Aram Bartholl prefers to funnel Internet into “real” life. At the museum entrance, he has reproduced the backdrop of first-person shooter game Counterstrike. “A lot of people play this kind of game and know its layout quite well”, said Bartholl. That is why he wanted to bring these spaces into real life – which particularly excited him as an architect. “These buildings only exist on servers and software. I think they should be built.”
The piece “Are you Human” shows a captcha code on large, rusty iron loops on the floor. These are the codes that users must often input on websites to post a comment to an article.
Captcha codes can not be read by machines. By entering the code, users alert the program or the website that they are a human and not a bot that sends spam. “It was important for me to experiment with it on a big scale and give real weight and materiality to an otherwise fleeting Internet signature,” Bartholl said.
Many “officials” from the art scene are still wary of web art. But this seems to be slowly changing. “At first Internet was not so overtly visible in public,” said the exhibition’s curator Olaf Val, from Kassel Art Association. “Now one can see Internet subjects on the news every day. And the consequence is that the artists involved with it are also taken more seriously.” Val said he hopes that in the future, increasing numbers web artists are able to exhibit their work.
The public is certainly interested. Visitors at the Kassel exhibition are not only computer and Internet nerds but hail from all age groups interested in art. Nevertheless, one part of the exhibition leaves some visitors clueless. Bartholl curated a parallel exhibition, in which 14 artists participated. It is a room with 14 routers. Each router shows a piece of Internet artwork (a website, a video, or an animation). But it only works if you have a smartphone, as visitors must log into the router to see the artwork. This is a perfect example of Bartholl’s intent: show how digital and real world converge. But it is also a reminder that not everyone is so well-connected to the digital world. Visitors without a tablet or a smartphone only see small, black squares on a wall.
Bartholl’s works are closely in tune with the times. He must constantly create something new, because Internet and the way people interact with it changes so quickly. The artist has even chased after a Google-camera car while waving. As a result he makes a few cameo appearances on Google Streetview, while the houses behind him are pixelated.
Edward Snowden and the NSA affair have also inspired Bartholl. He has printed an encrypted key in big letters on a canvas. To the left is a portrait of US president, Barack Obama, wearing Google glasses. Only one word protrudes from the speech bubble: “PRISM.”