Online Newspapers: New York Edition by Olia Lialina and Dragan Espenschied * Madison Square Art 2008

 Imagine art that is timely and compelling, saying something about the new, while firmly planting itself in the recent past. Something future regressive. Something worth seeing. Something called Online Newspapers: New York Edition, currently on view at Madison Square Park.

Okay, I admit I was initially compelled to attend this show because of the scarves both artists wore in the promotional postcard. Olia’s scarf is genius in that it’s a knit of the boring Google ads that pervade and pollute our online life. I loved the transgression of turning the visual annoyance of internet advertising into a covetable fashion accessory. In a way it speaks to Online Newspapers: New York Edition in that the show, too, pushes boundaries, bringing internet based new media outside the world of zeroes, ones, and html.

Adjacent to bustling 23rd St, the setting in Madion Square Park could not have been lovelier—a rare glimpse of the bucolic that most New Yorkers are grossly deprived of. Contained within an oval of deep green groundcover, four mounted screens project the cover pages of the New York Post, The New York Daily News, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times. Not the ordinary front pages, but pages layered with a collage of animated horses, kitties, snow, bears, and more.

Internet technology is unique in how fast it evolved, making these examples of detritus all the more important because of the internet’s ability to induce amnesia about its original context. The use of kittens, etc. is a reflection of our tendency to sentimentalize anything, including kitten GIFs, and the use of institutional newspapers is a nod to the corporate streamlining of the internet and how quickly things have gone from amateur to expert. While cute and cuddly, these ingratiating animations speak to a time of limited technology in the early 90’s, when the internet was dominated by amateur hobbyists and tech geeks. Their cheesy aesthetic speaks to a time of web ‘innocence’ and visual simplicity. In short, they are awesome.

It struck me that I was outside in a park ‘watching’ art although I’m not sure if ‘watching’ is an apt description. I could have been fooled because I’ve been trained to view electronic screens as media to ‘watch’. Whatever the semantics, Lialina & Espenschied’s piece astounds us by bringing typically ‘inside’ art outside. Those accustomed to seeing bronze sculptures in parks will be pleasantly surprised to find art that isn’t static. Unlike the shape of some dead white guy, this art draws viewers in, and is engaging by design.

by Peter Killeen