Blink and You’ll Miss It: Events on the Internet

perennial |pəˈrenēəl|

1640s, “evergreen,” formed in English from L. perennis “lasting through the year (or years),”
adjective
lasting or existing for a long or apparently infinite time; enduring
(of a plant) living for several years

Some things last a long time. Others are over in an instant, as they pass from the near future into the recent past. This piece concerns the former. Some occurrences seem to become mainstays overnight. Although certainly nothing lasts forever, some events can span lifetimes or generations.

Ice ages have come and gone since humanity’s ancestors took to this place. Ruins from over 5,000 years ago still stand on hilltops at Carrowkeel. Italian paintings from the 15th Century adorn the walls of grand museums.

Last Sunday I put up three reviews of live shows that have given me shivers in the last few years, Anna Calvi, Caribou and Halves. Something struck me about the nature of these spectacles, and I began to consider events in relation to the internet. A blog post I read recently dealt with the idea that once you put something on the internet, it’s there forever. Maybe we are entering an unending digital life from an analog history, and if that is true, then the art of events on the internet could become the only art that we experience.

OK Go have made a fine art out of their internet music videos. Every one has gone viral, and if you haven’t seen their back-catalogue yet then you’re in for a treat. In their most recent video, the ambitious 4-piece took on the project in the YouTube link above with sponsorship from Chevorlet. The video sees the band take on two miles of dusty track creating sounds from staged objects played with appendages attached to the car. (On a side-note, if this is the Detroit motor industry’s marketing campaign to drag it from the gutter then more of the same please!)

The reactions that I received while showing this video to others, and the immediate one that I had myself was “Is this authentic?” “Did they cheat?” “Are those sounds really coming from those pianos?” etc. I wrote somewhere recently about the value that we place on the “realness” of an event. OK Go pride themselves on their one-take videos; creating a perennial event from the chaotic ephemeral. They made sure to include links to the making of the video to reassure skeptics. But why do people value this authenticity so highly, and would this video not be just as amazing even if it is full of cuts and dubs (as it most likely is)?

This emphasis on the authenticity of technique stretches beyond the popular rise of the internet. Blur made a similar statement when they went to sleep for their 1998 video to No Distance Left to Run, claiming it was genuine sleep with “no funny stuff”.

There appears to be relevance attached to the “realness” of an event when documented in film or video. If it is staged or faked using editing techniques, onlookers often seem dubious. Images that are doctored in Photoshop, no matter how well done, have caused a stir in photo competitions. Sure, Photoshop mess-ups can be funny, but photoshop is a genuine technique in photography now, just as retouching and darkroom manipulation was in the history of photography. Perhaps it is an aversion to new technology that makes us shy away from editing techniques as part of the artistic process. Or it may be simply an emotional reaction of not liking to get tricked. But on the internet, where our perceptions are altered, why we value the authenticity of these things may boil down to a more philosophical reasoning.

To quote Kant, “all change is the alteration of substances”. Kant was referring to our perceptions of time, and how changes in substance allow us to perceive the existence of time. To add this theory to this argument, it could be suggested that the perennial documentation of things via the internet distorts our view on time, and how time passes. How can we document time passing if these events are here online forever? This temporal distortion can be unsettling, as it alters our perception of what is “real”, similar to how altered Photoshop images, no matter how realistic, can be irksome when discovered to have been doctored.

The idea of the perennial nature of the internet has been embraced by groups like OK Go, who value the lasting existence of their work on YouTube or Vimeo. Some visual art has also taken the leap from museum-permanence to perennial internet-dom. Sculptur Jason deCaires Taylor creates permanent underwater installations that are easier viewed on his website through photography than physically through wearing a skuba-suit. The sculptures teem with algae after time, and this is part of the process of making that Taylor employs.

Scupture by Jason deCaires Taylor, image courtesy of the artist’s website. Click for link.

But are these not real art? By creating things that cannot be physically experienced or embraced, the artists may be limiting their artwork’s capacity for physical interaction, or they may ask for a new sort of engagement. Artist Rafaël Rozendaal has taken the internet on as a medium, and creates interactive online artworks. He has created a large collection of online works on his website that engage the viewer in a multitude of ways. Sometimes the solutions are obvious, other times trial and error leads the way, but each piece is engaging and challenging and can create an inquisitive journey full of experience and memory.

This piece is not written to erase the magnificence of real-world event-based moments. It is simply an observation on how our idea of perennial features are observed and documented through new media.

So the internet may be perennial, but can be questioned in relation to its authenticity in time.

Some things last a long time. Others are over in an instant, as they pass from the near future into the recent past.

As a celebration of the perennial this post will stay on the internet forever.

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Filed under Art, art: performance, Music, music: live, writing: opinion