Part I. On making the most of your plot in life
In 6 days G-d made the earth. G-d separated night from day and land animals from the sea. On the seventh, G-d rested.
In the great chain of being that is platform capitalism, the people got their networks. The elusive Silicon demons rejoiced.
For some people, in some parts, it was good. These were the ones who chose the path of least resistance. They sold off their data sovereignty and enjoyed the fruits of their net-banking and listicles.
This was a new material digital reality, technofeudalism built on equal parts freedom and control.
Resistance from the nay-sayers came in various forms.
There were those who felt there was no choice in the matter. Their answer was contra-internet. Hacking domains and building new realms of code untouched by the shadowy grip of the technocrats, this was their rebellion.
After that, neither here nor there, were communities of post-internet agnostics who needed the effects of mystery more than the riches of divestment.
And they were rewarded.
Of course, they ticked all of the ‘good politics’ boxes - Big Tech: bad, English language hegemony: Complicated, power-attentive intersectional coding: Good. They loathed to leave the net for the sake of any purist binary which would make them choose between honour and joy.
Collectively, they opened themselves up to the default spaces of Instagram. They saw a folk logic in its terrain and they used it: for community, for growth, and for spiritual regeneration.
They collaborated on work. Re-appropriated images. Created shared traditions of artmaking and sharing.
Freedom manifested in alliances between vaguely connected artists which in time became communities.
Towards the end I found myself entangled more and more with one community.
I knew them as I surfed. We were connected at points but from different paths. The way we met and diverged across our networks was important; the boundaries between us were layered.
From each of our vantage points, we saw that the internet was not the universal realm many claimed it to be.
Ours was a constant battle with the knowledge we were housed on platforms owned by overlords of powerful surveillance, extensions of the very systems of control which united us to begin with.
Mysteries undone and then revived on a loop.
And still, communities carved out their rituals in space: re-sharing image, text and sound as met the material needs of their own people.
Traditions emerged in the overlaps between the escape and expression that reflected the material conditions of each community. In groups we created and shared the things rejected in places with power.
Our difference did not mean opposition.
In strength, we shared a common enemy as our Other.
It was on Instagram where we and they met.
The value of work exceeded the market or legacies of formal training.
Traditions were made around ‘ugly’. They were for ‘too much’, and ‘not enough’, and ‘just a little’ and ‘a lot.’ They were for what it feels like to be in a body in the present.
They were excessive, abject, defiantly hand-made.
Their borders were flagged by the glaring flash of their cameraphones, and there they were able to see each other and grow.
These were the days before the virus.
Part II. Present Questions
COVID-19 has accelerated the material conditions which first motivated us to form our inchoate and organised networks online. The slowly boiling water is no longer burning just the frogs on the peripheries.
There is a tendency in ‘switched on’ online networks to fit within a paradigm
which distinguishes ‘us’ (disempowered peasant class) against ‘them’ (vaguely defined elites) by a mode of resistance
which means not doing things. Log-off, unsubscribe, do not click *here*. To frame inaction as our only choice for ‘resistance’ is a means of relinquishing our agency
as artists and surfers. These paradigms of ‘resistance’ expect only holding-against, not creating-alternate. Solo Show takes on the latter.
We feel an incumbent pressure to speculate on life and art ‘post-COVID’. This feeling comes from fear, from uncertainty, and liberal traditions of thought which have taught us to emphasise progress and the future over all else. Giving in to this preoccupation with what’s next leaves us vulnerable to forgetting that the shape of the future(s) will be determined by our actions in the present, a cumulation of events in the past.
Perhaps instead, we may take account of the art history of our communities and of post-internet art at large to gain understandings of the present and its challenges.
Solo Show's Chapter 2 operates as a renegade flowering of a community that defies the commodified and exclusionary tactics of the Basels and Bienales, and the totality of the ‘Berg and his boys in the Valley. This is a folk community who take hold of algorithmic ambiguity and manage to concretely invest in online transmission and connection as artistic traditions of cultural communication .
It feels counter to the politics of this collection to try suck stiff, legible narratives out of the works together. Some artists scream a spiky confidence, others use their allocated web space to open up an extreme loneliness. Many use identity-obfuscating pseudonyms. There’s a cobbled-togetherness about the whole thing: the art is handmade and intimate. There are lots of drawings and small paintings, and wiggly, twisted sculptures. Viewed together, they’re a system of runes and symbols that confound institutional demands for legibility. Food appears a lot. Hocks of ham, ice tortured broccoli. Also bedsheets. Functional objects re-presented for ritual and aesthetic purposes come from the day to day - their ordinariness made stark with the glaring white flash of smartphones shadowing dull backdrops of bedside tables, bathroom mirrors and suburban yards in a corporeal, milky haze. Obstinately amateur, these artists revel in exposing their self-conscious abjection to surgical light and public domains. It’s shitgood.
The show might be framed in the vein of that universally derided moniker of the ‘post-internet.’
US-based artists created the term in the mid-2000s to historicise their perception of a new material age, expressing the saturation of all IRL, URL and other liminal, post-acronym spaces by the internet. The artists in Solo Show aren’t necessarily making work about the internet, rather, their communities and traditions of expression are bound to and informed by the frameworks of net communication itself.
These artists profess a much more specific relationship with their networks than the post-net ethos would allow. The material conditions of the Solo Show network illuminate the hopeless naivety of ‘post-internet’ as a totalizing framework which idealises a power-evasive conception of the net in singularity. For these artists, the internet is neither a ‘novelty’ or a ‘banality,’ but both and more. As a base, their online personae and content are grounded in various manifestations of internets, plural.
These post-internet agnostics are unified by participatory practices that reject normative capital oriented uses of platforms like Instagram. They connect in one net space and express themselves on another altogether. Their movements highlight the creative potential which comes from prioritising the particularity/peculiarity of a network over the totalisation of any one platform.
Holding Solo Show on an autonomous website turns the implicit, informal flows of artmaking and sociality we experience alone on our phones each day into a Real Thing. Drawing these works out of the nebulous settings of account-based Instafeeds and situating them together provides us a generous moment of focus. Here, we might consider who and where these people are, to wonder what we should do now that we’ve been corralled together into this somewhat hermetic space, without distraction. Against the mythology of the commons and purportedly benign flows of data, this show gives credence to the folk logic of the internet which is about moving content intentionally, together.
In emphasising particularity, this collection of work refuses to be fooled by the scare-tactics which prop up platforms as totalising dominions. By these same critical logics they have resisted the neat boxes of conventional art curatorship and its hierarchies of exposure.
‘Post-internet’ is a mode of surveillance criticism which seeks to both retroactively and presumptuously categorise everything in the ‘future-past’. Its calcifying imperative cannot account for the fluctuating, coincident practices of "genuine sociality” emphasised by the artists in Solo Show, thriving in spite of “the intentions of developers and CEOs.” It stops short of servicing the present challenges of COVID-19.
COVID-19 and its attendant conditions confront art communities with new questions for addressing ongoing structural dilemmas.
Solo Show is an answer for one network, for now.