Internet art in a gallery

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Don’t copy paste internet art into a gallery. Make a holodeck.

Internet art, when viewed online, is already in its natural habitat. Browser windows are neatly wrapped rectangular parcels of space; they remind me of how framed paintings were regarded about a century ago.

When you’re viewing internet art at home on the computer, or on your own device, it comes with this intimacy that’s generally not possible with non-digital artworks. You experience it in front of you, not standing arms-crossed in a room full of other people. You’re looking at it the way that the artist probably also looked at it, seated basically in the same position, and on a device very similar to the one used to create it. Of course, you can own a physical artwork and have it in your home too, but then it work would only be accessible to a small audience, and everyone else would have to make do with only seeing the documentation.

Taking internet art and placing it in a brick-and-mortar gallery often adapts the work at the expense of this intimacy. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, since the original work is still online, and the gallery audience might be discovering the work for the first time. But the gallery space is an opportunity to present work in a new context. Simply moving the contents of a browser window into a gallery is a flat and incomplete experience.

Many internet art exhibitions have focused on adapting web-based works to the gallery in a way that makes them feel dead, like documentation, or an inadequate copy of what’s already online. You don’t gain anything from that experience; you only feel what’s lost by not experiencing it at home. Other exhibitions look like they were treated as an opportunity to document the work in physical space, just to have it put back online from a different angle. And even if the work has been recreated somewhat accurately in the gallery, what’s been achieved? What can the gallery audience experience that they couldn’t by being handed the URL and looking at it at home later?

It’s not that the audience is demanding more, it’s that they already have the ability to access the work on the internet and the gallery can offer so much more as an environment and gathering place than it can by existing as the redundancy for a website. Some works will be better suited for online galleries, and the argument can be made that more physical galleries and art institutions should maintain concurrent online spaces.

In a gallery setting, there’s a possibility for new meaningful experience to be developed. Instead of losing the qualities afforded by the internet works can manifest and be articulated in site specific ways. I’m not arguing for an online/offline dichotomy, I think some of the most interesting works are those that exist in both forms simultaneously. It’s interesting to focus on what benefits an offline environment can offer internet art when it’s experienced outside the rectangular frame. A gallery, or any physical space, comes with its own set of parameters that have to be addressed. The gallery could be treated like another software platform to explore instead of a net art fridge door.


Originally publish in NOOART: The Journal of Objectless Art