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Back to Reviews 97

Installation view

© ArtNet Worldwide 1997

A positive charge?

Computer station at Leo Castelli

lawrence weiner

at leo castelli

by Meghan Gerety

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These are the block-lettered "proverbs" that confronted the visitor at Lawrence Weiner's recent installation at the Leo Castelli Gallery. Perfectly painted on the wall in large metallic or fluorescent letters, the statements are trademark examples of Weiner's art, in which simple philological formulations can take on philosophical import -- all occupying the "virtual" space between a viewer's ears. Conceptual art's dematerialization of the art object has gained a new profligacy thanks to the Internet. There, invisible and self-fabricated, untold numbers of users move through graphic environments, chatting with strangers and sucking up information from nodes around the world.

And though younger galleries -- notably Postmasters and Sandra Gering -- have quickly moved to colonize the new esthetic territory, Leo Castelli went online for the first time with this show. In the rear gallery, along with a group of collages (similar to the text pieces), are two computer stations hooked up to Weiner's online environment Homeport which can be entered virtually from here.

Homeport is created with a type of software called The Palace, which enabled Weiner to create a multileveled virtual environment that allows Internet visitors to interact with each other in real time as they travel through the "rooms" of the site. When you log on, you are represented onscreen by an avatar, in this case a round smiley-face. As you click your mouse on different areas of the screen, you move through the space, visiting different rooms and encountering other visitors. The goofy smiley-faces sidestep any question of true identity. Hiding behind a mask is the only way to exist here

In the Castelli installation, the Macintosh computers supporting the Homeport site were set to "speak" aloud (which all Macs can do). To speak, you type on the keyboard and a speech bubble appears beside your avatar, as the computer pronounces your words aloud. There was a constant conversation coming from these machines. On the opening page of Homeport are two pre-programmed visitors engaged in conversation. Each voice sounds in the same monotone computer-speak, which is eerie in the extreme. They banter back and forth, one reacting to the other, almost finishing the other's sentences or thoughts, as if they were two parts of one self. They talk about place and time. Their dialogue sounds like existential gibberish, and has the quality more of thoughts than spoken words. It is almost as if these were voices from your subconscious.

When entering the other rooms of Homeport and moving through the site, the voice(s) of the two "visitors" in the first room drone on, never quieting, so that their presence is felt constantly. There is a feeling of the impossibility of being able to be alone even with only oneself, because these other droning selves keep interjecting their thoughts. Every visitor assumes the same voice, so each user becomes a voice of this collective rather than an individual.

I would have to call this Internet project a success and congratulate both the artist and Ada'web, the producer and host of the site. In Homeport, Weiner's interest in exploring the ideas that govern our perceptions of ourselves and our surroundings are made particularly clear, clearer than in the material world. Curiously, Weiner's work is almost more comfortable in cyberspace, where his linguistic "objects" seem more at home. With his own ambiguous interjections he forces the viewer to question structures of identity and meaning in this new online environment.

Lawrence Weiner at Leo Castelli, Feb. 15-Mar. 15, 1997, 420 West Broadway, New York, NY 10012

MEGHAN GERETY is an artist who lives and works in New York City. She writes about digital art for Tribeca 75, a magazine published in Paris.