Canadian Architect

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In the Teeth of Technology’s Buzzsaw

An exhibition of digital art at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art reveals the unfulfilled potential of the new media.

March 1, 2001
by Kelly Rude

At one minute after midnight on January 1, 2001, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA), in collaboration with Intel Corporation, launched 010101: Art in Technological Times. The exhibition debuted with five Web-based commissions accessible online as of January 1. Then, from March 3 through July 8, over two dozen installations, video works, sound pieces and digital projects–as well as examples of more traditional media–are on view in the SFMOMA galleries. 010101 charts recent and commissioned work by some 35 contemporary artists, architects and designers from North America, Europe and Asia who are “responding to a world altered by the increasing presence of digital media and technology.”

Digital culture has been around long enough to warrant some kind of investigation, so it comes as no surprise that Aaron Betsky, curator of Architecture, Design and Digital Projects at SFMOMA, would put together an exhibition dealing with this phenomenon. Sponsored by microchip manufacturer Intel, the exhibition, both online and in the museum, is a collection of projects and commissions in art, architecture and design; but these parochial (perhaps even archaic) distinctions don’t stand up in the context of the curatorial program (“digital rubric” might be a more appropriate euphemism).

“SiteStreaming,” using Web-streaming technology, provides online tours of some of the exhibition’s five Web-based commissions, including projects like e-poltergeist by the London-based team of Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead, California graphic designer Erik Adigard’s Timelocator, and Feed by Mark Napier, known for his irreverent exploration of the World Wide Web.

Among the artists commissioned by SFMOMA for the gallery component of 010101, Canadian Janet Cardiff will use “binaural” recording techniques and camcorders to create an intimate commentary on, and narrative based in, the SFMOMA building and galleries. New York-based Karim Rashid offers SoftScape, a computer generated landscape of Day-Glo rubber. Asymptote Architecture (Hani Rashid and Lise Anne Couture) contribute iscapes 1.0, a series of continually morphing objects that blend consumer appliances and fashion accessories with architectural monuments, and artist Roxy Paine has rigged his laptop computer to drive a custom-built sculpture-making machine that drips molten plastic onto a conveyor belt to create an unlimited variety of blob sculptures.

Although this is only a sketch of a preview of the exhibition based on pre-opening promotional material and the Web sites (www.sfmoma.org/010101 and www.artmuseum.net), I hope the work exceeds the expectations set up by the project descriptions. Otherwise I think we’ll see the great potential for digital art remain largely unfulfilled, which reminds me of a statement by Marshall McLuhan from a few decades ago: “What are you to say to people when they put their heads in the teeth of technology’s buzzsaw and call it freedom?” In the context of this exhibition, the word freedom might easily be changed to expression. So far, to my mind, the binary code exhibition title is the most replete with creative potential.

Kelly Rude is a Toronto journalist.




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