In seeing, listening and reading the “Lewben Art Foundation” exhibition “Networked Encounters Offline” on view at Mykolas Žilinskas Art Gallery, we are invited to look at the future artistic practices through the consciousnesses of subjects shaped by the Internet. Even though the term post-Internet art haunts us drearily as we lose ourselves in networked encounters, it would be naïve and academically problematic to analyze the exhibition curated by Francesca Ferrarini exclusively in the context of this art-critical position. On the other hand, we cannot ignore the influences – which the curator herself emphasizes – of Hito Steyerl‘s “prophetic” essay “Too Much World: Is the Internet Dead?” on the structure, mood and meaning of the exhibition. Both Hito Steyerl, who has lately become known not only as a progressive contemporary art theorist and commentator, but also as an influential representative of digital art and Francesca Ferrarini, who builds on her text, propose to read between the lines. Given the ever-accelerating expansion of the web in the 21st century, the growing need for data and images, as well as a collectively decreasing attention span that results from this, it may be worthwhile to ask: can we still read between the lines? Can we understand and interpret complex ideas and issues? Presented below are four observations from Hito Steyerl‘s essay that could be used as a context for reading this text.
- In the age of the Internet, visual culture has reached its zenith; or – why are we unable to understand reality without first seeing it on the screen?
- Everyone is an artist, but only those online know it; or – how has the curating of social networks defined the contemporary self?
- The Internet is shaping the way we live; or – how has the binary like / dislike system changed and fulfilled our needs?
- The images that were born, formed, and died (but continued to exist) in the vast expanse of the Internet are shaping the real world; or – how and why did Google Maps become the cause for a potential military conflict between Nicaragua and Costa Rica?
Displayed on the wall of the Mykolas Žilinskas gallery are three modern artworks by Mohammed Namou and Gabriele De Santis. The non-figurative and monochromatic works shout “salve!” to the luminaries of Italian arte povera. Lucio Fontana and Paolo Scheggi, hidden under a thick peat layer of art history, view the world through the eyes of Mohammed Namou’s pockets, while the diamond-checked patterns of Gabriele De Santis, a representative of contemporary Italian art, test the boundaries of optics and playfully continue the traditions of Italian painting.
However, the origin, forms and meanings of the works can be deceptive. Marble, the ideal and pillar of our material culture through the ages, when imprisoned in the trio of paintings by Mohammed Namou and Gabriele De Santis, moves like mercury. From the pockets of Namou’s monochromes, it flows into the space of De Santis’ works, where it reflects and is reflected, then having come back, concentrates in the marble slabs protruding from the pockets. The stone hides, but also gives away the acrylic-painted marble body of De Santis’ Harlequin that, at first glance, is likely to remind you of oil on canvas. Even though Harlequin keeps a pokerface when examined on a computer screen, when viewed in the gallery, the illusionist’s flat and matte robe slowly starts to unveil its depth, and its marble folds reveal a glimpse of our own image. Protected by Mohammed Namou’s yellow and black, De Santis’ character foolishly sneers at our blunted and unreliable sensory mechanisms, as if criticizing our first impression and screen-dulled perceptiveness.
On the other hand, Harlequin does not do this out of ill will – è solo un truqo, in the words of Paolo Sorrentino‘s character Jep – and he immediately invites the viewer to edit the situation. Reminiscent of a flashing screensaver, the surfaces of the artwork encourage the observer to deconstruct their elements – to choose from the toolbox of one’s consciousness the shade and type of marble for a different, preferred design, then use it to visualize the most desirable form of the artwork. Hanging next to each other, the pieces by Mohammed Namou and Gabriele De Santis neutralize the pompous aura of the marble at the forefront by urging the viewers to test the digital endurance of the stone. Both authors, as befits this generation of artists who use traditional media for their creative work, successfully question the genre of painting by replacing the discourse on sculptural qualities in painting with desktop-painting comparisons.
“All We Need is Data”
Simon Denny’s artwork “All You Need is Data” focuses on the “Digital Life Design” (DLD) conference that took place in 2012 – an interdisciplinary platform aimed at assembiling the elite of digital industries to ruminate on the future proposed by the digital economy and technologies. The work consists of texts accompanied by images from the conference archive. The documentary material is presented on flat panel TVs, using the style of the skeuomorphic iOS operating system along with components of apps.
How many people have iphone in this show?  It’s interesting to consider the direction in which the the art world would move if taps on the screen did not register our trips to art exhibitions and if iOS did not exist to be our exhibition guide.
The unrefined gifs created by Berlin-based New Zealander Simon Denny conceal the criticism directed at digital culture that has been restrained by neoliberal corporate techno-industry. One major indicator of this criticism is the textual language that, separated from the context of the conference, backfires at the very activists of digital culture. Consumer phrases cast a shadow on the other works in the exhibition by painting them in colors that promise a rather dark future.
As always I like monopolies that I own.  Commodification, intellectual property, and assembling (and revising) personal archives seem to be inseparable from ultra-intensive creation, appropriation and editing of images. The “save” command has essentially become more important than any other in our daily work. The simulacra of authorship, as well as those of user-generated social capital are altering our personal values, fueled by the irrepressible stimulus to renew and update.
What about this digitalized “person”?, Francesca Ferrarini asks in the exhibition catalogue. The theme of the human condition, inevitably being strongly influenced by technological and digital discourses, conceals universal anxiety associated with increasing digital addictions. The conference participant’s question How many people have iphones in the show? indicates the threat of addiction exists, regardless of whether the response is positive or negative. The future that DLD discusses, viewed from the perspective of the participants, that of Simon Denny, as well as of the exhibition viewers, looks vague and precarious – what happens if the connection is broken, and we are forced to disconnect?
A Tang of the Past with Spices of the Future
Deimantas Narkevičius‘ artwork “A Tang of Lomo Film” takes the viewer back to the past. The “Lomo” sound equipment that was widely used in cinemas of the Soviet period, looms in the centre of Mykolas Žilinskas gallery. The Soviet architecture of both the art gallery and the exhibition hall, where the artist’s work exists as an autonomous unit of the exposition (Deimantas Narkevičius’ piece is also the only artwork here that is not part of the “Lewben Art Foundation” collection), accelerates this return to a significant extent. The rare elements of the exhibition hall: the bench that has gone its winded paths from last century, the dim lighting in the hall, and the past-its-prime wooden table selected by the artist to place the laptop – perhaps the only, but essential, contemporary piece of the installation – switch on the highest reverse gear. The past, nostalgia, memory, political echoes – one could say, the artwork is diamond, which is the meaning of the artist‘s name in his native language. The large artwork by Narkevičius acts as an anchor that keeps the exhibition in space and time, preventing it from drifting into a futuristic orbit.
The visual reading of the work would be easier, if not the laptop. What does the latter actually mean? First of all, it is an integral component of the sound installation – by permission of the artist, and in accordance with the viewer’s wish, a click on the computer key activates a song in the “Spotify” database. Digital sound is converted into tape recorder sound and, having passed through the “Lomo” membranes, sounds “like fifty years ago.” If Kurt Vile, to whose music I have been listening lately, lived five decades ago, he would be satisfied with the sound of his latest hit “Pretty Pimpin” – the music transmitted by the artist’s personal hardware is top notch.
The laptop also has a symbolic function. As a signifier of contemporaneity and of the 21st century in the context of 20th century elements, set on the wooden pedestal in the centre of the frontal installation somewhat solemnly, it invites the viewer to have a closer look. Movement up and down the pedestal has been visible in Deimantas Narkevičius’ works since long ago: for instance, in his early film “Once In the XX Century” (2004).
If one reads the value of computer between the lines and remembers another work that the artist created in the 20th century – “Too Long on the Plinth” (1994) – one might think that not only the twentieth century, but the age of the digital is also coming to an end. And maybe the Internet is indeed dead, contrary to Hito Steyerl’s assertion. In Narkevičius’ piece, the value of the laptop as the trope of the digital age – on one hand, as if being criticized (nowadays, the ranks of music album collectors and “real sound” fans have been severely thinning off), while on the other hand, sort of being glorified, but ultimately applied in practice – is left hanging from the ceiling of Mykolas Žilinskas gallery, where it has been carried by the “Lomo” tape recorder sound waves.
Uplifting the laptop to the foreground, sure enough, brings “A Tang of Lomo Film” closer to the topics discussed in the exhibition, and signs the artwork in the network of works presented on view. Paradoxically, Deimantas Narkevičius’ piece – at first glance, acting as a throwback to the past – is the one to physically bring the viewer the closest to the artistic practices of the future. In the near future, as Hito Steyerl says in her essay, all the people will be artists.
The possibility to turn on the selected song on “Spotify” and thus not only experience the artwork, but also engage in its making, includes us into the network of art users (the information on the songs played by the visitors of the exhibition is archived in the “Spotify” account and can be accessed). Being a(n) (in)visible part of the team, each of us experience the work in our own way and are invited to transmit our feelings on the air. The artist has given visitors the freedom to mix the exhibition soundtrack and express their emotions openly, which, along with certain exhibitionism of these actions, seems to inevitably bring the audience to the visibility, so characteristic of the contemporary Internet society. Similar to social networking, where the recorded feelings never belong to a single individual, but are property of the whole community, “A Tang of Lomo Film” is available for the price of privacy.
The exhibition review does not mention artists Nick Darmstaedter and Ian Cheng and their works that blend into the fabric of the exhibition in their own way, keeping its overall futuristic mood. Francesca Ferrarini’s exhibition “Networked Encounters Offline” successfully combines the works by well-established and rapidly emerging authors, discusses the topical issues of contemporary art, and reflects the spirit of our time.
 The essay is published at: http://www.e-flux.com/journal/too-much-world-is-the-internet-dead/
 This year, she represented the German Pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale with her video work “Factory of the Sun” (2015)
 Hito Steyerl notes that along with the increasing amount and dissemination of data, critical text or essay began to demand too much of consumers‘ time and physical effort.
 “Flatness” is contemporary art project platform, directly related to “screen culture”:
 The new “Like” taxi cars have been spotted in Vilnius: http://skelbiu-img.dgn.lt/1_5_240889161/taksi-vairuotojai-su-naujais-automobiliais.jpg
 How many people have iphone in this show? – a quote from Simon Denny‘s artwork.
 As always I like monopolies that I own – a quote from Simon Denny‘s artwork.
 What about this digitalized “person“? – in the catalogue of Francesca Ferrarini‘s exhibition “Networked Encounters Offline”.