artroulette is an online exhibition that intervenes in the space of Chatroulette, a website that pairs random strangers for a video, audio, and text chatting session. Chatters - naked men, Brazilian teenagers, bored multitaskers - become an audience. They experience the photographs that occupy the video screen in text conversation with the curator, who actively engages them in casual conversation about their experience of the art.
artroulette juxtaposes pornography and fine photography, voyeurism and exhibitionism. Viewers drawn to the principal photograph by its sheer novelty in the midst of such a strange barrage of visual content tend to linger. They are generally courageous, curious, honest, and willing to engage by nature of the anonymity that rules Chatroulette.
artroulette is an experiment in collaboration in which the conversation between curator and viewer determines the exhibition's nature and scope. Its flexible format serves as a platform for an expanded notion of curation in which meaning and content is determined by the guided viewer. Rather than acting as conservator or caretaker, the curator is a mediator for interpretation of the art. Though the intimate one-on-one format logistically limits the audience, Chatroulette maximizes the potential of the Internet as a democratic space bringing a dispersed audience to the exhibition.
artroulette considers the discursive and ontological activity of exhibiting art. Curatorial comment is for the most part withheld until requested; viewers are asked open questions and encouraged to direct the conversation. The pieces are reordered according to the conversation. As the exhibition progresses, images and comparisons become more complex and critical. The rhythm and order of the exhibition is in every case dependent on the viewer's interests and his or her willingness to explore comparisons or themes. Each conversation is begins with "hi" "this is a photo by jeff wall" and "what do you think of it?" As a rule, the curator initiates and never terminates the chat, unless the exhibition has come to its end.
artroulette was inaugurated with an exhibition of photography by Jeff Wall (b. 1946). Many of the images displayed in the exhibition exist as large photographs backlit in a semi-transparent lightbox. The light emanates from behind the photograph, giving a magnetic quality to the images. The luminescence of the computer screen is therefore an appropriate way to translate his photographs. Though the size is severely compromised by the display capabilities of Chatroulette, the smaller format encourages chatters to approach the screen to inspect what they see. Confusion over figures and narrative is an immediate invitation to discussion, an access point for more profound conversation over the content of the photographs. Jeff Wall's work, and particularly the pieces selected for the exhibition, engage in themes of postmodern disillusionment, loneliness, and reassessment of tradition.
artroulette also poses several questions for art exhibition and viewing practices: How private and/or intimate should the experience of art be? How well do viewers want/need to know their curators? Is it successful to display offline art in any/some/all online context? How does the art experience change when viewers have no knowledge of the scope of the exhibition?
by Amy Lehrburger.