LYNDALE — Before attempting to visit the Nathaniel Smith-curated show of post-Internet art during the narrow window Soo Local is open — noon–4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday — you could dip a toe into the currents of critical theorizing on just what “post-Internet art” is and what it means.
You could brush up on its genealogy, shake hands with digital and net art, its cousins, or introduce yourself to uncles Richard Prince, Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol, whose art appropriated and re-contextualized pop culture, the basis of so much creative activity online. You could push upstream against the flow of electrons, paddling from citation to citation until reaching the first reference to post-Internet art, in a 2006 article by artist and curator Marisa Olson for TimeOut New York.
Or you could just assume, being a digital native yourself, or perhaps a well-assimilated immigrant to the future-present, that you already know what post-Internet means. Down to your bones, deep in your earbuds, you understand the whole world is post-Internet, that the distinction between IRL (“in real life”) and online is increasingly meaningless, and that artists, like the rest of us, are living with that fact.
On a recent Saturday, IRL — on Nicollet Avenue just outside Soo Local, in fact — a survey-taker was working the sidewalk with her pen and clipboard, attempting to interest passersby in sharing their opinions on public art. It was noon, and most everyone was more interested in brunch and the open patio seats at Pat’s Tap next door, but at least one person stopped to talk with her.
After a few questions, the survey-taker produced from her canvas tote a visual aid: a metal frame surrounding a clear plastic screen. Printed on the screen was a drawing of the sculpture proposed for the boulevard across the street: a green stork riding a purple penny-farthing bicycle.
Hold the frame at arms length, she instructed, look through it, and you’ll see the sculpture in context. As he did, he pulled his iPhone out of his jeans pocket, snapped a photo of the ridiculous drawing and posted it to Twitter.
When he next went to the door of Soo Local and found it locked at 12:05 p.m., he sat down on the lawn out front and killed a few minutes surfing the Internet on his phone. Then he tweeted Smith, who was supposed to be there already. Smith’s avatar popped onto the screen, blurting: “Hey! Sorry I am just heading over, be there asap (10 mins ish) sorry!”
And this is how we live now.
The weevily smart phone apps that burrow into our lives are just one aspect of the Internet’s ubiquity. That makes the definition of post-Internet art potentially very expansive, and Smith — finally standing in the gallery, in the flesh — allowed it to be so.
“It’s art right now,” he said. “It’s so simple.”
“This show could be about anything else,” he added at another point, insisting the Internet “is just people talking to each other.”
Smith is a canny curator, though, and he confronts the concept of post-Internet art more directly in the exhibition than he’s maybe willing to do in words.
A painting by Garrett Perry of the character Millhouse from “The Simpsons” with an unprintable four-letter word beneath, like a caption, could be the nth iteration of a meme ripped from 4chan. Smith leaned in to examine the brushstrokes, something that’s impossible to do on a screen, he noted.
Memes, the ideas that take on a life of their own as they’re passed around and altered, are hyper-charged by online connectivity. Our attention spans crumble before the onrush of content — much of it hollow, like the glib phrases that flash across the screen in a video piece by Travis Egedy.
Cat Bluemke’s series of classical sculptures flattened into two dimensions replicate IRL the experience of perusing a museum collection online. From your comfy desk chair in Minneapolis, you can click through the dim hallways of Paris’ Musée de quai Branly on Google StreetView.
In Kostis Fokas’ sexually charged photographs, the human body is cropped, caught at close distance in a cold flash, just like the creepy American Apparel banner ads that stalk your favorite websites. Fokas is Greek, but this is the age of Tumblr.
“Basically, we’re just online friends,” Smith explained.
To digital natives, technology has a texture, so when Mark Vomit records the short, computer-created video loops known as GIFs onto VHS tape, it’s like putting distortion on an electric guitar, adding a layer of visual fuzz that induces analog nostalgia.
Screens are our portals into the virtual world, a place where programming overrules our physical limitations. Video pieces by Norah Stone — the youngest artist here, one who Smith said doesn’t really remember the world pre-Internet — contemplate the empty promise of Photoshopped illusions.
There’s much more to see at Soo Local — a surprising amount, given the tiny gallery’s physical limitations. It’s a crowded show, and the room buzzes with endlessly looping audio pieces: the online cacophony, come to life.
Unplugging for a moment to visit a gallery and contemplate our modern condition may be the most post-Internet act of all. Surfing the Internet — if anyone even uses that very AOL-era phrase anymore — “is a very solitary experience,” Smith pointed out. Here, though, you may have to make eye contact, or use your voice, or even touch someone.
An untitled photograph by Kostis Fokas. Submitted image
“Post Physical: Visual Reactions to the Post-Internet Age”
WHEN: Through Aug. 10
WHERE: Soo Local, 3506 Nicollet Ave. S. Gallery hours are noon–4 p.m. Saturday and Sunday.