A LOVE LETTER TO INTERNET ART

The internet is a most gorgeous tool for the suburban art enthusiast. It is, in its scope, the liberation of the artistic narrative from the exclusivity of galleries and museums, putting power not in the hands of the curators, patrons, and donors, but in the everyman equipped with Google images and Instagram. For the first time in human history, art is free. Art is accessible. Art is shareable.

As a suburban-grown kid, being physically removed from tangible art does not restrict me from the art, itself. The emotions can manifest just as poignantly through pixels as they can through hard canvas. I suppose that at a time art was a luxury, with exposure being currency itself; the viewer’s artistic catalog limited only to the amount of galleries to which they could travel. I grew up with Van Gogh and da Vinci mere clicks away. I didn’t need a museum. Digitally bred, I could love an entire universe of art from my bedroom.

Suburbia is hauntingly lonely. Its sameness is eternalized as sweetness in digital media and well-loved 80s movies, but in execution, it’s hollow. The suburban kid is removed from reality in her own bubble of lonely safeness. She sees the world as cookie-cutter houses and fresh-cut lawns; she sees hurt as a scrape on the sidewalk. Art is the escape route from suburban bliss, the teacher of the lessons tabooed by suburban culture. It is dangerous, powerful. In breaking the cycle of familiarity through art, it is liberation, for better or worse. It is the abolition of loneliness.

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No modern artist captures the terrifying comfort of suburbia quite like 17-year-old photographer Lauren Tepfer. Her seductive immortalization of suburbia through art is uncomfortably cinematic in the very best way; it’s something that I wish I had in my pocket when I was younger.

In middle school, somewhere at the crossroads between my own suffocation by sameness and yearning for release, I discovered Marina Abramović. I’m not sure what prompted me to break from routine (which, at the time, consisted of watching Glee reruns on the couch) and google modern artists online, but I did. And, after stumbling upon Marina’s Rhythm series, I finally found that release. It was the first time I felt existentialism triggered by something other than my own mind. Marina was the big sister whispering awful truths of human nature in my freshly-pierced ears. She was my first honest teacher; Rhythm 0 was my awakening.

Rhythm 0 taught me more about humanity than thirteen years of suburban girlhood. The artwork, arguably Marina’s most famous, was a 6-hour performance in 1974 Naples. The artist stood still as she invited the audience to do whatever they pleased to – and with – her body, using any of 72 provided objects (including honey, grapes, scissors, a scalpel, a metal bar, and a loaded gun). Something about interactive art burned in my blood like hot oil (…and it was, by all means, a good burn). This was a type of art that I was unaccustomed to; unlike the infamous portraits of the renaissance greats, this was art that changed the viewer’s way of thinking. This wasn’t another proportionally-perfect reproduction of the world of the everyman. This was a portal to a higher plane of consciousness.

Hungered by something in the idea of Marina’s work, I began to ravenously search for other artists that would teach me the lessons untaught by suburbia. Before long, I had fallen in glorious teenage love with Joan Jonas and Jenny Holzer, with Cindy Sherman and Barbara Kruger. During the commercial breaks of Glee episodes, I would search (fruitlessly) for rare online copies of Joan’s films and read Holzer’s violent texts the way other girls read Twilight. I peppered my schoolwork with a self-taught homeschooling of these lessons, collecting my visual textbooks in bookmarked computer tabs and sticky notes.

Lilith Adler’s work, for example, deconstructs the patriarchy, the political manipulation of religion, white privilege, and racism in a way that was both deeply unsettling and simple to digest. Naturally, she became arguably the most important voice in my upbringing. Lilth’s subject matters were taboos in my community, better left unspoken and untaught than acknowledged and falsely repented. Indeed, there is no greater breeding-ground for ignorance than the American suburbs. The formal classrooms taught us nothing about true oppression, taught us nothing about the less-than-pleasantries in our cinematic, routine-driven society. Without knowledge, there is ignorance. Online art was my introduction to the inequalities that my suburbia conditioned me to believe were normal or nonexistent. It opened a door for me to teach myself recognition of 21st century oppression (and its degrees of severity), as well as my role in it.

By the time I entered high school, I had memorized a catalog of charged philosophies and worldviews introduced to me by my beloved online gallery (er, Google). It was around that time that other young people were beginning to develop and share catalogs of their own through a strange new mobile application called Instagram. Although I was a late adopter of the app, it fascinated me. Users could like, follow, and comment on photos (although this functionality wasn’t new to social media, the idea of a photo-centric social medium was a previously alien idea). Not unlike Marina’s performance art, this was interactive, participative art, and I, a smartphone user, had been invited to participate.

Instagram is the artist’s abyss. The artist, without being confined to the physical gallery’s invitation, can share and promote their art to an infinite audience. A gallery is limited to those in close enough proximity, and those whom the curator deems “best”. In both the classical and modern world, “best” is often falsely deemed synonymous to “white” and “man”. Sure, there are activists like Guerilla Girls who champion for the inclusivity of marginalized artists, but the system itself is so rooted in artistic prejudice that even with modern activism, discrimination is ubiquitous.

[no title] 1985-90 by Guerrilla Girls nullguerilla 2

Although the revolution for art equality has begun, art discrimination is not going to go away any time soon (and even imagining art equality in the distant future is wholly optimistic). Internet art may circumvent the system, but it cannot reinvent the system, itself. That said, the Instagram artist is not limited to the curatorial preferences of the higher industry powers; the Instagram artist is lifted from the bonds of traditional art discrimination (although, as in all society – virtual or not – they are not lifted from discrimination entirely).

Instagram has evolved into a platform where marginalized artists can not only share their pieces, but be celebrated for them. Take Art Hoe Collective, an online movement started by QPOC to showcase art by creatives of color. Art Hoe is an online kaleidoscope of gorgeous visual and written curated by people of color. Although the term “Art Hoe” has become an internet buzzword, it’s important to remember where it came from (The Art Hoe Collective) and what it means (a creative of color).

Photographer, talk-show host, and all-around ladies activist (… and Modern Girls fav!) Amanda de Cadenet recently launched the #Girlgaze project, which includes a professionally-curated Instagram gallery. It’s deliciously exciting to see people of influence within the media industry using their own power to empower others. The aim of #Girlgaze is to provide exposure for the marginalized female gaze, just as Art Hoe Collective provides exposure for the QPOC gaze. The Instagram account invites the everyday girl to tag her photography with #girlgaze for the chance to be featured in both the online exhibition and physical galleries/publications (Teen Vogue, anyone?).

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A selection from the #Girlgaze Instagram gallery. My fellow suburban girl Lauren Tepfer is featured in the center-bottom.

Virtual Instagram collectives like Art Hoe and #Girlgaze have encouraged skillful curators to create physical spaces for marginalized groups in art. Last September, I was invited to contribute to Teen Art Salon‘s (brainchild of Isabella Bustamante) inaugural show in the Lower East Side. All artists dream of being featured in New York. A baby girl among dreamers and professionals, I showed a whopping eighteen pieces at a tangible, bustling gallery. I was only 17 years old and being proudly shown in a legitmate art venue. It was all because Isabella found my art on Instagram.

I showed my work in another gallery, Brittany Natale’s equally-brilliant Bushwick Teen Dream Art Show, this spring. Brittany had reached out to me on Instagram the previous summer after finding my account. Instagram gave me, an artist marginalized by her gender and age (although – and it is important to note – not her race), a platform to be discovered. It gave me, and other artists from around the United States, power and opportunity.

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My photo from Teen Dream Art Show, curated by Brittany Natale. April 2016.

Beyond opportunity for the creatives bleeding art, Instagram provides pleasure for casual art-lovin’ kids like me. I grew up learning my most valuable life lessons from Google images of professional art, but today, I can learn those same lessons with just one click: Instagram-dot-com. Instagram is a vast encyclopedia of incredible art by professionals and non-professionals alike, unconstrained by commercialism and empowered by circumstance. And, to be frank, I’m truly, deeply in love with that concept. I’m a suburban girl plunged into a virtual universe of art-lovers and artists, of curators and fellow suburban kids. Instagram the home a small brick house could never give me.

Although I have grown in size and heart, at my core, I will always be a scared little suburban kid searching for meaning online. Internet art is a security blanket, shared online with millions but delivered just to my phone, just to my laptop, just to me. The world is a frightening place, both within and without the suburbs, but art assuages those fears (if only a little bit). With one click, the user breaks his or her cycle of comfort and familiarity in favor of a utopia where nothing is safe but everything is real. Internet art is the answer.

But what, again, was the question?

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Note: after I began writing this piece, I learned of a racist Marina Abramović comment that has surfaced from a 1979 diary. Although she has since apologized for her comment against indigenous Australians, it is inexcusable. It would be inappropriate to publish this piece without calling her out on her racist remarks.

Images by Lilith Adler were taken from The Lilith Gallery of Toronto, which is a resource that I totally recommend exploring (especially if you’re like me & enjoy perusing art online). 

I also recommend exploring Art History Archive’s article on Feminist Art. As someone with no formal art history background, I find this introduction to the feminist art movement really beneficial and intriguing. 

Additional images in this piece are credited to their respective artists in the text. Be sure to follow @arthoecollective and @girlgazeproject on Instagram, as well as any artists you enjoy. A “follow” is a tiny sign of affirmation that means the world to an internet artist!

Thank you for taking the time to read my own personal art history.

— Megan 

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