The Internet gets real. “Web To Verse” at MODAL Gallery, Manchester

A collective and itinerant exhibition investigating the flooding of internet aesthetics in the real world

As time goes by – and as the technological process advances – it becomes clearer and clearer that what we call “real” and “virtual” are actually two sides of the same coin. Just think about our presence on the Internet, especially on social networks; or about the image that we project of ourselves online and that we end up feeling ours. Or again, about avatars, AI assistants, dating apps, blockchain organization, metaverse events. And the list is still long.

Net art is, without any doubt, a digital native art form: it was born and grown on the Internet, having its peak in the ‘90s. Since then, that boundless world inside a computer – the only place that man had not yet discovered (and that can never colonize completely) – has evolved with a surprising speed. And as our relationship with technology evolves, so do the various art forms that drag from digital aesthetic, computer graphics and Internet subcultures. Once safeguarded by the screen, the “gate” has now opened, and the virtual has hopelessly poured into the offline world, creating a “different” dimension, in which both elements (the physical and the immaterial) are now indistinguishable. How to fix the coordinates of this change? How to navigate this threshold?

Yuqian Sun, Hyborg Agency, 2023. Online website, AI agents

A collective and itinerant exhibition, Web To Verse is on view at MODAL Gallery in Manchester. Other steps will follow in London, Dubai, Miami and New York, with different artists and even curatorial collaborations. Aiming to help the observer to understand this paradigm shift, the show investigates the flooding of the culture of internet aesthetics in the real world, through works by Miltos Manetas, Oliver Laric, Jonas Lund, Federica Di Pietrantonio, Sofia Crespo, Jon Rafman, Nye Thompson, Osinachi, Joey Holder and Yuqian Sun.

Curated by Valentino Catricalà, Alfredo Cramerotti and Auronda Scalera, in collaboration with Thomas Dukes, the exhibition sheds a light on those artists who, evolving their practice from internet art, are creating artworks that arise from the culture of information and digital, overflowing the boundaries of the screen, without limitation of technique or material. The idea at the core of this project is that becoming increasingly mutual, this bond is marking the transition from a “web” world (in which off-line reality, obviously in three dimensions, is transposed into the two dimensions of the screen) to a “verse” world (an environment in which the boundaries between these divisions become increasingly blurred, contaminating each other until they become inseparable).

Jonas Lund, The Future of Something, 2023, video, 13:41 min
Among the exhibited works is Farming by Federica di Pietrantonio (1996, Rome, Italy). The piece consists of a video installation that is the result of the recent residency at SODA in collaboration with the Quadriennale di Roma. The work is based on the artist’s detailed research on communities of the so-called “gold farmers” (users that live their daily lives by converting the digital coins of online games into current currency). The video, made with the graphics engine from the videogame Farming Simulator 22, is based on a script made of a collage of online testimonies of this specific kind of hikikomori. Jonas Lund takes part in the exhibition with his work The Future of Nothing, a video installation that uses artificial intelligence to guide the visitor through human anxieties (from couple therapy to online poker); and again AI returns in the Hyborg Agency by Yuqian Sun, an interactive art installation in which artificial creatures are “fed” by the interactions of a community on Discord (suggesting that human society is a metaphor of the natural environment in which the agents of AI grow).
Laura Cocciolillo
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