Whether it’s to text a friend or binge watch a series, sitting in front of a screen has become a comfortable familiarity, one that is an integral part of our daily lives. Through technological advances, video is now accessed and used in endless capacities. As a medium, it has become as complex as its most common point of access: the internet. How does one curate video in an age of infinite screens, with endless videos at our fingertips?
The exhibition “I Was Raised on the Internet,” at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago examines our convoluted relationship with the internet and the ways in which it continues to shape our awareness. Largely exhibiting video works, interactive elements are integrated into the exhibition, not only enhancing the visitor’s experience, but also breaking the barrier of the screen and allowing the viewer to be fully immersed within their surroundings. Here, video is curated into an experience that reflects how we interact with visually-based, digital interfaces every day, while also giving them a new physical dimension that one cannot access via screen alone.
Curator Nina Wexelblatt tells use about some of the challenges of curating a show that features intricate audio-visual elements that transforms perception:
“Laying out the exhibition was a fun challenge for our team. The MCA’s fourth floor galleries are long, narrow vaults. We had to build walls, partitions, and special viewing rooms inside of the existing architecture to accommodate the flow of the show into five thematic sections and to allow space for many of the immersive works. It was necessary to think about sound design, since there are so many video works in close quarters. We wanted there to be a bit of a cacophony to evoke the overwhelming sensory experience of the internet, but not so much overlap that works would be inaudible. With this in mind, we ended up moving the placement of some videos to be further apart and installed headphones on several of the screens.”
Every day we are exposed to an oversaturated visual rabbit hole of videos online. “I Was Raised on the Internet” takes this concept and shapes it into a digestible journey through the age of the internet, a virtual space brought into the physical, a private space made public in the context of a museum. The complexity in display methods and diverse range of ways in which viewers are invited to participate and engage with these works reflect the function of internet in our lives, as it modifies our sense of reality and experience in the world. These interactive elements allow the viewer to feel as if they are physically stepping into a digital video, while also allowing the viewer to leave with a piece of the exhibition with them by having an online component accessible online.
Wexelblatt describes the specific video installations and the details that transport the viewer into a virtual world:
“Hito Steyerl’s Factory of the Sun is a mind-bending video about digital rendering techniques, YouTube and gaming culture, and the overlaps between political and financial violence. It’s set inside of an immersive, room-sized installation of a glowing blue grid. You watch it while sitting on beach chairs, as though you’re a tourist lounging inside a digital matrix.
Jon Rafman’s Transdimensional Serpent is not only a gigantic sculptural snake you can sit on, but also a virtual reality experience that totally encompasses your senses with visuals and audio. Inside the headset, the snake comes alive on a journey through several fantastical environments.
Christopher Kulendran Thomas’s New Eelam installation is a ‘concept space’ for the artist’s real estate start up. The space embodies the project’s values of sustainability and adaptability by incorporating locally sourced materials, modular furniture, and closed-system hydroponics growing edible plants.”
The internet has given birth to a new media for artists as well as a (somewhat) democratic platform to view their art. However, artists have been using film and video since its invention, long before the days of broadband. “Outer and Inner Space: A Video Exhibition in Three Parts,” a 2002 exhibition at the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts that received the Emily Hall Tremaine Exhibition Award, explored the use of video as used by artists that were on the forefront of what was, at the time, a new medium of the avant garde. The exhibition featured seminal artists, including Pipolotti Rist, whose works in video forever changed a visual landscape, transforming the capability of the medium and set the groundwork for future generations. Curator John Ravenal describes his curatorial approach and intention with his display methods:
“I wanted to create a deliberate juxtaposition of early video from the 1960s and ‘70s with video installation from the late 1990s, to underscore the show’s intention to offer a historical overview and to highlight the great change in just twenty years from monitor-based work to immersive projected installations. The multi-channel installations presented technical challenges for a general art museum not focused purely on contemporary art. In each case—for Shirin Neshat, Pipilotti Rist, and Jane and Louise Wilson—we worked with technical staff from the artist’s studio to help install the pieces, as I felt committed to the highest standards in realizing the artist’s intentions. In addition, I wanted viewers to experience the single-channel monitor-based work in several varying ways, including in banks of side-by-side CRT monitors, kiosks for solo viewing, and single large flat screen monitors in small rooms. Moreover, I chose to present the exhibition in three sequential segments, each running for seven to eight weeks and each featuring one of the late ‘90s installations and around a dozen of the early single-channel works, selected for their thematic resonance with the installation work.”
With video now being accessible from any handheld device, how does one create a video experience that demands an in-person appearance, offering something unique that must be witnessed in the framework of an exhibition? Whether in 2018 or 2002, curating this readily available medium in a way that is relevant to contemporary culture is no easy feat. As we surround ourselves with screens—with these windows into virtual spaces—are we seeking a bigger opening, an entrance into an augmented world? Perhaps we are craving a way to make physical contact with these virtual realms, to engage with them in a way that experiences like these exhibitions can offer. Both “I Was Raised on the Internet” and “Outer and Inner Space” experiment and play with these boundaries through innovate methods that alter our perception of not just the video work itself, but its environment; the relationship between this virtual space and the physical reality of the world around us.