This spring, wandering around the mini sculpture park at Frieze New York, I noticed a tiny canvas propped against the back of one of the expensive steel cubes. I don’t remember what was painted on it—based on that, I’ll guess geometric abstraction—but the attached business card indicated it was the work of some not-yet-famous artist seeking a bit of free publicity. I liked the spirit of the thing, but I still had work to do, and I figured walking around an art fair with a canvas under one arm wouldn’t please security. Still, there’s some wisdom in bringing your art to collectors, rather than waiting for them to come to you.
That’s something of the thinking of La Fin du Monde, an online show curated by Julien Levesque and Caroline Delieutraz up now at LaFIAC.com. The exhibition venue is a cybersquat, established in 2010, intended to catch visitors looking for FIAC, the major Paris-based art fair this weekend. Instead of the fair, they’ll find a clever, fairly encyclopedic exhibition of recent net art, ranging from established continental artists like Mouchette and Systaime to relatively fresh faces like Emilie Gervais and Sarah Weis.
Cybersquatting isn’t particularly new to net art. The collective/corporation etoy were famously sued over their domain by the dot-com failure eToys.com, and two Belgian artists squatted that country’s two largest contemporary art museums in the late 90s. I’ll admit to buying up more than a few of ArtReview’s Power 100 myself. The specificity and timeliness of LaFIAC.com, though, makes it a particularly well-aimed effort to attract mainstream attention.
One clear standout in the show comes from cocurator Julien Levesque: Books Scapes, a landscape collage made by connecting 19th-century etchings from Google Books. It’s well-enough composed that I didn’t immediately notice it was a collage, but the level of detail is overwhelming: every cloud, for instance, seems to have four or five different sources, and one scribble on the left side hardly looks intentional, but turns out on closer inspection to be a tiny flock of birds from a Napoleonic battle scene. To his credit, Levesque makes a point of linking each image back to its source, adding depth and context at once contrary to the idea of a collage and in perfect harmony with the idea of a collage online. The artist has received some well-deserved press for Street Views Patchwork (2009), an earlier series of landscape collages he made using Google Streetview; they’re equally masterful, and well worth checking out.
Another highlight is Systaime’s President Barack Obama DNC Silences Complete, the most recent in a long series of silent videos. It’s just what it sounds like: a supercut of all the silences in Barack Obama’s speech at the Democratic National Convention. At first glance, it seems a bit like the recut video of Sarah Palin breathing that circulated a year or so ago, but the effect couldn’t be more different: where the Palin video was simply creepy, DNC Silences Complete is torturous, an 82-second-long series of cliffhangers. The obvious connection here is John Cage, but Systaime doesn’t expect the same patience from his viewers that Cage’s work does; instead, we get rapid cuts and an easy subject, which acts to keep the YouTubers from getting distracted. That’s probably pandering, but it’s practical too.
The best one-liner—this is net art; there’s always a one-liner—is Anthony Antonellis’s Blue Brightness, a trompe-l'oeil GIF that faithfully recreates the experience of turning down your laptop’s brightness and seeing your own reflection. There’s nothing else to it, but it’s a convincing effect in a medium where purely visual work can struggle to hold a viewer’s attention.
Don’t tell Nicholas Sassoon that. The Vancouver-based artist, who’s been in seemingly every net art show over the past year or two, contributed one of the few entirely visual works in the La Fin du Monde, an unabashedly beautiful piece called Flood. Like most of Sassoon’s pattern-based works, it’s a little harsh up close; the artist prefers his pixels hard-edged, and chooses his colors from the sickly palette of early 90s computing. Unfocus your eyes a bit, though, and the pattern falls in hypnotic cascades across the screen, evoking every bit of the particular violence and general magnificence of its namesake. It’s not the best work he’s made in this vein—that award goes to the gentle rolling of his Tides series—but it’s more than good enough.
Do all these artworks add up to anything? I don’t think so. I can count on one hand the number of online shows I’ve seen with a coherent theme, and La Fin du Monde isn’t one of them. Then again, that’s hardly the point. The venue dictates that this is a show about grabbing someone at random and convincing them of the virtues of net art, quickly; if Levesque, Systaime, Antonellis, and Sassoon can’t do that, I’m not sure who can.