Insomnia, Bonniers Konsthall, 2016
24 September 2016 – 22 January 2017
The group exhibition Insomnia discusses sleeplessness as a cultural symptom. It brings together a group of contemporary artists – Carsten Höller, Katarina Löfström, Julia Feyrer & Tamara Henderson, Kate Cooper, Leif Elggren and Rafaël Rozendaal – and a selection of historical works. The artists set the stage for states of sleep and wakefulness, rest and activity, dream-filled absence and constant accessibility, and the works keep Bonniers Konsthall active around the clock.
photo by Jean-Baptiste Béranger
photo by Petter Cohen
photo by Petter Cohen
photo by Petter Cohen
photo by Petter Cohen
Essay by Marti Manen
Functionality, Forget about Functionality
On Rafaël Rozendaal
“The art world is a bit like a video game – you get to know people, you get some coins and then you get to go to the next level, and then you get into the slightly bigger room with less furniture. At first you’re in the side room, then you’re in the main room, then you get in the magazine, etc. The rules are very set, you talk to this person, a biennale, then you get a gold star, then you get upgraded and get to speak to better curators – but then also the critics are harsher… So really, it’s just like Super Mario.”
The World Wide Web has become a space of perfectly organized disorder. Over just a few decades in history, the way to consume content on the net has been defined. At the same time, the way to produce content has been somehow limited. One need merely draw a comparison between the Web and cinema to understand why it took more than one hundred years of experimentation for filmmakers to concretize the specific ways of production and consumption. The net, on the other hand, has developed quickly, and the behavior depending on it has been formalized just very recently. Research engines analyze language, words, and numbers. Time and meaningless gestures are difficult to categorize in a pattern that wants to be as far from subjectivity as possible (to jump then to economy with transparency). The structure is always the same; the formats are getting closer to one another. The distance between the personal, the private, the institutional, or the official is becoming difficult to visualize. Same code and same objective: a social overview and a need for visual recognition in under one second. It’s so fast because there is no night; everything is on and available 24/7.
The Network became the Social Network. The latest information takes priority, with the archive there only to be accessed when necessary. The amount of personal information (and data) has been increasing exponentially, while the time to assimilate it remains the same. Only the robots (or algorithms, as robots on the net are just numbers) can digest the mountains of data in order to reach conclusions. Paradoxically we, the users, are not getting results: we are getting emotions.
In Abstract Browsing, Rafaël Rozendaal modifies the way our browser reads code for us. Instead of words, we see colors. The whole idea of information becomes blurred in a flat, multi-colored structure. We can recognize Google or Wikipedia from the colored areas alone, but without text or images the websites become abstract fields, simple structures, and aesthetic constructions. The disappearance of the main information is a really simple trick; it is a matter of translation. The websites are misinterpreted voluntarily, something which no one can stop. Code, the core of the Internet, can be read – with reading comes interpretation and parallel approaches. Functionality, forget about functionality.
Rozendaal speaks about the browser as an artistic possibility, as a canvas that can offer something new. The size of a browser can change at any moment. Colors are rendered differently depending on hardware, software, and usage. As Rozendaal states, websites are unique yet inconsistent in appearance. The “result” is always dependent on the individual machine and user interaction. The user is present in the pictorial space when it comes to defining the size by interacting with the cursor. The artificial randomness of code translation and adaptation of the browser to the device goes hand in hand with the amount of multiple decisions the user makes each and every second: the number of browsers on the desktop, the programs running at the same time, the sound and music. The artwork in a browser is presented in a context of brutal usability. As Rozendaal points out, “the Internet presents artists with challenges, opportunities, and best of all, a lack of history.”
The Internet, the multiplication of layers of the physical world, becomes an everyday reality for a large percentage of humanity. A timeless reality, a reality that is “now.” Now, forever. And in this reality of multiple layers, the definition of artworks seems static. Why it is so difficult to define websites as pieces of art? Do we accept them as artworks? Why is the history of Net.art obscure and largely unknown? Why is it so difficult to keep a record of time and, yes, history on the net? Websites are in a permanent state of evolution and adaptation. Commercial, institutional, and personal websites are readapting to modifications demanded of them by browsers, reformulating appearances to accept new social requirements. Websites are embracing the aesthetics of today, with their desire to be here and now, offering a facility that is easily recognizable. If you recognize something, you are safe because you understand it. Everything is under control. The aesthetics of the Internet do follow certain patterns and there is an urgent need to always be included.
Rafaël Rozendaal creates websites as artworks. The level of interaction ranges from simple gestures to advanced correlations of events. Rozendaal explains that it can be difficult to present websites at exhibitions. A website is a code but it can also be a sequence of time. Websites require computers to run, but every now and then Rozendaal presents websites as videos. The use of incorrect technology modifies not only the presentation but also the concept itself. A website that is a video is not a website anymore. Instead it is an animation in a loop, not something that is happening but rather something that is recorded. “It’s all recorded.” The performance of the website disappears. The appearance of it may be the same, or almost the same, but something is wrong.
Color fields, movement, playing with layers. Rozendaal’s websites don’t offer information; they are the “information,” a sort of abstract construction that both happens and is happening, sometimes with user interaction, sometimes with the user maintaining an observational distance. His websites utilize other means of user interaction than those already offered by the net. No buttons or arrows. If you modify the size of the browser, something may happen: colors may change, forms may modify position or identity, and backgrounds may adapt the color of the objects and vice versa. One website may also be a fragment of another, taken out of place and context. Comments on a Facebook page become the website itself, offering mysterious traces of user engagement, forever protected from being consumed by the next thing to arrive on the social network. Rafaël Rozendaal works with references to the Internet itself but also with images linked to poetry: rain and darkness, sun and tranquility. Poetry also appears as the names of the websites, such as future is uncertain, silent silence, or deep sadness, and are always followed by “.com.”
Somehow, the idea of a website as an artwork challenges the role of the institution. The website has no need for a mediator or an organized context for its presentation. The process from Marcel Duchamp to Joseph Kosuth gives us an historical perspective for an open and subjective definition of the artistic presence regarding the institutional. But suddenly we find an artwork that has the Internet as its “natural” place, without a designated presentation space or preconfigured institutional behavior. Is it necessary to present websites from within the exhibition space? What makes these websites different when they are inside the exhibition? Are they different? The websites by Rafaël Rozendaal become a sort of beautiful frustration for the visitor. They plead for interaction, while the institution is established around the notion of observation. But the websites are also full of color, and therefore part of a pictorial tradition. Rozendaal presents his websites just like any other historical format inside the exhibition: they are there to be observed, admired, felt. They are there to be part of a dialogue. The contemporary art institution has accepted the questions and debates. To accommodate art, the institution has been expanding its limits, the visitor has accepted other ways of interaction, and now the websites by Rozendaal are granted time. Time for observation, time for a break; a pause needed both in the digital and physical worlds. Websites, with their hypnotic capabilities, are opening the door to a relaxed criticality.
But every artwork comes with the question of the marketplace, and the Internet is an extremely commercialized place. The infinity that the Internet represents has created a sort of World Wild West for entrepreneurs. I still remember the beginning of the commercial Web and the incredible domain names that were available for purchase. In the end, the “real” owners of certain concepts (trademarks, countries, individuals) won, and the powers that be dismantled the mirage of a new era of erased identities. Rafaël Rozendaal bought some domains. Many. For relatively little money he was able to control a concept. And some of these domains remain with him to this day, some poetic constructions, some domestic concepts, some ideas. What to do then? There exists a concept and an option to “represent” that concept. The domain is the linguistic definition and the content becomes the fragility of variability. So, is it possible to sell a concept? The Internet is basically that: a domain structure for sale. A website is an item in a market, and when a website becomes part of the artistic market some adaptations must be made.
A website is an incredible entity in that it can be opened by each and every one of us on the net. To own a website means to understand visitor needs. At least this is the way Rozendaal understand his websites. He is selling websites and new owners may take over, but the user will always be there. Some of the websites are in collections but they are online, alive. At the same time, technological and programming advances have caused many websites to display dysfunctional behavior. Some things are impossible to foresee, such as what will happen when the time comes for the institutions to preserve the website-artwork, to offer it to future users, to transport it from a present-tense reality to an archived history. And what about the emotional contact with the colors, movements, and possibilities of the here and now? Are they then no longer relevant?
The emotional contact, the net, an economic era. Rafaël Rozendaal is an artist working in the contemporary era, an artist aware of the need for strategies, back doors, and public personas. In his words, “and then the self-promotion becomes the art…” Do you want to buy a shirt by Rozendaal? You can. Do you want to buy an app by Rozendaal? Go right ahead. Records? Books? Feel free. The artist expands his traditional market, following the precedents set out by Warhol and Dalí. Warhol and Dalí, artists that understood the notion of constructing a public identity, the complexity of the product, the importance of crossing the borders between tradition and avant-garde, between high and low culture.
New York, Times Square – probably one of the best contextual definitions of commercialization and the narrative of visual society. Tourists taking pictures of flashy ads, multiple screens occupying more and more space, a dialogue between messages; in fact, a mess of messages. It all means something and is a part of something bigger, and you, as a tourist, are there. Everything is for you. All the products, all the TV channels, all the information about the rise and fall of the stock market are there for your consumption. Celebrities, shoes, soda, perfume, jewelry, banks, cars – they are all for you. But suddenly everything stops; for three minutes. Plain colors, a drawing, two faces kissing. After each kiss one face changes color. Times Square offers up a single kiss and nothing more, a multiplied kiss that is not accompanied by the usual: “sponsored by.” With Much better than this Rafaël Rozendaal grants himself the space to present something that does not require a narrative. Most of the screens at Times Square are devoid of names of companies or logos; just a simple animation with a kiss. Is this disappointing? It is big and brilliantly colored, with the occasional slow, deliberate movement. The kiss is omnipresent. The image, the digital image with its rapid representation, slows down when the message is nothing more than a concept. Three minutes at Times Square simply waiting for something, causing the notion of time to change. Three minutes becomes an eternity, a version of Goethe’s romantic desire to stop, to capture, the beauty of the moment.
What to do with the digital space in cities? We find moving images occupying cities and adapting their rhythm to the changing society. Faster and faster. Is it possible to use the same technology to present poetry? What happens when Rafaël Rozendaal’s works are exhibited outside of the art realm? Are they still artworks? Is it essential for them to be artworks? Are they exhibitions? Rozendaal plays with both sensuality and beauty on a conceptual level, two words often difficult to comprehend.
Big screens, computers, technology, programming, and code. Text. And suddenly haikus. Rafaël Rozendaal works with simplicity, so it makes sense that a short text, a poetic structure, can also be the perfect place for him to apply his sense of humor, his observation of reality, his contact with the information surrounding us. Haikus in books, haikus on the walls of the exhibition spaces. Texts that become something else as we read them as poetry. And everything is new again, everything has been here before, everything is future, present, and history. And it is for you.