Our job here on the Time Out art desk is to go out to exhibitions and figure out what’s good and what’s bad so that you can plan your gallery-going. Simple. Unless all the galleries are closed because of a global pandemic. Then it’s not so simple. But it gives us (well, me) a really good opportunity to write about online art, which we (well, I) never get to do. I’m not talking about virtual tours of museums, or galleries hosting photos of all their paintings, I’m talking about art that was made on and for the internet.
From websites to video pieces and social media performances, there’s a huge amount of amazing online-based art. We get so bogged down in galleries being the places we consume art – whether that’s the Tate or some fancy townhouse in Mayfair – that it’s easy to think that’s where all art is, where art has to exist, where art is legitimised. But it’s not. Art happens everywhere, and these are just some examples of how it has happened on the internet over the past few years.
Addie Wagenknecht, makeup tutorials (2019)
Wagenknecht makes razor-sharp, critical, satirical art that takes aim at abuses of power and technology in society. She’s painted with Roombas and pigments made from makeup, she’s made art with drones, and she’s created a robot arm to rock your baby to sleep. You know what she’s up to? Taking the piss and undermining contemporary society’s bullshit with pizzazz and aesthetics. A couple of years ago, she began doing makeup tutorials with a hidden intent. She starts off with the makeup, sure, but then launches into various explanations of cybersecurity, password phrases and troll-blocking. She’s luring you into something important via ultra-basic means.
Cao Fei, ‘RMB City’ (2008-2011)
For this project, Chinese artist Cao Fei produced a virtual city on the Second Life gaming platform. In it, she created art installations and staged performances, all within the confines of an online world. Like a lot of her work, ‘RMB City’ functioned as a way of exploring the injustices of Chinese society, and did it brilliantly – on a unique platform.
Jayson Musson, ‘Art Thoughtz’ (2010-2012)
It’s not Jayson Musson who we’re interested in here (though he is super interesting), but a character he plays. Hennessy Youngman was an internet personality who hosted a web series called ‘Art Thoughtz’. In it, Musson-as-Youngman waxed lyrical about art, race, gender and politics – he was a cultural critic with none of the turtleneck-and-pretentiousness bullshit that usually accompanies art-world commentators. He played a role in order to dismantle art tropes from within. Slick, silly and seriously fascinating.
Cory Arcangel, www.dooogle.com (2004)
Conceptual prankster Cory Arcangel has created web-based art since the beginning of his career (alongside a wider body of work which includes appropriated photography, audio manipulation, hacked videogames and the brilliant Arcangel Surfware range of internet-user-focused loungewear). Dooogle is a very simple, and very good, expression of his ideas. It’s a Google homepage, but no matter what you search for, you only get results for 1990s medical drama ‘Doogie Howser, MD’. It’s stupid, funny, throwaway, and it speaks to the countless, pointless, wasted hours we all spend fucking about on the internet.
VNS Matrix, ‘A Cyberfeminist Manifesto for the 21st Century’ (1991)
There’s a lot of really amazing early ‘net art’ but a lot of the original websites are either dead or don’t work on modern computers. The website and arts body Rhizome has spent a lot of time archiving and preserving the early net art works, and is a brilliant resource for finding out more about this sort of thing. But Australian art collective VNS Matrix’s poster piece is a great example of net art that’s not totally dependent on now-archaic technology. It’s just a hugely political poster hosted online, with instructions on how to print it and post it around town. It’s a super simple example of using the internet as a way of diffusing ideas.
Jon Rafman, ‘9-Eyes’ (2007-onwards)
A proper internet sensation, Canadian artist Jon Rafman’s ‘9-Eyes’ blog is a constantly updated compilation of screenshots from Google Street View. Each image finds something incongruous, violent, beautiful or bizarre (but always totally accidental) captured by Google’s roving army of camera cars. There are street fights, prostitutes hustling for business, gorgeous sunsets, soaring eagles, lava fields, piles of rubbish, men with machetes and more prostitutes. It’s an incredible bit of improvised art, full of beauty and ugliness, and you could get lost in it for days.
Petra Cortright, ‘VVebcam’ (2007)
It’s amazing how something so simple can have such an impact. Petra Cortright’s ‘VVebcam’ is just a static shot of the artist going through the different visual effects on her new webcam. She doesn’t move, doesn’t react, just sits there toying with rainbows and butterflies. She uploaded it to YouTube and gave it hundreds of tags – tits, vagina, sex, nude, boobs etc – drawing in people looking for dirty videos, who’d only find a bored-looking girl playing with her webcam. It’s intentionally antagonistic, and would go on to create a whole sub-genre of art using YouTube as a platform.
Ann Hirsch, ‘Scandalishious’ (2008-2009)
‘Scandalishious’ was an internet performance work by Ann Hirsch, in which she played ‘Caroline’, an ultra-basic, stereotypical camgirl. Caroline built up a relatively impressive internet following, accruing not only fans but countless lewd comments and hyper-sexual messages. Hirsch used Caroline as a way of criticising the idea of an internet personality. It’s seriously fun and properly engaging art, and if you can listen to her ‘My Butt’ song without becoming totally addicted there might be something wrong with you.
Amalia Ulman, ‘Excellences and Perfections’ (2014)
Like Ann Hirsch before her, Argentinian artist Amalia Ulman created a fictitious internet character. Hers played out a highly scripted role on Instagram, accruing followers who were desperate to know more about this classic Insta-girl. She went through the motions of getting breast augmentation, dieting, exercising, staying in fancy hotels, living a lavish life. All the usual tropes of Instagram influencers. The idea was to be totally fictional on a platform that prides authenticity, and the result was surprisingly dark and very, very weird. One of the best works of social media-based art ever, I reckon.
Our list of of London art magazines is full of publications that write about internet-based art, have a look here.
Then check out our favourite young London artists for good measure, right here.