Art now: Art and Money Online, Tate Britain
After the fall of the once mighty Nasdaq and the pricking of the over-inflated dotcom bubble it would be churlish to expect anyone to get excited about anything internet-related for some while yet. But this exhibition (the UK’s first internet art exhibition in a major public space) is a timely reminder that the internet was once a terra nova in which artists, academics and techies congregated and brought Utopian ideas about how technology could change the world. Then it became a virtual extension of the shopping mall. And then it went bust.
The three pieces of work on show each articulate a critical response to this ongoing commercialisation of the internet. Collectively, they accurately represent the socially and politically engaged character of internet art that stands at sharp odds with the art that dominated the scene for the past decade — art that refuses to stand for anything excepts its own status as art, and not even that sometimes.
The most exciting piece, almost breathtaking in its complexity, is Black Shoals Stock Market Planetarium. The work takes live, global stock-market data, provided by a Reuters data feed, and represents the information as a night sky projected onto a dome within a darkened room — highlighting the existence of private, commercial networks that have made information the ultimate commodity. Each of the thousands of stars that flicker in the sky represents a listed company and, grouped together in clusters and constellations, they represent market sectors. As the companies rise and fall in price, so do the stars brighten or dim. There’s also a colony of artificial-life creatures that swim through the stellar void feeding on the energy of the glowing stars.
CNN Interactive just got more Interactive, meanwhile, by Thomson and Craighead, invites users to surf the live CNN site while listening to soundtracks provided by the artists. As the soundtrack options include Jubilant, Festive, Dramatic, Contemplative and Disaster, the potential results are predictably amusing. Continuing the activist tenor, a group of artists and activists, the Redundant Technology Initiative, has produced a piece called Free Agent, which highlights the vast waste of technical equipment in our economy.
In time the critical voice of internet art may be silenced by the art market. Till then it deserves to be heard.
Until 3 June. Information: 020 7887 8008