"The Internet is used by billions of people. It is the pop culture of our generation. And it is my Pop Art." - AV
Over the course of two millennia in the history of art, it would seem that a notable development in the last twenty years has seen the aesthetic object shift from its composition of tangible materials and experiences to the intangible, ethereal concept, itself. With access to the World Wide Web gaining strength in the late 1990's, the notion of creating fine art has carried significant challenges; the instant availability of stock imagery and the capability to instantaneously alter images infinitely layered. Where does the artist reclaim his originality? In a rather tongue-in-cheek fashion, artist Alejandro Vigilante explores the synthesis of two intangible fields: iconography and the internet.
The genesis of "digital" art can roughly be traced to the introduction of the Quantel Paintbox, appearing in 1982. "Colours were mixed and painted in light directly on the screen via a touch tablet upon which the artist or designer drew with an electronic stylus... designs and colours could be altered rapidly, effortlessly and endlessly"1 Using digitized paint, airbrush, graphics, text, and cut-paste operations, the artist could render, edit and reproduce any manner of imagery immediately. Artists including Richard Hamilton, David Hockney, Howard Hodgkin and Jennifer Bartlett had all experimented with the Paintbox; but Hamilton's reservation about the new device was the absence of a "hard copy" to act as both reference and an actual work.2 The problem of instant reproduction in relation to fine art and the digital world was compounded with the later appearance of stock photography websites (such as Corbis, owned by Bill Gates) and advanced editing programs such as Adobe Systems' Photoshop. "By now, the category we call Web art or Net art acts as a way of referring to a broad set of art forms... technological dynamics set in motion through mechanisms of the Internet shatter the paradigm of communication of a traditional art work's construction of meaning- active dialogue."3 Using a pointedly manually labor-intensive mode of production (requiring the use of one's body to move around a studio rather than sitting at a computer), Vigilante inserts cultural reference and collective memory back into his images which Warhol sought to destroy; using abbreviated text and quotations from the (often) deceased personalities he presents, each work cites an awareness of the ephemeral communication now dominated by the Internet and mobile technology while maintaining an interest in paint, texture and surface which are now entirely divorced from the digital world.
Vigilante invents the short speeches of Elizabeth Taylor, Buster Keaton, Jim Morrison and John Lennon to reflect what each might have said if they had ready access to both instant messaging and the global phenomenon of social networking. More to the point, he also reduces the text down to the bare essence of each character's public persona. Morrison's lyrics to "Light My Fire" are altered as if to reach out to an online romantic interest, Taylor quizzically proposes yet another marriage in an online forum, and Marilyn Monroe complains of the "dial-up" speed at which she conducts her illicit affair with President Kennedy. Vigilante borrows existing imagery of his celebrities and quite simply frames them with email dialogue boxes. This might appear to be a trite system of artistic representation, but it does illuminate a pertinent observation about the Internet and fine art: ultimately, they are polar opposites and while art is perpetual, the digital world survives only in temporary bursts. It is the memory of the personalities, themselves, which are permanent sites in the collective Pop cultural consciousness, and the transmission of their supposed conversations is untouchable, lost in a maze of codes and servers. Once that email is sent, the conversation and its context changes without the possibility of reclaiming its first intent. With the advent of sites like Facebook and Twitter, the concept of the on-a-whim sharing of knowledge, opinions and images renders Vigilante's practice even more relevant. The widespread appeal of Facebook as a forum for friends and family as well as a burgeoning online marketplace is transposed onto a two-dimensional surface; for Vigilante, these surfaces are as intangible and subjective as Facebook itself. There is seemingly no "location", no "trace" of Facebook in the natural world, creating a new mode of personal correspondence and exchange. Twitter, acting as a voyeuristic vehicle creating a realm of virtual followers to the daily activities of film stars, athletes and politicians is Vigilante's creative springboard. If there is a, theoretical, response to each statement, the image becomes something else, a repetition rather than being inextricably tied to the first phase of the conversation. Their facial expressions, movements and responses are frozen, unable to initiate the next remark. Vigilante is highlighting the deadening of physical contact and intimacy in the digital realm, pushed an additional six feet under thanks to the visages of the dead celebrity. If Warhol was able to kill the meaning in images, Vigilante buries the hatchet with one "click."
Once known in the local Miami community as a faux-finishing painter and muralist, Buenos Aires-born Alejandro Vigilante has reached a new level of creative prowess and competency in the development of his practice. Creating "false" surfaces on highly tangible surfaces has led to the invention of static contexts in a false reality. "The premise of display and representation as we know it has been deeply challenged. This new medium of art as communication matters because it defines an area of consciousness and feeling."4 A media format once available to obscure renegades of technological science and mathematical theory has shifted into the actual rhythms and motions of the fine arts themselves: visual arts, music, film and theatre. All of these purely aesthetic pursuits once protected from the unforgiving boundaries and laws of science have synthesized to the point of dependency. Vigilante assumes that celebrity, in this digital age, cannot survive without the social network. To make his point, he "prints" his conversations with the dead to reaffirm those living in the "real" world.
Shana Beth Mason, M.A.
Christie's Education, London (University of Glasgow)
1 Walker, John A. Art in the Age of Mass Media, Westview Press, Boulder, 1994, p. 156.
2 Walker, ibid, pp. 157.
3 Lovejoy, Margaret, Digital Currents: Art in the Electronic Age, Routledge, New York, p. 226.
4 Lovejoy, ibid, p. 226.
"What's More Pop Than Internet?" - Alejandro Vigilante
Beyond execution and the medium, the soul of art is the idea. For Alejandro Vigilante, it was the idea with a capital "I" that charted his course as he set out to create a movement that would stand the test of time. For the Argentine-born artist, this major exhibition represents a homecoming. His inspiration was found in the Pop Art Movement of the 1950's and 60's. "What's more pop than internet?" he asks in response to those who inquire as to the title of his movement. As far as he is concerned, the answer is simple: "Nothing." He also firmly believes that if the Pop Artists were beginning their movement today, the internet would figure as strongly in their works as it does in theirs.
It was in 2001 when it initially occurred to him that the way the masses communicated had been forever altered by the internet. At that time, the phenomenal shift had been brought about by e-mail. In a brilliant move, Vigilante brazenly proposed what e-mail Marilyn Monroe might have sent to JFK, what message John Lennon would now send to Yoko Ono, and what statement Warhol would cheekily have made to Bill Gates. It wasn't until 2007, during his first significant solo show, that he realized he had furthered the advancement of a participatory art began by Pop Art's founders when the responses to his works were profound.
When e-mail began to lose its freshness to texting and social media, such as Facebook and Twitter, Vigilante effortlessly caught the wave, expanding his repertoire to include departed celebrities posting on each other's walls and tweeting phrases they would likely have typed into their Tweetdecks were they still alive. One can only ask, "What will he discover next?" The answer perhaps lies in the scrubbed hallways of Silicone Valley where the internet's elite are, even as you are reading this, testing their newest advancements. Or perhaps it lies in the explosion of information that Google is continually crawling through to provide searchable data at his fingertips. Or perhaps, it hums in his incredibly vibrant imagination, which knew the minute he'd hit upon the idea of painting a virtual word that he'd found his mark in life. Will his i-Art Movement stand the test of time? Will he be considered alongside Pop Art's greats when a survey of history is examined in 100 years? This will be a question for the art historians to ponder once we have all irrevocably passed into the mists of time.
By Saxon Henry