Internet – in particular, that of online dating and cruising culture.
As part of a submission for a nude self-portraiture exhibition, Jessica Eve Prusca created the OKCupid Honesty Project. Referencing the half-truths of presenting one’s best self in online dating, she created a lengthy, straight, and honest profile, “laying herself bare” in her own digital portrait. Whilst I find the project itself a little shallow and one-note, her honesty seems to become an online persona in itself, and jars in contrast to the responses she receives. It reminds me of Gillian Wearing’s early work Signs that say what you want them to say and not Signs that say what someone else wants you to say, whose rough format is now widespread in online visual culture, from the PostSecret blog to the Whisper App.
Prusca’s work is less of a performance than the setting of its scene, connecting with others and using response to build upon the work. Performr takes this further. Borrowing from the concept of cruising apps, Performr plays upon the history of covert connections in LGBT culture, aligning “hook-up culture” with the short-term interaction of performance art. Developed as a part of the Pink Fringe Festival in Brighton alongside artist Brian Lobel, it is an application that links performance artist and audience; artists and viewers can interact with one another via the medium or arrange to meet for a performance in real space.
Rather than finding a “firm” basis within a fantasy world, as digital sculpture and installation has, this method of working occupies the uncertainty between online and real life. The use of networking and social media in art demonstrates a shift toward a use of personhood over “objecthood” online. Perhaps this is an inevitability: as the Internet infiltrates devices and becomes more intrinsically linked to our everyday lives, our “real” selves and bodies must eventually surface.