The new show at The Whitechapel Gallery – ‘Electronic Superhighway’ – has been described as ‘a landmark exhibition that brings together over 100 artworks to show the impact of computer and Internet technologies on artists from the mid-1960s to the present day.’ With a mixture of video installations, photography, interactive pieces, paintings and more, the exhibition presents a visual feast for visitors and also conveys the huge impact the Internet has on art between the 20th and the 21st century.
The title ‘Electronic Superhighway’ comes ‘from a term coined in 1974 by South Korean video art pioneer Nam June Paik, who foresaw the potential of global connections through technology’ and evokes ideas of travelling. The peculiar arrangement of the exhibition takes the visitor on a reverse journey, starting with art taken from the 2000-2016 era and ending with pieces from the 1960s. Very effective in showing how close art and technology got in the 21st century, the pieces present the visitor with recognisable images such as sexting and selfies, though also showcase a time machine that anyone can use to venture into the technology of the past.
Contemporary artists try to discover a range of ways to utilise the digital world we live in within their works of art. It becomes evident from the pieces that are featured in the show. Even though the combination of art and online world is not a new concept, incepted back in the 1960s, in the 21st century this union of art and the Internet seems to become something of its own. The exhibition displays how the Internet should not be dismissed from the creative world as it is evidently provides a wealth of material for contemporary artists and also conveys the idea of art that can continually evolve.
The exhibition features work from an array of international artists and provides a well rounded view of how technology shapes our lives through aspects such as clothes we wear, relationships through how we interact with other people and much more. I particularly enjoyed the work of conceptual artist Amalia Ulman who presented pieces from her Instagram project entitled Excellences and Perfections (2014-2015) which centres on ideas of female body image. Over four months, Ulman captured her spoof performance of moving to LA and trying to fit into the social media world on camera. Ulman’s use of specific photographs and comical use of hashtags draws attention on how we, social media users, tend to obsess over the idea of a celebrity lifestyle and how we look, and she uses her body and the art of the ‘selfie’ to achieve this. So often in modern society, social media and the concept of ‘selfies’ are viewed as frivolous and vacuous, but Ulman has taken this form to a new level to make a social and political message and therefore has helped to legitimise it as an art form. Her work is making waves in the world of art, with her pieces also being featured in one of Tate Modern’s newest exhibitions ‘Performing for the Camera’.
‘Electronic Superhighway’ makes art more accessible. It shows that art can be created through an Instagram post, through a screen shot and more, and that you don’t need elaborate materials to make a statement. Art is often about presenting some of your most intimate feelings, and it seems that in today’s society we do this every day via the Internet, whether it is a tweet, an Instagram post, or a Facebook status. The exhibition raises a lot of important questions around ideas of expression in the modern artistic world.
Recommendation: Get lost in the technological maze of Electronic Superhighway. Whether you sit back and enjoy the range of videos, take in every detail of the super imposed images or engage hands on with the chance to sing along on a karaoke installation, you will absorb an important message from the exhibition – technology is everywhere and it has a definite place in the world of art.
‘Electronic Superhighway’ on view at the Whitechapel Gallery through May 15, 2016.