Diving into the Net at Center for Photography

I am (Richard Nixon), featuring video work by Adie Russell

For visual artists who aren’t intimidated by the use of electronic media and the tools offered by contemporary technology, a bigger, better playground than the Web could scarcely be imagined. You can create images, virtual objects and performances in as many dimensions as you like, without having to rent a gigantic studio space or get loopy breathing paint fumes. And your workspace is also where your audience dwells. It’s a whole new world of possibilities.

At the Center for Photography at Woodstock (CPW), an intriguing new show is opening this Saturday, January 12, that showcases five artists – Christopher Baker, Petra Cortright, Jon Rafman, Rafael Rozendaal and Kate Steciw – who have taken up that challenge with relish for the medium’s ever-fluxing play potential. Using video, performance, photo-based imagery, interactive installation and animations, each artist explores the Internet as both seductive virtual playground and subversive artistic studio.

Curated by Akemi Hiatt, “The Web Is a Lonely Place, Come Play” is not a survey course in Web art, but rather focuses on artists whose practices are fully embedded in the values of the new Internet aesthetic. As intuitive creators, they use seemingly simple gestures and tools to explore an uncharted frontier, not dissimilarly from the ways in which a child uses play to make sense of a larger world – in this case, the limitless possibilities of the Web. But as attuned cultural critics, adept at subverting the tools at their disposal and aware of their social implications, they inform and inspire a closer engagement and understanding of the online realm.

Chicagoan Christopher Baker is represented by his immersive installation Hello World! or: How I Learned to Stop Listening and Love the Noise, a wall comprised of more than 5,000 video diaries found on the Internet: intimate confessions in search of an enormous audience in a medium where privacy has become meaningless. The low-tech, fantasy-laden work of Californian Petra Cortright combines webcam performance, clip art, computer graphics and animated .gifs to create oddly addictive short films that probe at the junction of banality and glossiness. Montrealer Jon Rafman uses screen-grabs from Google Maps to fashion a poignant, funny, odd and terrifying meditation on voyeurism from the perspective of a street photographer who never needs to leave his desk, titled 9-eyes.

The other two artists in the show are New Yorkers, at least part of the time. With Web domains drawing over 25 million visits per year, Rafael Rozendaal creates animations that employ the screen as a limitless pictorial space, where beauty, accessibility, interactivity and simple emotions can be explored, occasionally in the form of contained games. And using stock photography and the capabilities of Photoshop, Kate Steciw explores tensions of surface versus depth, consumerism and the overabundance of images through manipulated images and photo-based sculptures.

CPW itself is getting into the act, creating interactive, interpretive tools for the show that begin to tap the potential of the Internet. It is setting up a rolling Tumblr blog called Come Play at CPW, featuring articles, images and new media posts to continue the discussion outside of the physical exhibition. Educational activities are being designed for school groups, and a series of panel discussions is in the works.

Running concurrently until March 31 with “The Web Is a Lonely Place, Come Play,” and sharing its opening reception this Saturday, January 12 from 4 to 6 p.m., is a solo show by Lomontville multimedia artist Adie Russell, titled “I Am (Richard Nixon).” Described by CPW as a “disjointed non-linear installation…presented on a range of media interfaces including video projection and video monitors placed throughout the gallery,” the show uses footage extracted from interviews from the 1950s through the 1970s of five iconic male figures: Richard Alpert, Ingmar Bergman, Jack Kerouac, Richard Nixon and Marlon Brando. The images are superimposed upon “ethereal backgrounds,” with the speakers’ actual words (including verbal stumbles) lip-synched by Russell herself.

Russell will be giving an informal artist talk at 5 p.m. during the opening of the exhibition. You can get a peek at her past work at www.adierussell.com. Gallery hours at CPW for both shows, which are free and open to the public, are Wednesdays through Sundays from 12 noon to 5 p.m., and by appointment. For more information call (845) 679-9957 or visit www.cpw.org.

“The Web Is a Lonely Place, Come Play” & “I Am (Richard Nixon),” opening Saturday, January 11, 4-6 p.m., through March 31, Wednesday-Sunday, 12-5 p.m., free, Center for Photography at Woodstock, 59 Tinker Street, Woodstock; (845) 679-9957, www.cpw.org.

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