Kari Altmann: Core Samples
28 May through 25 June, 2011
Most web savvy folk recognize the term “meme” as referring to ideas, games and styles reproduced swiftly by means of imitation and adaption across the Internet. Artist Rob Pruitt has traced an absurd example of such a movement in Kitlers (2010), mapping the online communities dedicated to photographing white cats with black “Hitler” moustaches. However, as a concept invented by evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins (The Selfish Gene, 1976), the meme has much broader cultural application. It indicates any idea, activity or trend that proliferates from one person to another within a given society, thought to mutate, and evolve, through natural selection.
Kari Altmann, an artist working mainly in - and operating upon - online media, often produces flexible collections of still and moving images, text, and links, using the meme as a structuring principle. Her projects include Hellblau, tracing a certain blue hue and its associations, and No Glove, No Love, confronting bodily-digital interface. The online blackmoth.org and blackmoth.info projects – of which Core Samples is a physically installed version - feature found images and videos linked through color and motif around dynamic natural form, multicultural imagery, and the human body as the subject and object of entertainment and of art production. The blog, or sequential, format used here suggests a contemporary revision of the surrealist exquisite corpse game, in which an image (often a sort of person) is collectively compiled. The twist on this, and on the meme itself, is that Altmann is the sole assembler of images produced by a multitude of others.
Curatorial discourse around internet-based art is typically concerned with problems stemming from the shared, “networked environment” of online platforms that are “both active sites and archival documents.” Questions relevant to Altmann’s practice - of permanence, temporality, lack of curatorial control within the web’s antic space, and public versus private experience - are key. Core Samples uniquely addresses these issues by producing an offline exhibition accessible in three dimensions, making full use of Extra Extra’s collective interest in “artists whose work doesn't lend itself to being shown in a typical gallery space.” In this way, the show doubles back from the globalized, online “landscapes of products, images and information” that Altmann probes for material, to a physical, spatial environment nevertheless negotiated increasingly through virtual frameworks.
The exhibition – humming with electronic devices - consists of undulating, hypnotic projections accompanied by sound snippets; metamorphosing animation and documentary footage on LCD monitors; small constructions, including store-bought office fountains; and six long, narrow, elliptically convex, wall-mounted prints that diagrammatically figure Core Samples’ driving metaphor. Each print displays a sequence of motifs arranged vertically as if drilled layers of web-search-sediment, while lights in grey plastic settings twinkle directly underneath. One such “sample” traces the appearance of metallic and pearlized tones on the surfaces of disparate objects, ranging from a glistening seashell, through space age Nikes to a reptile’s reflective skin, Nazca lines, a gold-grey deflated airplane headrest, and creamy eye shadow testers pasted onto pink, creased skin. Affixed to the same wall is an inflated version of the pictured headrest, reinforcing the sequence’s connection to the everyday, lived world, and shifting their reception from the eye to the body. By presenting each element of the sample with such equality – from Nikes to natural form - Altmann hints at the ethical dilemmas inherent in the Internet’s supposedly anti-hierarchical bubble.
In the gallery’s entrance, a video of people bathing in grey mud presumably at a spa resort is, in places, digitally manipulated, and at other times replaced by grey animated forms – recalling similar images in the blackmoth.org meme. As in No Glove, No Love conceptions of the body, the artificial, and the natural come into tension and play through simple, effective formal devices. An animated piece, whose model replicates across two tiny screens, traces the location of a red dot across disparate, metamorphosing, silhouetted motifs: a pregnant belly, a remote control, a point in the cosmos. The dot originates in a photograph of a circle of deep red blood on a fingertip in blackmoth.org. In each of the films – including also the two, more abstract bore-hole projections – Altmann extends and clarifies the sequential arrangement of her online image collections into a circular, looped format perhaps referring to life cycles.
Core Samples’ extension of online media into the gallery's three dimensions (arguably web-based art already takes place in four) contributes to the ongoing debate on the various institutional frames through which we read art. While the Internet is conventionally a place for making infinite links, blackmoth.org appears as two columns of images set up for vertical scrolling, and therefore tells a deliberately limited, linear story. The spatiality of the exhibition permits a broader range of connections between multiple elements, and will direct viewers unfamiliar with online practice – like me – towards this complex, challenging medium.