Reforming The Digitized Experience: MFA Thesis Exhibition explores “Terms of Use”

by: Eashan Reddy Kotha

Visitors of the Contemporary Arts Gallery on Jan. 26 found a glimpse of a few thought-provoking works of art. The space was set for the Critical & Curatorial Studies MFA Thesis Exhibition: “Terms of Use,” curated by Corrie Siegel, and containing the works of Fiona Connor, Katie Herzog and The Archive of the Privatized Experience. Shortly after entering the exhibit, an unusual proposition was presented by the Archive of Privatized Experience: volunteer to check in your phone for the duration of your time in the exhibit and get paid. The concept is straightforward. In a sort of reclamation of consumer leisure, The Archive, which was founded by Siegel herself, represented the fight against the ever so dominating presence of social media platforms in our daily lives. The remuneration for checking electronic devices reflected the rates that advertisers would dole out for user information and time. In this way, participation in the survey is a revitalization of an experience. Often times, viewing exhibits includes social media sharing, but this comes at the cost of truly appreciating the curated works and experiencing them in their immediacy.

Photo by Kate Rutz-Robbins

Another striking aspect of the exhibition was the placement of bean bag chairs in front of Katie Herzog’s work. Visitors were encouraged to take a seat, explore and freely discuss the works with each other. All these comforts enable the exhibition’s theme to take a foothold. What are our “terms of use” when it comes to our interactions with the outside world? In a sense, it becomes a matter of choice; the choice to engage, to discuss, to contemplate, to appreciate, to avoid distractions in exchange for pennies in reclaimed ad money and moments of tranquility.

Fiona Connor’s work fits into the exhibit’s theme. Upon first glance, the works looked quite sparse and minimalist. From a distance, it was clear that there were shelves but they lay empty, stripped from the context one would normally find them in quotidian life. The banality of their prior existence was instead elevated by the negative space in this new context. Yes, these were in fact, “Support Structures,” but supporting what? The shelves themselves, fixed in varying heights, each had a story that could be accessed through the archive of voice memos. Collectively, these structures are unsung heroes of our every day. Striking as it were that they lay bare on the gallery walls, the shelves carried the implication of how much the living spaces they’re found in are defined by the articles that rest upon them and the furniture idling nearby. It encouraged visitors to look closer and behold the splendor, that the bronze shelves themselves, had more to offer. The support structures which seem unremarkable do a great deal for the connectivity of space and their imprint is a synergistic relationship with the objects that they support.

Photo by Kate Rutz-Robbins

Juxtaposing the austere, bronze monuments of the everyday life was the to-scale rubbing of the San Francisco’s Internet Archive building exterior. It’s massive, running 10 feet vertically and covering three walls of the gallery lengthwise for 84 feet. The Internet Archive is largely an online presence, known mostly for its function–preserving web pages through periodic bot trawling and saving impressions of the user interfaces. Herzog’s work displayed in the exhibition was her bold undertaking and second attempt, according to her, at truly capturing the essence of the Internet Archive. The medium wasn’t paper, as one would expect, rather, a textile interface. Herzog claimed that this choice allowed her to effectively use the rubbing wax over the textile with lower risk of tearing and ripping. The result was wonderful. The rubbing allows the capture of some intricate details on the building exterior and renders to viewers an impression of the building, which the Internet Archive did likewise in its own respects. The detail on the doors was particularly striking as the flattened impression feels like one could open it up. Sitting on the bean bag chair, one could absorb the piece of its magnitude and walk up closer to inspect the finer details captured by the impression. Just as the Internet Archive has been a digital bastion for online content, so has this rubbing been for the representation of the archive itself. It’s a physical manifestation of that idea of the internet and reiterates the curated theme.

Photo by Kate Rutz-Robbins

All of the exhibits, according to Corrie Siegel during our discussion, were motivated by the idea of social media taking up a larger and larger aspect of individual lives. These selected exhibitions were pulled together by her own experiences with them and were overall effective in creating a thought-provoking atmosphere. The inspiring works were placed within their own setting, each allowed room to breathe and provide a counterbalance to the other–the exhibition does well at bringing it all together. It’s a thought-provoking experience that provides time and space for visitors to reflect and consider the “Terms of Use” in a social network driven era.