The ICA’s ‘Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today’ is a provocative IRL spectacle

Most people spend the majority of their day on the internet, wading through an endless abyss of social media, video content, and commentary. Our daily routine has become so commonplace — so much so that we don’t even log on or log off anymore, instead opting to stay connected whether we are paying attention or not — that we’ve long forgotten just how the internet has shaped our lives.

A new exhibit at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, titled Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today and on view now until May 20, attempts to apply a human lens to just what the internet has become, unifying the work of 60 artists who are redefining the process and platforms of what we as a society stopped trying to define ourselves.

And like the internet itself, however one may define it, the exhibition is sprawling, empowering, and at times overwhelming. It’s an impressive collection of art and technology, with diverse voices and perspectives shoulder-to-shoulder, focused on a centralized theme of how the internet has impacted and influenced art, ourselves, and the perceptions and truths of both.

In her opening remarks at the February 6 press and partner preview, Jill Medvedow, the ICA’s Ellen Matilda Poss Director, said the intent of Art in the Age of the Internet is to understand how the internet has shaped our language, our communities, and our politics. “This show is about the many myriad ways the internet has changed our lives,” she added.

Approaching the internet as a social construct, Art in the Age of the Internet is a marker of the moment, in the context of technology that is ever-evolving. And the numbers are staggering; in addition to the several dozen contributing artists from 23 countries, the exhibit showcases 72 artistic works, 119 monitors, nine projectors, four live internet connections, 17 sculptures, 19 photographs, and one hologram within the halls of the Bridgitt and Bruce Evans Family and West Galleries. The subject matter ranges from the seemingly trivial and mundane day-to-day-isms of modern life to the rise of socio- and political activism and the inter-connectivity the internet has allowed.

Among the highlights are Laura Owens’ untitled 2016 work of flashe and screen printing ink on dyed linen, which adds digital marks on traditional paintings; Kate Cooper’s Rigged, depicting CGI models reflecting society’s quest for perfection in beauty and appearance; Josh Kline’s Saving Money With Contractors (Fedex Worker’s Head), showing 3D printed sculptures nestled in a Fedex box that are said to be modeled after the artist’s own, actual delivery driver.

There’s also a Samsung “smart fridge” that comes to life by communicating with not just humans, but other tablets and devices in the room, and Jon Rafman’s View Of Harbor, a virtual reality imaging headset for those peering out the ICA’s windows and into Boston Harbor.

In a way, all the displays seem to communicate with each other, room to room, along an Orwellian narrative that feels both paranoid and self-secure.

“Art reflects the ideas of our time,” Eva Respini, Barbara Lee Chief Curator at the ICA, says says in a recent interview, “and with this exhibition, we hope to offer insights on some of the complex issues of our digital age: How has the internet influenced art and how it circulates, how it is valued? How has the internet changed our understanding of privacy? How have network technologies changed our understanding of what it means to be human, and our perception of reality? What do we make of this powerful medium, which still holds so much promise, but is also a sign of a world divided, full of anxiety, operating at a breakneck pace, and competing for our increasingly distracted attention?”

Paying attention is often the hardest part.

‘ART IN THE AGE OF THE INTERNET, 1989 TO TODAY’ :: Now until May 20 at The Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, 25 Harbor Shore Drive in Boston, MA :: 10 a.m. through closing, all ages, $15 general admission :: ICA event page :: Featured image via HOWDOYOUSAYYAMINAFRICAN’s 30-monitor video installation, ‘thewayblackmachine’

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