Dappledoze September 11, 2014 at 2:37 pm

Watched the original documentary in anticipation of this, appreciated how the first part respectfully critiqued BBC art history documentaries, but was self-aware enough to admit to its own shortcomings. “Ways of Something”. But the net-artists have no respect for either, neither do they really care about the premise. Net-artists are HYPER self aware, so much so that even in this format they can’t talk about the documentary. They can only talk about themselves.

The “old media” artist makes an image you cannot forget. The “new media” artist batters you with images you cannot unsee. This is why you come away enriched from an art museum, but walk out exhausted from this video.

WhitneyKimball September 11, 2014 at 3:14 pm

How is any of this disrespectful? Each video adds additional interpretation of Berger’s theory for the age of YouTube, Google search, widely available editing software, and the global art industry. As Berger argued that modern audiences are incapable of seeing European paintings as they were originally conceived, I think this argues that we can no longer see Berger’s critique in the way it was viewed in the seventies. “I hope you will consider what I arrange, but be skeptical of it”- is that not exactly what this does?

Dappledoze September 11, 2014 at 3:47 pm

These people make the same point about social media and widely-available editing software over and over again. They are not skeptical, so much as indifferent: they have a minute to fill in a group show, but nothing to say, so their “response” is a completely arbitrary use of net-art techno tropes.

Berger does not argue that modern audiences are incapable of seeing paintings the same way. His bit about “silence” says that some part of the original artwork is still accessible to us, if we let it speak for itself. However, he argues that modern audiences receive artworks as images in a book or on a screen, skillfully framed and presented by a cameraman or a film editor, to prove a point. And he admits he is doing the same thing, to prove his own point.

The net artists have no point to make. In fact, each one is indignant that this is not a show about THEM. So we get fuchsia Comic Sans, we get green screen and masking effects, we get a psychedelic Ken Burns effect and a close-up of Courbet’s “Origin of the World”, all as if to say “I don’t care what this old man is talking about, he may control the audio channel but for one minute I control the video, and if you are smart you will note which minute this is, find my name in the credits below, and google me.” They ALL say that. They all shout as loudly as possible, and the result is incoherent. In several cases, it is a self-indictment of how little they are able to say with this new technology.

I would love to see how this relates to the global art industry. The third part of the documentary makes the case that pre-1900 painting reflects the patron landowner, that it commemorates the values of the rich. But Ways of Something only remixes the first two parts. A missed opportunity.

WhitneyKimball September 11, 2014 at 4:20 pm

Berger has argued that meaning depends on context, which changes with society. In his 1960 introduction to “Selected Essays”, he wrote:
“Here it is essential to remember that the specific meaning of a work of art changes– if it didn’t, no work could outlive its period, no agnostic could appreciate a Bellini.”

Nobody owns fuchsia Comic Sans.

In minute four, when Berger discusses seeing paintings in the context of your own life, the artist has chosen to overlay Goyas with screen grabs and images from “Clueless”. “Originally paintings were an integral part of the building for which they were designed” – now, floating images suggest that images are not only reframable by news outlets and publishers, but infinitely recontextualizable for T-shirts, home movies, or teen girl blogs. That’s a response, not a dismissal.

In minute three, we see an art image of Ai Wei Wei smashing a vase, followed by news footage of a Miami artist smashing Ai Wei Wei’s vase in protest of the fact that the Perez Museum only displays international art. That particular story specifically asks, who’s allowed authority to criticize. Who’s allowed to destroy in order to make art? Repurposing critique in your own voice isn’t selfish, it’s just breaking with tradition.

Dappledoze September 11, 2014 at 6:53 pm

Floating images, arbitrarily recontextualized, are a restatement of Berger’s thesis — that we edit and reframe to suit our own ends. That “plain folks” now have the power to do this is nothing new. If anything, his point is diluted — in the 70s they recontextualized to sell things or to prove a point, but now we may decontextualize for any reason — even no reason at all.

This sort of nihilism pervades the piece. In minute three we see many European paintings flicker past. The images go so fast as to give anyone a headache; suggesting they do not mean anything themselves, they merely represent “the hyper-present state of media overload”. They are intercut with military gunship images, reminiscent of the Wikileaks “Collateral Murder” video. Overlaid is a kind of rudimentary “Robocop” style display, suggesting the computer is “looking” at these things and judging them.

From this one might conclude that not only are images worthless, so are people. Everything is fluid and arbitrary, nothing really means anything. Ai Wei Wei is valuable to American collectors (to the tune of $1MM — an unthinkable sum when most net-art will never be sold) but not to his own government, just as civilians in Yemen or Afghanistan are worthless to our government.

Perhaps there is an art history narrative to these flickering images, but I do not understand it, because I did not go to art school. I fear this documentary is riddled with in-jokes, nudges and winks that are only apprehensible to individuals in this net artist clique. In 1971, John Berger had risen to a point where he could make a documentary and have it broadcast on national television. But these 58 net artists have only one minute in a group video. So it does not really matter what they do with it, because they are performing for an audience of insiders (who may or may not be patient enough to sit through the whole thing).

Thus Berger’s point is reinforced — even with the Internet, we still cannot really respond to him. We can only talk amongst ourselves. The Internet is not really a mass medium at all, it is, as the video description calls it, “a cacophany”.

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