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20 March 2013
Islands in the Cloud. Metahaven at PS1

Islands In the Cloud is the show that MOMA PSI In New York is dedicating to the design studio Metahaven. Open until April, the exhibition causes us to ask ourselves, once again, the question of how to exhibition art designed in and for the Internet.

For Metahaven, the internet is by necessity a political space. More so than for other creators because they don’t just imbibe from it as a source of investigation or as a promotional channel. Nor does it come down to a representational medium, where their images and texts end up. For Metahaven the internet is a referent taken as a paradigm: they base their alphabet on the exclusive dynamics of this environment. They design viral communication campaigns, create strategies for the exchange of information with host servers, think up corporate identities for other agents or reinterpret logos for big brands, of the like of adBusters. They also contribute to online publications with texts about their work and the relation that this has with the environment within which it is inscribed. They give talks in congresses and are consulted as advisors by those who seek other ways of using the web.

With their articles they lend form to the discourse surrounding the rest of their practices. They defend the web as a cloud. They understand it as their working context, a de-located system, a flux of symbols in which the information that circulates adopts distinct forms. These movements are the material they produce. One of their case studies is Wikileaks, through which they reflect on the free circulation of information on the web, the type of identities fomented by it and the debate about the public or the commons. In Brand States, also in the show, they consider the possibility of treating the names and symbols of countries as the objects of corporate identity strategies. According to them, in the context of the Internet as a cloud, the graphic identity of a nation is re-valued as an advertising image. Only in this way can it enter into the community of permanently interchanging signs and texts.

However, contrary to the reflections of the studio, the Museum has chosen in this case to print their work and hang it in the space. Printing texts and images in order to comply with what still seems to be an imperative in the strategy of representing information, one to which it seems to declare its loyalty, that of filling the physical space.

But reading the work of Metahaven we ask ourselves: what leads the museum to print hundreds of copies of its texts, staple them, stack them in piles on a table and offer them to the public? To understand the possibilities that internet offers to symbolic production, first one has to recognise it is a highly political environment. What does this recognition imply? Metahaven in its work investigates up to what point we coexist with a different institutional paradigm, where modes of production, consumption and circulation are renewed. It reiterates this by activating their projects within the very context that they declare to be their principal object of analysis. So what makes an institution like PS1 chose to transpose Metahaven’s odes to the cloud to printed images, as a new significant scenario, and hang them in their galleries?

We are looking at a duel of institutional models. Islands In the Cloud revives the question about how to exhibit art designed and produced for and about the Internet. In this case what role do institutions have as mediators? Why doesn’t the museum reiterate the question that Metahaven lays on the table?
There are successful experiences in this sense, such as the alliance between the New Museum of New York and the platform, In this case, PS1 endeavours to bring the public into contact with the content produced by the popular studio, but it doesn’t just fail to do so, it deactivates it. By hanging it in the space, in the same way that it hangs the paintings of Jeff Elrod (on the other side of the wall) it limits its readings and neutralises the very conflicts that the work talks about. The exhibition offers a blind reading of the questions that Metahaven throws at us.

Paloma Checa-Gismero is Assistant Professor at San Diego State University and Candidate to Ph.D. in Art History, Criticism and Theory at the University of California San Diego. A historian of universal and Latin American contemporary art, she studies the encounters between local aesthetics and global standards. Recent academic publications include ‘Realism in the Work of Maria Thereza Alves’, Afterall, autumn/winter 2017, and ‘Global Contemporary Art Tourism: Engaging with Cuban Authenticity Through the Bienal de La Habana’, in Tourism Planning & Development, vol. 15, 3, 2017. Since 2014 Paloma is a member of the editorial collective of FIELD journal.

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