Zero hour: Brendan Lott's curated re-creations of social-networking-site photos points to new uses and re-uses of screen scenes. (Brendan Lott, "From the Womb of the Dawn You Will Receive the Dew of Your Youth," Oil on Canvas, 35"x29", 2007, photo courtesy of the artist)

Screen Test, San Jose

Sean Uyehara June 11, 2008

Brendan Lott’s Memories I’ll Never Have, currently showing at the San Jose Institute of Contemporary Art, makes use of the Internet in inspiring ways. He has culled photos from social networking sites. You know these photos. As Lott describes, they are often of people who may have had a little too much to drink. Lott sends a URL of the image to southern China where it is meticulously reproduced as an oil painting and paid for through PayPal. Then Lott receives the paintings and displays their photorealistic glory in shows likes this one. How inspiring is it? Suffice to say that the paintings look so great, are so funny and beautiful and the process seems so easy (perhaps too easy) that everyone I spoke to who saw the show asked the same thing: "How much does it cost to get one of those paintings made?" I don’t want this to turn into a plug for commissioning oil painting reproductions in China, but let’s just say it is very reasonable.

Lott’s show points to the satisfaction received when someone, anyone elevates "stuff" in the residual glut of information out there to points of pleasure and, more urgently, relevance. It used to be that curators and critics would help us to wade through art, film, media, etc., and help us to make the best decisions on what needs to be seen and heard. But, now, the work itself is often about that very process—of choosing and presenting—of passing along the good bet. The artist as a curator is not a new idea. And, it isn’t really revolutionary or even democratic. Is there really a difference between this kind of work and Andy Warhol’s most famous works—soup cans and screen tests? Or between such curatorial work and the service provided by Lucky magazine, whose byline used to be "The magazine about shopping." (The tag is thankfully now updated: "The magazine about shopping and style.") The sheer amount of informational content that we are being drowned by these days begs for someone, anyone, everyone to help us wade through it. Sometimes we are reminded to really look at that Flickr photo. Other times we get advice on which shoes really do go with that shirt.

So, it makes perfect sense to have a showing of YouTube videos picked and presented by video artists a la Rachel Greene’s (she curates the curators) show at the Kitchen last month. Who among us hasn’t sat around and traded favorite YouTube uploads after dinner? And, if you don’t want to be outted as a complete geek just yet, don’t answer that…at least not until you have watched this and this.

The implicit basis for this mediated morass or fecund fodder, depending on your current status update on Facebook, is the sheer ease of creation and publishing that is in the air and your mouse-y hand this instant. Anyone who can access a computer can send his whims out to the world via blog, vlog or the new-ish (what counts as "new" these days?) and truly twee, microblog. I am not joking when I say that I read a blog the other day about Twitter comediennes. I know, whose fault is that?

An exhibit concurrent to Lott’s at the SJICA, Crater Bay Area, beautifully takes advantage of the unique access media technologies afford. CBA is a contest where gallery visitors draw a ten-foot scale model of the moon placed on the gallery floor. Completed drawings are displayed in the MMORPG (love that acronym), Second Life. And contest winners will receive a certified deed for a plot of land on the actual moon. I am not sure who certifies this deed, but does it really matter? The show uses technology to simultaneously generate a large number of works that are then judged by a panel of artists, critics, technologists and curators. Drawing parallels between the frontierism of space travel and its faint echoes in the colonization of virtual space, the show highlights the way media technologies offer the would-be traveler with even the weakest pioneering impulse access to an endless horizon of activity and flag planting. Thus, the Internet is cluttered with uninspired conversations, musings and really a lot of lists. But exhibits like CBA and Memories I’ll never Have reinvest these potentially doldrums-inducing activities with the kind of excitement we should have. The door to getting creative work out to virtual millions is swinging open, and I am hoping for more work like Lasagna Cat.

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