Cornell navigates Internet art

When Lauren Cornell, the curator of New York’s New Museum, began her lecture on new visual media, she put forth the disclaimer that her talk usually spans at least two separate hour-long lectures. She spoke in mainly informative terms about the materialization of the genre in a talk peppered with dissimilar examples of Internet art. With her extensive work for The Rhizome Project and the “Younger Than Jesus” compilation at the New Museum, Cornell has redefined curating in the 21st century.

So as to lay the groundwork for an explanation of new media art, Cornell began with a brief talk on her own life. Before Cornell entered the art world professionally, she took many experiential steps toward total immersion by living, breathing and listening among emerging artists in New York City. The timing allowed her to stay at the forefront of the new media genre as it formed throughout the 1990s.

To best explain new media art, Cornell led the audience through several examples of the art across cultural and intramedia lines. Cornell’s page on www.delicious.com, a Web site devoted to social bookmarking, is a compendium of diverse new media pieces. As the talk turned to artists and media, Cornell worked mostly chronologically from the past to best explain the genre’s progress.

One of the earliest artists mentioned was Olia Lialina, professor of new media at the Merz Akademie in Stuttgart, Germany. Lialina was a pioneer of Internet art, whose online work employs anachronisms of the early Internet to make “essays” that viewers can click through to find midi music and sparkling graphics. Lialina is also the author of academic essays on new media, mostly notably “A Vernacular Web: The Indigenous and the Barbaric” and “Vernacular Web 2,” two texts that critically contribute to the literature on the subject.

Another new media contributor is a couple working under the name Young-Hae Chang Heavy Industries, based in Seoul, South Korea, which assumes a hard-line corporate identity in the art world. The Web site of Heavy Industries plays with moving text; the pieces are often available in languages such as Korean, English, Japanese, Portuguese, French and Spanish, among others. Cornell showed part of a dry, self-referential piece entitled “ARTIST’S STATEMENT No. 45,730,944: THE PERFECT ARTISTIC WEB SITE” from Heavy Industries. “ARTIST’S STATEMENT” features minutes-long, flashing black-on-white text musings on art, the Internet and artist Web sites written in the first person.

Further diversifying the new media portfolio, Cornell introduced the audience to a video piece on YouTube called “You’re Not My Father” by Paul Slocum. Slocum first shows a 10-second clip from iconic ’90s television show Full House. Then, for almost four minutes, clips roll by, offering reenactments of the scene by many pairs of people. These examples and more illustrated some of the wider points of interest for new media arts on the Web.

In the Q-&-A following the talk, Cornell more directly addressed the role of the curator in navigating the tradition of galleries and museums with the stream of readymade online projects. As with any other aspect of new media, it’s always case-by-case. Some artists prefer to keep sampled work online, holding back the projects in their entirety from the museums, while others work alongside museums while ultimately displaying online material only on the Web.

Despite the novelty, ambiguity and mutability of new media art, Cornell managed to neatly offer an accessible interpretation of a genre of newness.