I currently have a piece on display at the Roswell Museum and Art Center in Roswell, NM as part of a group new media exhibition. The exhibition in Roswell is also part of a larger event, New Media New Mexico Trail, that includes work from artists around the world in a variety of institutions in the state of New Mexico. The event is organized by Currents, an international festival of new media art that takes place in Santa Fe. Last year I had a piece in the Santa Fe festival. This year when I saw the call for pieces that were subtly “sci-fi” I thought it might be a good fit.
While I don’t identify primarily as a new media artist, I do think contemporary technologies are particularly well-suited to address contemporary issues. My piece, nmnmnmnmnm.com is about the museum experience itself. I relied on Google street view technology and photographs from the internet to create an Internet-based interactive installation that was about the museum, despite not having been there in person. Creating the work this way was itself a commentary on the physical vs. digital experience of place. Displayed on a wall-mounted screen is an image of a nondescript stretch of road in New Mexico. Above the road exploded pieces of the Roswell Museum & Art Center hover supernaturally in as an unsolvable 3D puzzle. The individual components can be moved by clicking and dragging with a mouse. Additional pages play with pieces from the museum’s permanent collection, and the whole piece is framed by corrugated metal wallpaper, again representing the tension between simulacra and reality.
Last weekend I finally visited the town of Roswell and the Roswell Museum and Art Center. The Roswell Museum and Art Center has an amazing permanent collection of Native art, a collection of some of the world’s first liquid fuel rockets built by engineer Robert H. Goddard, and thankfully for me some temporary exhibitions of progressive contemporary art. My visit and the exhibition coincided with the weekend of the International UFO Festival. I wanted to thank curator Sara Woodbury in person, and going to Roswell on this weekend meant I also had the pleasure of meeting her in some pretty great alien face paint!
I know by now that children are most receptive to art in general, especially interactive art, so I was not surprised in watching visitors interact with the piece within the museum gallery. Adults generally tend to be dissuaded by the challenge of confronting new things, whereas children light up: “Hey Mom, Dad is making the museum!” I heard a kid call out as his father fumbled with the mouse. Adults also have strict ideas about what should and should not be in a museum, which is why I appreciate the museum’s willingness to include a piece that is essentially a computer displaying a website.
In the late nineties, the internet was still a kind of wild-west for nerds and young people who had grown up playing video games in the 1980‘s. The idea of what a website was or could be was still evolving. The full potential of the internet as a personal creative tool was never realized, or at least was never popularized or accepted. Could the internet have developed into primarily a tool of self-expression and art-making rather than a behemoth of competing corporate interests like Google and Facebook? Perhaps all media are destined to become tools of the powerful. For me, creating internet art as contemporary art subverts both the expectations about what a website and the internet should do, as well as expectations about what can and cannot be included in a gallery or museum. Furthermore, using technologies like Google Street View in ways they are not intended play with our ideas about presence, experience and internet as commodified information delivery system. Having visited the museum in person, I can say with confidence that Google Street View does not even approximate the actual experience of being in a place, particularly a place like Roswell. Telepresence is not presence, despite the best efforts of silicon valley to sell us augmented experiences as such; the heat, the voices, the atmosphere is all missing. Like any place, Roswell should be experienced if you have the means to travel.
From the wonderful postmodern mash-up of rocketry history and native American art on display at the Roswell Museum and Art Center, to a salon-style wall-to-ceiling warehouse sized showcase of nearly fifty years of artists in residence at the Anderson Museum of Contemporary Art, one gets the sense that compared to its population, there is a surprisingly disproportionate amount of creativity on display in Roswell, NM. I am even forced to concede that the UFO lore the town has embraced, while not terribly convincing for an empirical rationalist like me, is extremely entertaining and creative.