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04 Apr 2009 17:56
At an event where physical exhibition space is as highly contested (and expensive) as it is at the Joburg Art Fair, virtual space, a realm ostensibly littered with more of the detritus of everyday life than the real world, risks going all but unnoticed.
Who has time to think about what may be happening in the ether, who might be drawing in the air or mapping cellphone towers, when there are so many big paintings around? Internet Art and the Global South, an online exhibition of internet art curated by Tegan Bristow for the fair, faces precisely this difficulty. Wedged between a pristine, well-stocked book lounge and Beezy Bailey’s bronze dead fairy, the few computer stations that provide a public access point for Bristow’s project are something of a no-man’s land to those who came to the art fair expecting a flea market.
Internet Art and the Global South is one of the non-commercial special projects commissioned by Artlogic for the art fair.
Following an international trend that is transforming the image of major fairs by increments, the special projects are meant to lend some critical credibility to the whole effort and, commendably, to expose the public to more experimental art practices.
For this project twenty-four interactive artworks and animations by artists from Africa, southern Asia and the suitably southern parts of South America are collated on a central organising website, much like physical works by a range of artists might be organised in a gallery.
For the most part these works are set up to be browsed through by individuals at the computer stations at the fair, although some spill into the real world as well. Ismail Farouk and Babak Fakhamzadeh have mapped a series of interactive tours through the inner city of Johannesburg that can be added to via the map that appears as their work on the exhibition website. Mitch Said’s Tree ID 2007 invites members of the public to hunt for cellular network towers camouflaged as trees and to document these on an interactive map.
Other works worth browsing through are Jaco Spies’s landscape drawing animations and Gustav Romano’s Cyber Zoo, a menagerie of real or imitation computer viruses. Whether or not these bugs do actual damage to your computer if let out of their cages is left for the viewer to discover.
There is a difficult relationship between this kind of work and the physical works which outnumber it in the context of an art fair. Art in the virtual realm doesn’t compete for the attention or the money of the public in the same way that most works at an art fair will, and for this reason it risks being overlooked.
‘You can’t compare internet art to pictures hanging on the walls at all. You have to approach it as a completely separate thing,” Bristow says. ‘It’s more socially orientated, so it’s about working within networks. It’s also accessible by anyone who has internet access, and so it’s quite hard to keep it private or stop anyone from copying it. It allows a lot of people to participate in an artwork so in a lot of ways it becomes about a kind of performance—global network performance.”
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