Chicago

Siebren Versteeg

Rhona Hoffman Gallery

The Internet’s ceaseless flow of information, the parallel universes that it births and destroys, the cacophony of perpetual interactivity it encourages, all create torrents of new, largely unregulated visual data. Siebren Versteeg designs programs and display strategies to tap into these streams, siphoning off bits here and there, rearticulating their systems of presentation, and ultimately jamming their promise of stability and ubiquity.

For Untitled Film #4 (all works 2007), Versteeg wrote a program that dips into flickr.com in real time and projects an unending and never repeating sequence of images grabbed at random from the more than two billion photos that individuals—usually amateur photographers—from all over the world have posted to the site. These images, projected for between three and nine seconds, fade in and out in various ways, in an inane democratic daisy chain. (One ninety-second sequence: images of a bag of popcorn, bare tree branches, people in a bar, a drummer in a mall, a Korean wedding, French fries, a woman, a waterfall in the woods, a child wearing a baseball cap, a house under construction, a meringue pie, metalwork on a fence, a squirrel with a nut, and African tribesmen.) It’s curiously riveting, the endless spectacle of humanity and its artifacts, the anticipation of another never before seen and never to be seen again image just seconds away, this drift into, if not narrative, then a “live” autopsy of the contemporary vernacular. Versteeg has also embedded a camera in the wall that receives the projection, and every nine minutes a photograph of whatever viewer happens to be standing there is interpolated into the ongoing sequence.

Versteeg titled the exhibition “press enter to exit,” communicating the sense that, despite the heady promise of a 24/7 global community, the Internet, a proliferating labyrinth always turning in on itself, may isolate as much as it liberates. In Superhighway, Versteeg lifts images of highways and traffic patterns from the Web, combining them into a spaghetti-like tangle. The result recalls the apparent equation of manic visual complexity with faith that characterizes the Book of Kells. The largest work in the exhibition, Own Nothing, Have Everything, is a nearly thirty-four-foot-long mural. A cell-phone-size LCD screen bearing the Napster logo and OWN NOTHING, HAVE EVERYTHING slogan peeks out from the center of the work. The logo’s radiating black-and-white arcs have been extended outward from their minuscule source onto the wall in a megalomaniacal explosion that ends only when the wall does. The promise of Napster, and of the Web in general, the free flow of goods and data in some Utopian idyll just a click away, seems to Versteeg to be unfulfilled.

Directly opposite the mural was a round canvas, Untitled Painting 1, hung from the ceiling. This tondo bears a warped version of the Napster logo’s lines, as if the geometrical solidity of the original bold forms has entered a black hole in which logic meets indecision, where order waffles into chaos, and where the efforts to dictate what the Internet offers confront the vibrant diversity of the Web’s schizophrenic multiplicity.

James Yood