Since it became available to the public in the mid-90s, the Internet has proved a revolutionary means of communication – and a chaotic, multifarious form of public space – pervading all aspects of our lives, whether we like it or not. Over the past twenty years or so, the pervasive – as well as transformative – force of the net has been instrumental in producing and circulating new ideas, trends and even new aesthetics.
To investigate how the Internet has been affecting our everyday existence, changing the way we communicate, interact and, why not, make art, Italian curatorial duo Francesco Urbano Ragazzi have organised in tandem with Zuecca Projects The Internet Saga, an exhibition of works by Lithuania-born artist Jonas Mekas. A founding father of American avant-garde cinema and an indefatigable pioneer throughout his whole career, Mekas began experimenting with the Internet at the age of 84, and in 2007 he released 365 Days Project, a collection of short videos that were uploaded daily on the artist’s website throughout the year.
Conceived to reflect how the web itself has changed since its inception, going from being a “virtual space” to an extension of our “offline being”, The Internet Saga plays on the idea of a double narration: one addressing the net’s unceasing becoming, and the other tracing the artist’s personal life with a series of works bearing a strong diaristic nature. Held at two different locations in Venice – Spazio Ridotto and a Burger King restaurant – The Internet Saga is the only collateral event of the city’s 56th Biennale to be devoted to the Internet art.
1883 caught up with the duo to find out more about the exhibition.
How did the idea for The Internet Saga develop in the first place?
In the 90s, the internet was conceived as a space: everybody was talking about virtual worlds, and the PC had its own special place in our homes, which was almost like an oasis in the desert of the Offline. In recent years however, the connection has become more pervasive: we can be online and offline at the same time 24/7, updating our many timelines. The Internet is now a performative dimension, a layer which is upon us as a temporal extension. We are living in it and always searching for it. To describe this change, we needed to start a new grand narrative. That’s why we needed a saga.
And how did your collaboration with Lithuanian artist Jonas Mekas come about?
Jonas Mekas founded the New American Cinema in 1960 and by doing so he invented a revolutionary way of filming and transfiguring real life, anticipating the Instagram, Facebook, Twitter aesthetics and philosophies. But that’s not all. Since 2006, one year after Youtube was launched, Mekas has been running jonasmekas.com, an online diary where he shares his entries, short movies and timelines almost on a daily basis. For these reasons, it was impossible for us not to invite him to initiate the saga. "It’s challenging enough to say yes" was his immediate reply to our email invitation. And he made it. This is what we call perpetual avant-garde.
It goes without saying, the Internet has become a critical force in our everyday lives and an integral part of today’s art; what does the Internet mean to you as curators?
We are living in the Internet time! But are we actually living it? As curators, we always want to find another Internet, the Internet state of mind.The project we are presenting in Venice, for instance, does not need a web connection: we wanted it to be a sort of psycho-phyisical mirror site of the Internet experience.
We are not interested in tools or devices but in the concept of interpassivity, in the possibility that the Internet gives each and everyone to be together and not together at all times: a new form of presence that also many artworks assume when they are shared on the web.
The Internet Saga has two official locations that, at first glance, don’t seem to have much in common: Spazio Ridotto, an exhibition centre in the heart of Venice, and a Burger King restaurant. I wondered, why did you choose a fast food diner as a location for the exhibition?
The Internet Saga follows the Grand Canal route in Venice. It starts in front of the train station, at the Burger King restaurant, and it re-emerges in San Marco Square at the brand new space, Spazio Ridotto. This partition of the project takes the visitors on an ethereal yet earthly journey into the ambiguous essence of real life: where exclusivity meets banality, the urban codes meet social appearance and sometimes even nature.
The Venetian Burger King is located in a 16th century palace ( Palazzo Foscari Contarini) where also a doge (the chief magistrate of Venice) was born. It is therefore a mixture of history and impermanence,low, middle and highbrow culture, consumption and freedom, fast food and abstraction. During the exhibition you can choose to be a visitor or a burger eater, it doesn’t really matter. You can choose to be indifferent or ecstatic according to your inner disposition; it really feels like being on the Internet.
Can you give us an insight into what we can expect from the show?
Jonas is a great worker. At Palazzo Foscari Contarini we are presenting 768 film frames, many of which have never been on public display, in the form of 32 window glasses composing the timeline of an entire, well-lived life. Moreover, three new short films edited from the artist’s online diary are being broadcasted on a series of TV screens which were already installed in the fast food restaurant, and a 70-minute sound piece titled To Petrarcais played in the courtyard. All these works have something to do with the practice of keeping a diary, and they were designed to not add any volume to the existing space, thus becoming a second layer of reality made of light and time.
Until July 31 at the Spazio Ridotto, the 1997 movie Birth of a Nation was projected on four separate screens: it portraits 160 filmmakers who founded the nation of the independent cinema, a community that Mekas likes to call "family". In our opinion, those people anticipated the rise of the Internet Nation, inventing a new way of making and sharing artworks.
Anyway, it’s better if you come and see the Saga with your own eyes.
Tell us about the project’s website, and how it integrates with the “physical” exhibition.
We actually believe we don’t need a website anymore! This is the Internet Saga’s mantra.
The idea of a domain or a website belongs to the old world where the horizon was always a space or a territory, even when cyber and virtual. Now we are projected towards new temporalities. The Burger King restaurant and the Ridotto space, rather than exhibition venues, work as two hotspots: although, in this case, they do not provide an actual wifi hotspot, they give us the access to parallel stories.
The website – www.internetsaga.com – works according to the same principle: an “INTERNETional” clock of floating urls taking to simultaneous contents.
The Internet Saga takes place during the 56thVenice Biennial; how do you describe the relationship, if any, between this latter and your project?
It could be seen as a missing section of Okwui Enwezor’s Biennale. Something related to the idea of paradise. The title could be: Always Looking Forward.
As a last question, what other exhibitions have you got coming up?
We are preparing an online exhibition dedicated to an Italian composer of TV theme songs, Music for staircase. It will be very saga-like, involving different artists in a film adaptation of a soundtrack on the Internet. We will see how it develops.
The Internet Saga will be on display util 22nd November at Palazzo Foscari Contarini, Fondamenta S. Simeone Piccolo, 30135 Venice, Italy