Monday, 10 August 2009

Crash

It's not often that an art project outrages me.

My visit to the Adam Art Gallery's current show, The Future is Unwritten, was flat. The only work that really grabbed me was Peter Trevelyan's pencil lead sculpture - such a formally perfect work felt out of place amongst the provisional bits and pieces dotted throughout the other spaces. If I'm brutally honest though, the work grabbed me because by the time I got to the Chartwell room I'd become pretty desultory, and almost missed it: I stopped in the doorway, saw a dim empty room, and was about to move on when I saw a strange haze at the end of the space - the laugh was on me in this case, the lazy visitor. I might as well have been running through the show viewing it through my iPhone (if I had an iPhone, that is).

It was when I was clicking around on the exhibition website that I came across the work that got me going. The first time I clicked on the link to Amit Charon's page on the site, and my browser slowed and then crashed, I thought maybe something was up with the Adam's recently redeveloped site. The second time it happened, I began to wonder if this was intentional. I visited the link again and again, trying to read the text on the page before the tab disappeared, to see if it would confirm this. Each time, my browser crashed, although at least I'd learnt my lesson by this point and closed all my other tabs and applications. Eventually, I made it out in time: Slowly add pressure to the site. Wait until breaking point.

I decided to err on the safe side and emailed curator Laura Preston, asking her if the crashing was intentional and, if so, would she cast some light on the project for me. Laura replied and said yes, the crashing is on purpose, and gave me an explanation of the piece. A sentence of her explanation inflamed the part of me that gets all righteous about the web and the communities of people who live on it, and had me ranting all weekend to friends and colleagues.

When I asked if I could publish what she sent me here, Laura demurred, and came back with other explanation that she had checked off with Charon. This piece had the sentence that got me all worked up removed and a more common-sense explanation appended, as follows:

For the exhibition project The Future is Unwritten, Amit Charan has made a subtle site responsive work. He has built a transparent 'skyscraper' which in digital speak is a vertical advertising banner 160 x 600 pixels. The invisible skyscraper is placed on the right hand side of his project's webpage. By dropping this very large file on top of the Adam Art Gallery website, Charan is simulating weight as a sculptural quality in digital space. Consequently, the added strain causes the browser window to slow down, stall or even crash as the skyscraper is downloaded and shifts from the gallery website to the user's temporary files folder stored on the desktop. To view this work is to give up one's own space/time.

Charan's work also connects back to the actual exhibition as it quietly relates to Daniel Malone's project - Bricks break dialectics 2009 a performance Malone proposed five years ago and realised at the opening of the exhibition, which involved throwing a brick through the gallery's front window.

For his supplementary material Charan has selected to highlight Santiago Sierra's 300 tons (brief information here: http://www.kunsthaus-bregenz.at/ehtml/aus_sierra.htm) which also places viewing restrictions due to the overwhelming weight of the work.

Reviewing the show, Mark Amery found the online projects "dull, undeveloped and too disconnected from the exhibition in situ". I too found the other projects pretty dry. I'm also not keen on Preston and Charon's site/site pun, which I think is kinda slim.

However, Charon's complete violation of web standards, his theft of my time, and his disregard for my activities and property is to my mind far more confrontational than Daniel Malone's exhaustively discussed and documented brick throwing. Bricks might break dialectics, but getting permission to bust a window hardly breaks open the conventions of the gallery. Downloading huge files onto my computer without telling me breaks the conventions of the web, and for many millions of people that's far more outrageous (if you don't believe me, listen in the next time a free service like tr.im goes tits up, or the Failwhale shows up on Twitter).

I do query though the seeming decision not to explain the project for unsuspecting victims seeking reassurance that their computer hasn't now been filled up with malware. The catalogue notes and the website have only the vaguest descriptions of Charon's work. From the catalogue "For this project Amit Charon has constructed a skyscraper, an intangible form that make its effects known": this doesn't help at all. If you're going to play jokes on me, I'd appreciate it if you shared the punchline afterwards.

6 comments:

staplegun said...

Wow, at first I thought Charan had successfully played you by inciting EXACTLY the reaction he wanted in your review. But then I realised you must be playing HIM by intentionally writing an inflamed review. Tres clever. Score: Artist 1, Reviewer 1.

Charan's work is certainly a fresh take on invasive grafitti for the Web, nicely finding an alternative to the usual routes of hacking, trolling, spamming, etc.

Paul Reynolds said...

In my very much less than humble opinion, I think the only person being played here is Staplegun.

CJ has spent far more time engaging with this piece of web vandalism than I would. Her comments were thoughtful and, on balance, very measured.

Epic fail from both artist and gallery - in short - complete and total bollock of an idea!

staplegun said...

Maybe I am. All I'm thinking is why should online art be treated any differently to offline art? Offline art that is annoying, invades your personal space, defaces your property, etc. is tolerated to some extent and then labelled 'challenging' or 'confronting'. Galleries don't always give warnings for offline art (so as to not compromise the full 'experience').

Of course it's valid to dislike a piece of art or how it made you react, I'm just curious whether we are interpretting our reactions differently just because the experience was online?

bestof3 said...

I think what I was trying to say was that Charon's project was far more effetive (in terms of stimulating a response - specifically a negative response) than Malone's.

This partly comes down to permission-seeking & explanation. Charon broke a web rule, and neither sought permission nor explained what had happened. And this really effected me. Malone negotiated with the gallery so he could perform and have recorded (explained) an act that would under normal circumstances break real world rules (don't throw bricks through people's windows).

My annoyance wasn't, in the end, so much with Charon's work as with the first explanation offered up by the curator. I was asked not to publish this, and I haven't, but maybe we could take this bit of the conversation - as they like to say in meetings - offline?

Anonymous said...

web vandalism - web rule

This is art not some tame govt mediated web space

If you dont like what get dont click twice

I am more shocked that Malone asked permission to throw a brick - than someone making your browser crash.

Virus designers apart I like the idea of a monster art crash

I cant try it though cause i may lose something...

Anonymous said...

web vandalism? - web rules?

This is art not some tame govt mediated web space

If you dont like what get dont click twice

I am more shocked that Malone asked permission to throw a brick - than someone making your browser crash.

Virus designers apart I like the idea of a monster art crash

I cant try it though cause i may lose something...