Curated by: Domenico Quaranta
Featuring: Kim Asendorf, Enrico Boccioletti, Emilie Brout and Maxime Marion, Caroline Delieutraz, Roberto Fassone, Emilie Gervais & Felix Magal, Yung Jake, Sara Ludy, Jonas Lund, Lorna Mills, Ryder Ripps, Evan Roth, Krystal South, Harm Van Den Dorpel
Unoriginal genius is a term coined by literary critic Marjorie Perloff and referenced by artist and poet Kenneth Goldsmith at the beginning of his book Uncreative Writing (2011). According to Perloff and Goldsmith, the romantic notion of genius is outdated. “An updated notion of genius would have to center around one’s mastery of information and its dissemination.”
In a media environment that floods us with all kinds of information and data, originality and creativity do not disappear, but have to be recoded in order to turn one’s skills at filtering, selecting, archiving, reframing, and combining existing content – until now discarded as appropriation and plagiarism – into their main value. If the abundance of ready-to-use information and cultural content has become one of the defining features of our age, and copy/paste one of the main tools implemented in any digital interface, the way in which an artist deals with existing cultural material becomes one of the main parameters on which we can evaluate their work.
One may argue that, in contemporary art, appropriation has long been an accepted cultural strategy, to the point that it has now become part of the mainstream. Richard Prince may still have legal troubles, but the art world is on his side. Yet, the art world must still move on from appropriation as an artistic strategy per se, to recycling as a natural way to deal with any morsel of information. Furthermore, it still has to come to terms with the romantic notion of genius. For those who like his work, Richard Prince is a genius – an original genius of appropriation.
Some of the artists in this show may be geniuses – unoriginal geniuses. They all possess the unoriginal genius that is peculiar to their time and environment, its distinctive character or spirit. For them, plagiarism is no longer a necessity, as it was for Guy Debord; and appropriation is no longer a statement, as it was for the Pictures generation. These very terms look redundant today, and should be replaced by more neutral ones, such as filtering, editing, selecting. They are just part of their set of tools, both literally – as algorithms implemented in any software – and metaphorically.
In the works on show, this “unoriginal genius” is manifested in many different ways. Kim Asendorf presents a work in which 100 million pixels have been stolen from one million online images and reassembled into a single, abstract image – a veritably iconic picture of a single, and relatively small, information cloud. From 31 December 2012 to 7 February 2014, Enrico Boccioletti slept with his iPhone under his pillow, and his sleep cycle was analysed by the Sleep Cycle iPhone app, that automatically posted his sleep graphs to a Tumblr blog. An impersonal recording of deeply personal data, Softest Hard is a work on anxiety, loneliness and on how living with a quantifying device makes us perceive our biological life as a waste of time.
Emilie Brout & Maxime Marion present Clichés, an online generative movie in which the Fuck You Monologue from the 25th Hour movie provides the soundtrack and script for an ever-changing set of images, automatically gathered from the internet browsing for the words used in the monologue.
In L’explication du monde, Caroline Delieutraz assembles educational gifs found on the web (all linked to their source) into an “’absurd machine”, referencing Raymond Roussel and Francis Picabia’s machine drawings. On a plinth nearby, the website is mirrored in an analogue doppelgänger in the form of a wooden jigsaw puzzle.
Roberto Fassone presents Jeg er enorme Jæ vler as “my way to fuck my own analytical research and feel better”. A 90 minute movie in two parts and a performance, the piece is an elaborate, ambitious, frantic, collage of found online footage and images, text, stock 3D animations, video effects and the artist dancing and lip-syncing pop songs: a personal, idiosyncratic Museum of the Internet that offers an interesting counterpoint to the one – live, public, open to user participation – that Emilie Gervais & Felix Magal have built.
A rapper and a visual artist, Yung Jake sings his own song in http://e.m-bed.de/d/, a meta-take on internet celebrity, art worlds, social networks, anxiety and failure that plays itself in the browser window, with a virtuoso use of desktop interface elements. While Deep Tissue translates in cinematic and narrative form Harm van den Dorpel’s curious way of representing, reframing and re-contextualising his own work. Enmeshed in a complex web of references and quotes from a wide range of contexts, the browser plays out a series of found images, analogue and digital drawings, screenshots and short strings of text.
Sara Ludy‘s work is often concerned with the synthetic nature, architecture and objects that can be found in virtual worlds and online repositories; in the exhibition, she presents Orb3, a work from the collaborative project Wallpapers (with Nicolas Sassoon and Sylvain Sailly), part of a series of variations on a hypnotic, rotating 3D shape. Lorna Mills‘ photo-based GIF work is made from source material dug up through hours and hours of deep surfing, and combined in fast, obsessive, low-res animations that reveal, at closer inspection, a surprising formal elegance and an affinity with medieval miniatures and XIV century polyptychs. Similarly attracted by the formal qualities of non-artistic imagery, in the No Original Research series Evan Roth makes use of a single animation and audio file from Wikipedia to create uncannily beautiful websites in which hundreds of copies of the same GIF load out-of-sync, according to the speed of the network, the browser used and the speed of the computer.
Finally, Jonas Lund and Krystal South present two very different takes on the shifting relationship between the art market and the online economy, and on the value of an artwork. In Return of Investment, Lund focuses on the financial rules of the contemporary art world, turning the piece into an advertisement space that anyone can purchase. Over the course of the exhibition, the work’s webpage will be filled with a banner, to be replaced by a new one when a new investor applies for the ad space. Every transaction will result in an increase of the price, calculated on the basis of a rate similar to the average annual return of investment for contemporary art in 2012.
Successfully funded on 12 October 2014, Exhibition Kickstarter is an exhibition in the form of a Kickstarter campaign. Each in edition of 10, the works on show were for sale, in an attempt to generate a “new form of peer-to-peer digital arts patronage”. Originally conceived in response to Krystal South’s exhibition, Ryder Ripps’ Realtime Readymades are artworks that “exist as pure concepts at the point of purchase”. Sourced by the artist from eBay and mailed direct to the collector once they have been bought, they apply to objects the same rationale applied to images in most of the works on show – changing their meaning and value by means of changing their context. Purchased by Carroll / Fletcher at Exhibition Kickstarter, one of these works is on view in the exhibition.
Most of the works in Unoriginal Genius are web-based artworks. As live pieces of public art that can be accessed for free in an online environment, they may feel uncomfortable in a gallery space, but here they are, throwing down the gauntlet to the traditional notion of genius and to the cliché according to which the network can manifest itself in physical space only in reassuring, traditional forms. Enjoy their daring.