by Lydia Magyar
is it the wealth of spatial metaphors used in computer and internet terminology (websites, chat rooms, home pages) that prompt artists to reclaim the meaning in the physical world? or have artists found new possibilities to create contemporary art objects that can speak for a networked culture and a digital age? why bother to make art inspired by the digital from so-called 'human materials'? in 1957, roland barthes called plastic, an important element in most computers, "a graceless material, the product of chemistry, not of nature." he wrote,
"plastic has an appearance at once gross and hygienic, it destroys all pleasure, the sweetness, the humanity of touch. a sign which fills one with consternation is the gradual disappearance of wood, in spite of its being an ideal material because of its firmness and the natural warmth of its touch. ... it is a familiar and poetic substance. ... if it dies, it is in dwindling."
– roland barthes, mythologies, 1957
wood as medium is well represented in the selection of works included (scrollbar / scrollbar composition, standard time). this may come from an unconscious hierarchy of media, as the most conventional and ephemeral substances best echo human history and mortality.
in fact, time and gradual deterioration are perhaps the most important themes that connect the work. the standard time project (2007) prompts viewers to think about passing time, time passed only passing time, and what it means to hold the digits in your hands and move moving time in such an elaborate and archaic way. the wooden manpowered digital clock is physically pushed towards its inevitable digital future, as a DVD of the performance can be purchased and used as a desktop timekeeper.
forgotten children by christian faur and in search of lost time by karl heinz jeron and valie djordjevic have the most nostalgic temporal feeling, as they try to extract the human past from the pixel or the code. again, the inhuman time spent reading code (in the case of in search of lost time) or assembling crayons (in the case of forgotten children) in order to do manually what computers can do in fractions of the time seems particularly poetic from contemporary artists who saw the impossible acceleration of an informational revolution.
alerting infrastructure by jonah brucker-cohen mimics geological degradation with its physical 'hit' counter. eventually viewers are reminded of the potential for substantial destruction from marginal impact on any site, virtual or real. with alerting infrastructure, brucker-cohen not only reconnects physical building with respective virtual site, but also underscores the diminishing significance of the physical space, as it is literally destroyed by the constant of jackhammer 'hits'.
space is an important element in other works featured. jan robert leegte prompts viewers to question the weight of the virtual in scrollbar / scrollbar composition. human space and virtual space feel newly wed. in his description of the silent ornamental revolution, the confounding of digital and virtual space is framed as positive. leegte wrote:
"to ward off the inhumane, the bad spirits, you needed to disperse symbols of humanity around you. small friendly tokens like embroidery, curly woodcarvings, geraniums and bright colours. ornaments to bring the romantic into human conditions, to control it, to frame it, to be able to place it in daily life."
while his ornaments mimic popular computer interfaces, leegte uses them to humanize space in alexandria, egypt. he reminds viewers that we constructed a material world and a virtual world, and to recognize his interfaces means we necessarily live in both.
no matter what the motivation, these works all force us to re-evaluate the way in which an increasingly digitized life is lived, organized, and represented. it is important to note that all of my experience of the work and communication with the five artists was online.