The internet has become central to our experience of the world. Not only has it come to define the interactions of individuals with each other, the media and even governments, it is so all-pervasive that even our critiques and responses to it are overwhelmingly researched and published online. So normalised is this phenomenon that for the average contemporary reader none of this will so much as raise an eyebrow. A generation of digital natives is rapidly coming of age and, with them, the possibility of taking a critical distance from the web seems at risk of disappearing.
I Was Raised on the Internet at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago concentrates on a specific moment in time – the period from 1998 to the present day – in order to explore the rapid cultural shifts the world has experienced since the millennium, and try to define the contours of what it means to be a “millennial” with respect to the internet. The exhibition features nearly 100 works spanning the fields of photography, painting, sculpture, film and video as well as more avant-garde media that are directly in tune with the show’s focus, such as virtual reality and other cutting edge digital art.
Approaching its expansive subject with rigour, I Was Raised on the Internet consists of five sections, each of them evoking in its title the dual playfulness and hyper-individuality of our times. Look at Me explores the fluidity and performativity of identity in a global community that is at once networked and curiously detached; Touch Me looks at the problems of translating digital images into real space, reflecting the historical approaches to space found in pictoral art; Control Me addresses the realities of surveillance and data collection to which we are all now subject; Play with Me considers how new media no longer accommodate passive viewers, but make active agents of their consumers; and Sell Me Out pays attention to consumerism, highlighting the internet’s role in the high capitalist landscape that the population negotiates daily.
The exhibition includes fresh adaptations of major bodies of work as well as new commissions from some of the most significant artists working in the field today. Although the show provides an opportunity to reflect, and presents a wide-ranging critique of the issues raised by the ascendency of online life, it also acknowledges and embraces the inevitability of participation therein, extending content into virtual space by hosting various works online, and acknowledging the realities of the millennial age.
Ned Carter Miles
I Was Raised on the Internet is open at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago from 24 June. For more information: www.mcachicago.org
1. Installation view, Sophia Al-Maria: Black Friday, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Jul 26–Oct 31, 2016 Photo: Ronald Amstutz.