Whole Earth Catalogue

1.25.2010 | Exhibitions, news

Video selection for the series “Playlist”, Neoncampobase, Bologna (Italy)

Opening: January 27, 2010

Curated by: Domenico Quaranta.

Founded by the American writer Stewart Brand in 1968, the Whole Earth Catalogue (WEC) was a catalogue of tools that was regarded as a bible by the counterculture generation – that is, by those who shaped the techno-cultural environment we are living in. Published regularly until 1972 and sporadically until 1998, it definitely died with the rise of the Web, of which it is considered a conceptual forerunner by people such as Steve Jobs (founder of Apple) and Kevin Kelly (founder of Wired). WEC was conceived as an “evaluation and access device” meant to bring power and knowledge to the people. It featured excellent reviews of books, maps, professional journals, courses, and classes, along with objects of any kind, from gardening tools to computers. Everybody could submit a review for the catalogue.

Like the WEC reviewers, the artists in this exhibition are contributing to a shared resource; like them, they love their tools and, like them, they are interested in understanding the world as a whole. What did change, in the meantime – and mostly thanks to the WEC generation – is the world itself.

These artists – WE – live in a world in which media don’t just reproduce reality, nor just simulate it, in Baudrillardian terms: they shape reality, improve it, sometimes they build parallel worlds in which we can spend our time. They redesign our way to live, to think, to make and enjoy culture, to eat, to sleep, to die. And to think about God.

These artists use simple tools and editing tricks in order to comment on the current status of the image, to talk about themselves, to edit found material and to improve its meaning; they explore cultures and habits in order to sample, remix and comment them; they use and abuse technologies; they export metaphors, practices, aesthetics and narratives to other situations. This may sound weird if you are not living in their same time slice, but please – don’t call them formalists. They are not working within a medium: they are working within a media-implemented reality. They are realists, in the only way that realism makes sense nowadays.

This peculiar realism can bring somebody to go back to when everything started. Notoriously, psychedelic drugs played an important rule in the beginning of digital culture. Without Sun, by Brody Condon, is a mesh-up of various found videos of individuals on a psychedelic substance. Why do people broadcast these materials? Do these “out of the body” experiences have any relationship with other now common forms of projection of the self, such as online videogaming? Some artists, such as Cory Arcangel or Oliver Laric, are interested in the conceptual consequences of technologies, and on the way they are updating fundamental concerns of our culture; others, such as the duo AIDS-3D, explore how technologies are increasingly affecting our spiritual life. In their own words, they want to make “the intangible magic of technology visible”. Not necessarily trough technologies themselves: Constant Dullart’s video, for example, turns Youtube’s “loading” animation into a suggestive, hypnotic object using light and styrofoam balls.

This concern with magic and transcendence is shared by many of the artists on show, from Petra Cortright to Damon Zucconi, from Harm Van den Dorpel to Martin Kohout. In their hands, a video filter can become the best way to explore how consistent the outer world is, and how consistent we are. It can become the best way to get a better knowledge of the world we live in, whatever we may mean with this word.

Selected works:


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