martes, 4 de octubre de 2011

Ask Google

By Luisa Reyes Retana

There is ongoing debate about the exact age of the Internet. According to Wikipedia, the first website was published on August 6, 1991. If this is true, it has been 20 years since the birth of the Internet. Over this time, the Internet has transformed the dynamics of human communication.

The work of 33-year-old Mexican artist Emilio Chapela—who lives and works both in Mexico City and Berlin—has focused on the role of the Internet in the contemporary world, and how the former continually modifies the structure of the latter.

In his series titled Ask Google, Chapela suggests that by performing controlled searches through the Internet, we are accessing a collective unconscious that lies within, scrutinizing anonymity in entirely new ways. Interested in the Internet’s extraordinary reach, Chapela gathers information that users provide while operating with a sense of anonymity, using Google Suggestions to dismantle a sublevel of online information. This tool completes searches based on what users look for the most, revealing our preferences and concerns and thereby offering a perspective into our collective mind. The artist sorts through this collective unconscious and presents his findings without expressing his opinion. Neutrality is central to his approach. The information that Google assembles and Chapela collects is loud enough on its own, as seen in the searches featured in Ask Google: “why are canadians so rude,” “why are mexicans so rude,” “why are artists so pretentious.” We are reminded of the curiosity that “otherness” often provokes and the hostility between different groups that has characterized humanity.

GunShoe and Bottle—from the series Google Similars—are animations of a series of images projected at high speed, with hypnotic effect. We witness a dance in which objects grow, mutate and change colour only to remain the same. What develops is a distressing monologue with an underlying sense of emptiness. Shoes, bottles and guns are stripped of their individuality to such a degree that they become transferable. Detached, the artist treats them all as one and the same. The distance that he puts between himself and any of these “things” neutralizes the potential meaning of his findings, suggesting that beyond their content, they are only images obtained using a Google tool. Consumption and media have devoured the substance of each separate thing, leaving only images that release an awkward beauty zealously prized in our times.

Using another Google tool, Chapela rewrites the Bill of Rights in the piece titled ScriBill of Rights. Considered by many scholars as the foundation of modern constitutionalism, the Bill of Rights is seen by the American people as the founding act of their country’s existence. This makes it a text with a unique historical and political weight. ScriBill of Rights presents a rewriting of this text through the Internet. The shell of the document is filled with new content drawn from the Internet’s collective unconscious, ridding itself of the crushing importance believed to be inherent to the Bill of Rights. In place of its true content, disconnected and hilarious information arises: for example, the First Amendment of the piece states that “Congress shall make no law against the freedom to choose your own colors or patterns on the walls.” Again, while the artist conducts the search, the content is provided by the collective unconscious of the Internet.

With the piece Profile Pictures, the artist reflects upon the role of social networks in contemporary social life. Interaction between people on the Internet has broadened the concept of friendship, creating new categories. In the case of Facebook friends, the manner in which friendships develop can be thought of as a parallel reality governed by rules imposed by a website, offering countless resources to connect people, create groups, share interests, etc. However, social networks have a limited capacity to estimate value. Profile Pictures suggests that based on the design of the interface, the standards with which we choose Facebook friends tend to be lenient. We can join networks based on affinities of all kinds, and create friendships in which privacy is vanquished by data.

In the works of Emilio Chapela, the Internet acts as an archive administrated by intelligent algorithms capable of extensive and complex classification but paradoxically unable to make decisions as humans do. His pieces remind us of how fallible the Internet can be when it comes to recognizing and interpreting the world, often with humorous results.

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