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Art Review: Contra-Internet @ Gasworks

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Contra-Internet, the first institutional solo exhibition by Zach Blas, explores complex philosophical and social ideas regarding digital technology and communication, artistically considering the internet and its growing hegemony.

Jubilee 2033, gasworks

[Zach Blas, Jubilee 2033, film still, 2017

Commissioned by Gasworks; Art in General, New York; and MU, Eindhoven

Courtesy of the artist]

The ambitious exhibition opened at Gasworks last week. Considering the internet’s impact on society, and focusing on its influence on accelerated capitalism, surveillance and control, the artworks within Contra-Internet present a range of complex ideas.

Perhaps the most impressive aspect of the exhibition is the creatively-curated display of works, which include Jubilee 2033, a queer sci-fi film installation, and a single-edition publication called The End of the Internet (As We Knew It).

Dark, atmospheric walls encase the exhibition; the physical rooms in the gallery, along with repeated references to space within the artworks, convey a sense of other-worldliness. As if transporting viewers into cyberspace, the exhibition provides visual reminders of the universal power of the internet.

Throughout the exhibition, digital animations and videos play on loops, breaking up the dark gallery space with bright, eye-catching displays.

Artworks in Contra-Internet occasionally reference the “networking” of the internet, and these notions are reinforced by the digital representation of a geometric network of shapes on a screen.

Zach Blas, Contra-Internet, Gasworks

[Zach Blas, Contra-Internet, 2017. Installation view

Commissioned by Gasworks; Art in General, New York; and MU, Eindhoven.

Courtesy of the artist. Photo: Andy Keate]

Interestingly, in contrast to the examples of connected digital networks, this exhibition experience can feel strikingly anti-social. The nature of online social networks seems to be brought into question here: the hegemonic internet may have some control over society, but does it also connect it?

When viewing Jubilee 2033, despite being surrounded by a room full of people watching the same film, it can feel like a very personal experience. Although viewers might feel connected to the digital film, it can be challenging for people in the room to talk and connect with each other.

Additionally, alongside screens playing repetitive videos in the second room of the exhibition, there are headphones playing music for viewers to wear and listen to. Watching the screens whilst listening to music, again, seems to disconnect viewers from each other by discouraging conversation and encouraging people to direct their entire attention to the digital screens. As such, the aspects of the exhibition that seem anti-social raise important questions about the realities of the internet's networked existence.

The individual artworks in the exhibition are diverse in style, media, and appearance. As separate pieces of art, they do not necessarily communicate all of the themes intended by the artist directly and clearly; the links between a few of their meanings are implicit and subtle.

Yet, as a whole, the exhibition is effectively immersive. Contra-Internet’s greatest success is arguably its ability to transport viewers into a conceptual space in which the ideas are experienced, rather than simply seen.

As a bold exhibition with a highly complex subject matter, Contra-Internet is as fascinating as it is daring.

Contra-Internet is open at Gasworks, London until 10 December 2017. 

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