© ArtNet Worldwide 1997
A positive charge?
Computer station at
at leo castelli
by Meghan Gerety
MORE OR LESS
THAT AS IT IS
- (±) -
GIVE OR TAKE
THIS AS IT WAS
+ - &
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
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
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.