Review by Catherine Spencer
There’s something of the oxymoron about the title of Marialaura Ghidini’s latest group show developed for her online curatorial platform www.or-bits.com: although there’s a lot happening in Acceleration - and a lot happening at speed - the show is equally fascinated by the actions of slowing and complicating. Each of the showcased artists presents works concerned with the temporality of viewing. They explore - and test - audience attention span and endurance, mining away at the issue of how the time spent engaged in the act of viewing affects the experience, and attendant understanding, of an artwork. How long will we look at something’ What is the correlation between duration, value and comprehension’ Such thorny questions recur throughout the fabric of Acceleration. They are woven into the densely packed prose of Maarten Vanden Eynde’s pastiche academic publication ‘of Genetology’, where the prolixity of words and images from art historical and popular sources explicitly demands the magpie-attentive viewing of Vanden Eynde’s ‘future archaeologist’. In Benedict Drew’s film piece ‘The Visit’ (2011), a man seated at a table stages a staring contest with a replica of his own decapitated head for several increasingly aching minutes, in tension with a rapidly quickening ticking sound: acceleration is present here in negative, as the challenge not to move away and onto something else.
At this point, I must pause and confess that there is a very specific temporality of viewing that exercises the curator and artists of Acceleration - that of the online gaze. Acceleration is a virtual exhibition and, try as I might, it is almost impossible to approach - let alone describe - my experience of the show as if it had taken place in a physical gallery. Ghidini explicitly marks out this difference in her introductory text, suggesting that watching online is inherently fragmented, the viewer constantly incited to speed off down a wormhole of hyperlinks. Reflecting on the application demanded by films such as Andrei Tarkovsky’s Solaris, Ghidini suspects that if her first experience of the film had been on QuickTime, she would have been tempted to interrupt her viewing and fast-forward: ‘my impatient eye, and perhaps my in-need-of-constant-stimuli brain, would have given in’’ As if to underline Ghidini’s point, my own impatient eye (I blush to confess) was, by this point, flicking between the two other browsers I had opened. Embarrassing as this is, it encapsulates Acceleration’s concern with how viewing artworks on the internet might differ in significant ways from encountering them in a gallery space, in terms of control, duration and synchronicity, and with how artists are placed to reflect and exploit those differences.
This is exemplified by Ayo & Oni Oshodi’s contribution: click on their name, and you are taken to a holding page tantalisingly entitled ‘A Conversation Yet to Come’, promising a forthcoming interview with one Tamar Kasriel, founder and director of the agency Futureal. Feeling like a detective with no other clues to go on, I can’t help but click on the ‘Futureal’ link, which opens up yet another window purporting to be the Futureal site. Browsing through its pages reveals layer upon layer of management-ease, cod-motivational promises and chimerical jargonspeak: ‘We deep dive into the drives and futures of one market sector or issue, e.g. as we have done for money, desserts, church weddings, femininity, luxury’’ But even as it leads away from Or-Bits, the site wraps around itself like a virtual onion: the time I could spend searching through its sections for something tangible expands exponentially. Similarly, Steve Ounanian’s ‘The Unknown (or 20+ Questions to Divine the Future) (February 14th, 2011) invites you to participate in an ironic online survey where you can add your answers your own questions, gently and humorously prompting reflection and meditation.
Later on, once I’ve extricated myself from Futureal’s soft-wash coils and Ounanian’s gnomic questions (Is your favourite colour the same as mine, blue’) and I’m poring over Maarten Vanden Eynde’s ‘of Genetology, I find myself distracted by a link to his web profile. Once there, a whole other world opens up of online publications, exhibitions, books and lectures: at one point I find myself starting, gritty-eyed and transfixed, at a youtube video of a child incessantly moving a red plate and two placemats around on a table. I feel as if I’ve moved downwards as much as forwards, through a compacted stratification of tangentially related references. It’s at points such as this that Acceleration powerfully alludes to the gamut of viewing possibilities raised by overwhelming amount of information on the web, positive and negative - from the dead time wasted gazing at something you never meant to look at, to the excitement of hybridity and connection. Its not just about speeding up, it’s about polyphony - which in turn, ironically enough, slows you down. As Amanda Wasielewski’s playful contribution to Acceleration, entitled ‘Audio Quest: K-2’ (2011) demonstrates, which opens with a dreaded slow-load time-bar, viewing on the internet is far more complicated than a simple matter of speed.
Rosa Menkman’s video work ‘Acceleration vs. Compression’ (2011) neatly encapsulates this duality, looping a low-fi graphic of constantly morphing rainbow-coloured pixels that merge and separate on the screen in globular lava-lamp patterns. As the sequence becomes faster, the rate of its repetition increases, yet each repetition is differentiated by its new temporality. Its revolutions gain, rather than lose, in intensity, revealing organicity and change within an apparently small clip of film. That the viewing experience of the internet might be more about depth than speed, and might bring the link between value and viewing into sharper, rather than less distinct focus, is a key emphasis of Ghidini’s introduction, at the end of which she asserts: ‘The idea that our society will head like a meteor in acceleration towards a point of not return - as suggested by much of the reports and speculations of the mass media - is just too simple and gloomy to me to be even taken into consideration - we will never be accelerated far beyond our power to see things and envision new possibilities.’ A far more nuanced and subtle account of online perception than the media scare-stories about how Google is draining people of the ability to concentrate, Acceleration is a thought-provoking, clever show in which medium and message are inextricably interwoven.