Purple Magazine
— The Brain Issue #33

what we’ve lost in a world of connection

Essay by ÉRIC TRONCY 

éric troncy is a french art critic, curator, cofounder of the contemporary art publication frog, and director of the art centre le condortium in dijon

I don’t know much about “post-Internet” art. To all appearances, there has indeed been a lot of art made after the advent of the Internet. That much is beyond dispute. But I see nothing like a form of art whose qualities we might ascribe directly to the Internet’s existence. We might cynically compare the ephemeral images of Instagram to those of the artistic productions commonly called “works” that steadily come and go with the market’s changing tastes. And infer that the incredibly frivolous works of “post-Internet” art aspire to little more than a fleeting moment of glory. Highly desirable, fleeting, and frivolous (frivolous especially when they purport not to be): in this sense, yes, there is a new form of artwork.

More seriously, perhaps, two things (among many others) seem to me to stem from the advent of the “post-Internet era” and affect our very notion of a work of art. The first is obvious and explains all. Easy access to information has most certainly encouraged the idea that there is an answer for everything, and that this answer is instantly available a mere click away. Have a question? Here’s the answer, instantly. We’ve lost something crucial: “absence” (the lack of an answer), to quote from Michael Harris’s book The End of Absence: Reclaiming What We’ve Lost in a World of Constant Connection. It seems to me that most “post-Internet” works of art are so transparent as to induce despair: their meaning, often limpid, has taken precedence over their form, for they are bereft of all obscurity and, as [French philosopher, Jean] Baudrillard would say, of any “accursed share.”

For fun, we might compare the last two winners of the Golden Lion at the Venice Biennale: two “operas” performed iteratively and whose scenery we could examine between performances. In 2017 (the 57th Venice Biennale), Anne Imhof justly won the prize for her compelling and remarkably opaque opera Faust. What are we to say or think about the boys and girls dancing, crawling under the scenery, or hanging from it? And what does the highly architectural scenery of glass and metal mean? What place does it refer to? Where does the barking come from? And, quite simply, what is actually going on? To all appearances, it’s a form of art that expresses itself in a language all its own and provides no answers. It relies more on our perception than on the possibilities of comprehension offered by our brain.

Two years later, however, at the 58th Venice Biennale, in 2019, things returned to normal with another opera, Sun & Sea, which earned a Golden Lion for Rugile. Barzdžiukaite., Vaiva Grainyte., and Lina Lapelyte.. It’s remarkable how in every way, in its very conception, this work stands in opposition to Imhof’s. It is the exact opposite. All questions are answered. We know where we are (a beach) and what’s happening (people are doing beach things). We know, too, who the people are (the libretto they sing informs us about their lives), and… that’s it. There’s nothing else, absolutely nothing. Nothing beyond what we see and hear. No place for the imagination to go. Every question is settled in advance: what you see is what you get.

It’s a conception of art that strongly resembles the recent phenomenon of “satisfying videos” or “feel-good videos” that have become so popular on YouTube. These videos consist of repetitive scenes showing something that works out smoothly, as planned, with no foul-ups: for example, confectioner’s sugar being spread uniformly on a pastry, a shredder calmly and steadily disposing of all kinds of objects (a tube of toothpaste, a jar of Nutella), or an impeccable shape emerging atop a potter’s wheel. There’s no beyond in these videos. Indeed, that’s the point: they are “satisfying,” because they are bereft of all things incomprehensible.

Aptly enough, with art’s globalization via the Internet and the multiplicity of de facto value systems, there can be no more judgment of artistic value. In The Empathic Civilization: The Race to Global Consciousness in a World in Crisis (2009), the American economist Jeremy Rifkin writes of a study conducted at a 20-year interval with adolescents: “In the 1960s, only 12% of adolescents aged 14 to 16 agreed with the statement: ‘I am important.’ In the 1980s, it was 80%.” Today, it’s doubtless 100%, and art, it appears, has taken note. All artists are interesting, because we no longer have equitable criteria on which to evaluate what they do.

In 2019, the four artists short-listed for the Turner Prize (founded in 1984) officially rejected the notion of competition. “The politics we deal with differ greatly. For us, it would feel problematic if they were pitted against each other, with the implication that one was more important, significant, or more worthy of attention than the others.” So wrote Lawrence Abu Hamdan (born 1985), Helen Cammock (1970), Oscar Murillo (1986), and Tai Shani (1976) to the jury before the traditional ceremony in December, where the winner was announced. The members of the jury hastened to make no choice between the nominees, likely forgetting that the formal resolutions of the four artists’ respective works might very well be opposable, even if the artists’ “politics” are not. The prize was shared by the four artists.

In a clear sign of the way the wind is blowing, the artistic direction of the next Documenta has been bestowed not on a single person (or on two people), as has always been the case since the exhibition’s creation, in 1955, but on Ruangrupa, a 20-person collective established in 2000. Not only is everything possible, but no one can take individual responsibility.

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The Brain Issue #33

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