In the Global Village ... we are like the occupants of an elevator - having proximity without community

Marshall McLuhan[1]

In Bob Hanke’s brilliant essay McLuhan, ‘Virilio and the Electric Speed in the age of Digital Reproduction’, there is a passage that describes the only meeting between the two philosophers, Paul Virilio and Marshall McLuhan. Hanke’s generous research creates a fine backstory for McLuhan to pronounce the above introductory quote. Seemingly, after a dinner at a Parisian restaurant in 1973, the pair got stuck in an elevator for over an hour. It must be mentioned that Virilio and McLuhan are always pitched against each other in the theoretical arena of new media. Virilio is the postmodern skeptic who has a ‘territorial’ grasp on time, space and power within the vector of speed, while McLuhan’s premature projections of a ‘Media Eden’ (Virilio’s phrase)[2], are due partly to being born twenty one years before his counterpart: he was late to the internet party. Both have been proven to be ‘technologically clairvoyant’. Ironically, it is ‘time’ that separates their theories, as Hanke outlines, McLuhan was already tackling the discursive element of ‘speed’ (Virilio’s baby) before his death in 1980. I mention these two protagonists because of a personally perceived flip in the mediation of Internet Art in the context of the group show Offline at Temple Bar Gallery +  Studios (TBG+S). Although the McLuhan/Virilio argument has run its course, it once again seems pertinent as Internet Art becomes potentially less etherealised and more grounded – as evidenced in the virtual objecthood of the scattered and stacked paraphernalia at TBG+S.

Offline is one of the first exhibitions that I have experienced that I felt the need for a camera, or some digital tool to mediate what I was seeing. It is almost as if there is no frame, structure, boundary, to support the thrash heaps of Kitsch and ‘station(e)ry’ objects. I write station(e)ry as an intended doubling of the meaning of the word, in reference to Aleksandra Domanović’s columned stacks of A4 pages, where the edge of each layered page is printed to create an image on the vertical sides of what Domanović entitles printable monuments to the abolished. yu domain. The artist’s statement gives some sociopolitical background to these aesthetically pleasing and innovative sculptures:

The 1991 break up of her [Domanović’s] homeland came only a few months afer the country’s top domain had been registered and internet use began to spread. Domanović’s sculptural works ... were produced to commemorate the recent abolition of the .yu domain.

Taking Domanović’s statement into account when tracking the multicoloured ‘ink blot’ images on the vertical sides of the towers of paper, they take on the form of geographical maps found in ’70s type encyclopedias (books which also had the butt ends printed). ‘Ink blot’ also suggests the psychological Rorschach Test, which utilised inkblot designs to examine thought disorders. Considering Domanović’s homeland, the political context positions these forms into the shifting geographical boundary of the break-up of the artist’s former Yugoslavia. McLuhan wrote in 1979: “As Ecology takes over in all fields of human activity in the Eighties, every kind of change poses a pollution threat.” Domanović’s printed images have a viral tenacity that reflects McLuhan’s ecological fears the way they wrap themselves around the plinths of paper: ubiquitous contemporary terms such as ‘computer virus’ and ‘economic contagion’ come to mind. If you get down on your knees and look closely at Domanović’s printed designs, vague mediated images of protest or celebration are found with in their Kitsch makeup. It is the Kitsch formalism performed by all the artists at TBG+S that gives a clichéd filmic landscape of a post-ecological disaster. As Hank concludes via Virilio’s position: “For Virilio, the ‘information bomb’ means that media interactivity should be regarded in the same way as nuclear radioactivity.”[3] In the end, our coming together online, will be our individual and collective death in reality.

In 1939, at the age of 29, Clement Greenberg wrote his seminal essay ‘Avant-Garde and Kitsch’. Greenberg, from a Marxist standpoint wrote: “Kitsch keeps a dictator in closer contact with the ‘soul’ of the people.”[4] This succinct statement refers to Greenberg's view of the Germanic and Russian peoples’ assimilation of kitsch as a cultural artefact (or Fascist/Communist conditioning). Kitsch was easy to digest, rather that an esoteric, rupturing notion like avant-garde. Simply put, kitsch is colourful, avant-garde is black and white; one makes you smile, the other makes you think. Uttering the terms avant-garde and kitsch today has the aftertaste of ‘old hat’ nostalgia. Interestingly, although kitsch is punctuated with retroactive closing brackets – appropriating the “trash heaps” of the past and situating them in the contemporary present – avant-garde has the black & white tinge of the distant past, more modernist than postmodernist. Greenberg writes:

Where there is an avant-garde, generally we also find a rear-guard. True enough – simultaneously with the entrance of the avant-garde, a second new cultural phenomenon appeared in the industrial West: that thing to which the Germans give the wonderful name of Kitsch: popular, commercial art and literature with their chromeotypes, magazine covers, illustrations, ads, slick and pulp fiction, comics, Tin Pan Alley music, tap dancing, Hollywood movies, etc, etc.[5] [...] Kitsch is a product of the industrial revolution which urbanized the masses of Western Europe and America and established what is called universal literacy.[6]


Internet Atrophy: ‘01 for all and all for 01’

Aleksandra Domanović, Joel Holmberg, Parker Ito, Eilis McDonald, Jonathan Rafman

Offline, Temple Bar Gallery & Studios , Dublin, 8th April – 14th May 2011
Curated by Rayne Booth

Aleksandra Domanović, untitled (30.11.2010), 2010

Printable monuments to the abolished .yudomain, 3x 7,500 page-stack sculpture, A4 inkjet

Photo by Eilis McDonald



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