By Foteini Vergidou.
Exhibition curated by Katerina Gkoutziouli & Voltnoi Brege
The Internet. Imagine you wake up one day and there are no notifications on your phone waiting for you. No scrolling while you’re still in bed. This weird morning continues as you reach to Google to find out what’s happening but then again, Google is gone too. No emails, no What’sApp, no Messenger to contact your friends and – thankfully – that Zoom meeting at 9am is out of the picture. A whole constellation of servers all around the world has simply collapsed.
So now what?
Financial chaos and stock market meltdown. Since banking services rely heavily on the Internet, each transfer has been made impossible. Credit cards are now just plastic cards, bitcoins have been vanished and market trends become impossible to predict, forcing entire industries to disappear.
Information blackout. Internet culture has given us the ability to access information from anywhere in the world and at anytime we want it. Without it, we lose our ability to receive, send and communicate information, especially crucial data during unprecedented times like the events that are taking place in 2020, including a pandemic outburst, the elections in USA and developments of important social movements like the #blacklivesmatter movement, where global activism took place both online and offline.
To spice things up a bit, we would also be looking at huge governmental crisis, mass looting, unemployment spike and existential disorientation in most countries of the world.
The exhibition Imagine you wake up and there is no Internet opened last October in Athens but had to close earlier due to the second national lockdown in Greece. Curators Katerina Gkoutziouli and Voltnoi Brege (Georgios Konstantinidis) invited the audience to explore all the possible outcomes of such disruption, highlighting not only the direct and indirect impact of endless connectivity in our everyday life, but also revealing the magnitude of the responsibilities and decisions we have placed on Internet technologies throughout the years, without us knowing most of the times.
The show presented works by 13 artists and 5 art collectives from the local and international scene, offering a worldwide perspective on our obsessive relationship with machines and the implications of our co-existence in the 21st century.
Crawling down the basement of the two-floor exhibition space, the audience is quickly introduced to a side of The Network that is mostly kept out of public sight. The work Kiss or Dual Monitors (2018) by Exonemo questions our place in the digital communication realm. It makes a strong statement towards our relation to our everyday devices, from our smartphones to our TV monitors, and at the same time it criticizes our relation to emotional development in the digital era.
A cable mess underneath the hanging installation functions as a reminder of the materiality of the Internet; a point that we see in Cloudstruktura (2020) by emerging Greek artist Manos Saklas as well. Saklas is an artist working across installations, electroacoustic music composition, performance and radio productions. In his new installation, commissioned especially for this exhibition, his research on sound is prominent. By fragmentally exhibiting image captures of the ventilation system of Data Centers, Cloudstruktura questions the false impression of the ethereal aspect of data and it’ s antiseptic, clean-cut misconception, using soundless images to expose extreme loudness.
Moving further in the exhibition space, a mysterious audiovisual entity is vibing. Antonis Kalagkatsis presents Mythogram (2020), a holograph of an AI that is using downloaded images found in various online domains. Could this work be a wake-up call for us to see how AIs are out running us, constructing knowledge from vast pools of information and creating potential deep fakes, in order to propagate and challenge reality and democratic values?
A question that brings us to Trigger Warning (2018), a film by UK artists’ group Superflux. Superflux create worlds, stories and tools that provoke and inspire us to engage with the precarity of our rapidly changing world. Their film is a poetic presentation of warring ideologies, embodying universal social and cultural movements. Trigger Warning is an indication that algorithms possess the power to amplify opinions, manipulate biases and shape beliefs, making the need for peace seem more like a simulation test run.
While in the projection next to her work, the narrative takes as prerequisite a constant and uninterrupted Internet connection; Marina Gioti has created for the exhibition a mixed media installation, titled Long Distance Call (2020), starring an old fax machine. Her work receives messages from regions experiencing in real time Internet shutdowns. The artist then shares them on thermal transfer paper, making a comment on the fragility of information transmission and how offline data can be – much like the ink on thermal paper – lost in time.
In a much brighter space, the first floor of the exhibition welcomes us with Heath Bunting and Kayle Brandon’s essential (and prophetic?) manual for a global pandemic. In 2005, these inter-disciplinary artists and researchers created Sponsored Influenza Pandemic Evacuation Rehearsal – SIPER, which is a documentation and a set of instructions for when the evacuation of cities becomes mandatory, due to a pandemic outburst. The work, given the time is presented here, is alarmingly relevant, while being also kind of ironic, since in the inevitable case of such an escape, Internet services would be down and their manual will be inaccessible, since it can only be found online.
Alexiety (2018) by German duo !Mediengruppe Bitnik & French musician Low Jack presents an unseen side of Amazon’s Intelligent Personal Assistant Alexa; that of a confused and awkward one. With three music tracks combined with lyrics resembling voice commands, they activate and interact with Alexa, causing her a feeling of anxiety and discomfort, while unraveling the limitations of IoT devices.
Across Alexiety, lies a 17m long timeline on the floor, titled Tracing Information Society – A Timeline. The work is an ongoing research by an independent platform of artists, journalists, developers and researchers called Technopolitics. This large-scale print invites visitors to take time and explore the genesis and current configuration of Information Society.
As this timeline comes to an end, Aram Bartholl responds to the curators’ questions with his 2019 series Isolated on White. The work is based on photos retrieved from stock image banks, manifesting two significant points: first of all, we don’t need a smartphone anymore to understand specific hand gestures (could it be a subtle comment on the wirelessness of our time?) and secondly, there are social biases that are inevitably found in data, exposing the current lack of diversity in representation. As the artist points out “The human hand, isolated on white, owned by desire and commerce seems to be in a half open half closed gesture, representing the ambiguous duality of internet and society.”
Finally, the two-piece sculptural installation by Greek artist Alexandros Tzannis explores parallel conditions of submersion and reflection. Concealed in its black mirror, Words on a Self-mirroring Sink (2020) resembles two cell phone screens. They have been made in such way in order to prevent the viewer from defining their exact depth, commenting on the feeling of infinite immersion while browsing online.
So far, the question what would happen if the Internet stopped existing may be a space for experimentation and reflection for most of us, but it is not far away from reality, as we’ve seen in Gioti’s work. In Egypt, Iraq and Venezuela, the government has tried to shut the Internet down, in politically sensitive times, as an attempt to block online activism. Such decisions, undoubtedly, cause a critical breach of civil rights.
The exhibition Imagine you wake up and there is no Internet, through a variety of artworks and mediums, raises questions on concepts like public and private space, time,
value and labor in the 21st century, explores the consequences of such disruption and triggers a conversation on what would be our best chance after an exodus of the Internet,
as we know it.
More info here: https://no-internet.org
!Mediengruppe Bitnik & Low Jack (DE/FR), Aram Bartholl (DE), Jono Boyle (UK), Heath Bunting & Kayle Brandon (UK), Vaggelis Deligiorgis (GR), Exonemo (JP), Marina Gioti (GR), Antonis Kalagkatsis (GR), George Moraitis (GR), No Más / No More (GR), Manos Saklas (GR), Molly Soda (U.S.), Superflux (UK), Technopolitics (AT), Alexandros Tzannis (GR), Filipe Vilas-Boas (PT)
Katerina Gkoutziouli & Voltnoi Brege
Exhibition Design: hush–hush
Audiovisual Design: Makis Faros, Antonis Gkatzougiannis, Michalis Antonopoulos
Press & Publicity: Yorgos Katsonis
Art Mediators: Katerina-Venetia Kanna, Socrates-Nektarios Stamatatos
Website Development: Charalampos Samouridis
The Man: Akis Chontasis