Philomena Epps reviews a collaborative exhibition by Cory Arcangel and Olia Lialina at Art Projects Ibiza, 20 June - 16 December 2017
Travelling by bus from the airport to the centre of Ibiza, the landscape—pixelated by the black plastic sun-blinds affixed to the windows—appears two dimensional, dissolving into flat planes of colour. Blue sky, green trees, red tarmac, yellow walls. On the return journey, the atmosphere damp and humid in anticipation of a storm, everything is grey, buzzing past like static feedback. Interrupting this is an onslaught of (allegedly illegal) billboard advertising, lining the road like trees. The experience reminds me of the scene in Disney’s Pinocchio, when he first enters the all-consuming, manic dystopia of Pleasure Land. The recognisable graphic logos of ‘super’ clubs—Pacha’s cherries, or the Amnesia temple—have been scaled up and laser cut out of acrylic, creating sculptural objects. Everything looks absurd viewed at this scale: blown up photographs of deck chairs, chinking cocktail glasses, a smiling couple wearing sunglasses.
The convergence of consumerism, escapism, and a lurid visual aesthetic makes an appropriate prologue to Asymmetrical Response, an exhibition of work by Cory Arcangel and Olia Lialina. The two artists are known for manipulating digital media to expose the ways corporations influence their audiences, and after years of conversations and experiments, Asymmetrical Response is their first formal collaboration. New and existing work from both artists, spanning video, sound, sculpture, photography, merchandise, and installation, is on show. The term is borrowed from its traditional military usage in order to analyse the power exchanges between digital corporations and media users. Despite users’ perceived freedom to post whatever they want online, the algorithms and bureaucracy of Facebook / Apple / Google, dictate how content is created or viewed, determining the format of expression and interpretation. Lialina’s ‘Online Newspapers’ series—significantly the most recent ‘Postfactual edition’ (2017)—is a pertinent reminder of the Internet’s potential to disrupt journalism in the guise of dreaded ‘fake news’.
A key figure in the 1990s net art scene, Lialina’s early work pre-empts the mode and medium that Arcangel works from, being part of the ‘post-internet’ generation of artists. Lialina’s research has been heavily informed by the 1990s amateur online aesthetic of the early world wide web, in all its kitsch, tiled backgrounds, glitter graphics, WordArt-style typography glory. Lialina sees these websites as embodying an authentic form of personal expression: the world before the template. This is exemplified by the ‘Body Class Pimp’ (2016) series, composed of digital prints of homepages from Hyves—a social network in the Netherlands in the early 2000s. The ‘pimp my profile’ feature within Hyves encouraged users to express themselves through a choice of profile picture and wallpaper background, allowing them to ‘express’ their ‘identity’ through digital self-portraits. In ‘Give me time / This page is no more’ (2015-ongoing) Lialina creates an archival monument to the personalised homepage. A slide projection documents the lifecycle of 160 pages on the now defunct GeoCities.com.
Two versions of the exhibition have previously taken place: at Western Front in Vancouver, and The Kitchen in New York. The selection of work has differed each time, depending on the show’s physical environment. This is the largest exhibition, however, and made with an Ibizan context in mind. The gallery space at Ibiza Art Projects is vast: two large warehouse spaces, suitably nondescript with white walls and high ceilings. The project space itself is run in tandem with the private art collection, Lune Rouge. They host two exhibitions a year—winter and summer—with the summer show inviting an artist from the Lune Rouge collection to realise a project specific to the island.
In response to the proliferation of tourist pop-up shops that emerge in Ibiza during high season, Arcangel and Lialina present ‘The Asymmetrical Response Capsule Collection’. It draws on their own individual merchandise lines (Arcangel’s range of leisurewear is titled ‘Arcangel Surfware’, designed so one can “surf the internet in comfort”), extending to new editions of digitally printed flip-flops and beach towels. His anthropomorphic foam pool noodles (2014-17) also appear to be thriving in the Ibiza landscape, accessorised with socks emblazoned with phrases like ‘FIRST CLASS BITCH’ and ‘FUCK’; neon-coloured ‘Beats by Dr Dre’ headphones connected to iPod Nanos; plastic studded jewellery; USB wristbands branded with allegiance to Dubstep; sweatbands illustrated with the marijuana leaf.
Two images of Paris Hilton open and close the show. Hilton—who coincidentally celebrated her fifth year as a resident DJ in Ibiza this summer—has re-appeared in Arcangel’s work over the years, predominantly in the ‘Lakes’ series in which images ripped from celebrities’ Instagrams were treated with a rippling effect caused by the Java applet ‘Lake’. “There are so many great DJs right now, and I should know, I’ve been to 100 raves in the past year”, claims Hilton in the chromogenic print ‘100 Raves’ (2016), part of Arcangel’s ongoing series ‘#currentmood’, in which the artist collects high and low res web images, magazine scans and photographs. This archive extends to sound in the 2017 audio piece of the same title, in which Arcangel generates a clip of white noise from Ableton Live, playing it on abrasive repeat through gimmicky LED water speakers.
Digital music production and club technology also appear in Arcangel’s animation ‘Dunk’ (2017), created using a Kvant Clubmax laser projector—commonly used for light shows in Ibiza’s clubs. The animation depicts a basketball player slam-dunkin; a generic image, symbolising mass entertainment, yet one with the potential for crowd pleasing. Amusingly, ‘Dunk’ shares wall space with Lialina’s ‘Peeman’ (2014-17) a digital projection of an early net GIF, in which a pixelated man walks jerkily across the screen, pulls his red shorts down, and proceeds to gleefully piss everywhere. In 2005, Lialina published an animated GIF of herself hula hooping across the Internet. This avatar has appeared on multiple websites, in various resolutions and contexts. In the animated digital work ‘(Nothing you can compare to your neighbourhood hoe) Alternative title: Without being disrespectful)’ (2011) Lialina projects a rolling screenshot captured from a Tumblr blog, containing the GIF along with other appropriated images, title backdrops, passages of text and pirated top 40 hits. The video is installed along one wall of the second gallery, hoisted onto an industrial metal frame, as if in an outdoor cinema or club. David Guetta and Akon’s 2009 club classic ‘Sexy Bitch’ booms from the speakers. Arcangel’s noodles soak up the atmosphere, I think they like this song.
Philomena Epps is a writer based in London, and the founding editor of Orlando magazine