The idea for this exhibition began with wanting to change my name in the spring of 2016 when it occurred to me that the things I had done to date were not adding up to who I was becoming. I felt hemmed in by past interpretations of my work and choices I had made earlier. I had evolved and was moving in new directions. But in this world, Google collapses time and everything becomes another version of now. The more search results I examined about myself, the more I found misinterpretations of what I was open to, tangling me in a past in which I no longer felt connected. And so I started to think about the raw objectivity of making work and what it would mean to take identity itself entirely out of the composition. I fantasized that a name change could be the next frontier, allowing me a freedom in my work that previous generations of artists could more easily claim. In the present era, with artist personas often being as significant as their works, such an option becomes nearly impossible. I had heard rumors of artists who changed their names so they could explore work in new directions while safeguarding their anonymity and existing markets, but the more I thought about it, even this didn’t seem enough. I just wanted to be entirely free from the footsteps I had walked and many of the things I had sworn by that increasingly seemed to me to be anachronistic and irrelevant. It’s of course undeniable that we are a composite of selves, each step in our work leading to the next, but when examined through a digital lens, the web's reality brutally flattens the logic of the past. One’s digital self always lags, never fully reflects the present. A vicious cycle keeps digital content outpacing emerging material. Since I grew with every experience, why couldn’t the perception of my work change with me? I craved the analog pace of the pre-internet world.
The web skews everything. Like it or not, we are locked into an identity heavy era, connected immutably with a collective unconscious that manifests itself with the cyclical nonstop generation of images. We rely upon our personas to navigate the vast web, trusting what’s familiar amidst a sea of deceptions--common “friends”, common “likes,” building a faith in ourselves with “followed bys”. The purity of truth becomes polluted from the ground up. Once an artist and his work constituted a singular reality, but now it’s all fractured and truth becomes whatever we invent it to be. We have begun to accept the multiplicity of reality, and thrown out the previous notions of singular reality. For instance, one’s digital geo-tag may be thousands of miles from where one is standing at the moment. We accept this as a fact of modern existence. Therefore our perceptions of reality co-exist in different spheres at the same time. We find one image, owned by two authors, posted and reposted and always claimed as original. This leads to a corruption of language. Phrases that once had significance and weight are thrown casually into texts with no accountability. In the web world there is in fact no more singular self, but only mutable projections. Our cultivation of identity is our proxy for how much we value the impact of that identity in the social sphere.
Previous generations were limited in terms of location and resources. People could not hide from their actions, or generate new selves as easily. The provenance of a person, his neighbors and his community, provided an accountability and substance to each action. This status quo formed a void between those who "wandered"- for instance the cowboy civilizer vagabonds as depicted in western cinema- and the stakeholders who had a vested interest in the culture.
In present times, accountability is a matter of choice, and voyeurism is the new standard. Though the same fingers on a keyboard may type it, a new identity can be contrived in a few strokes with the invention of a new username. However, as accountability fades, a Pandora's box is opened. With identity now so fractured, we lose the natural ease of being a unified self, as we are left with layers of identity scattered across micro-personas, which though irreconcilable in person are weirdly balanced in the logic of the web.
Once there was a rational narrative arc to growth--even a prodigy took years to manifest. Wisdom was cultivated with time and experience. But now with access to the roots of all human knowledge at our fingertips, prodigy seems instant. Like Athena, people emerge into the public consciousness fully formed. Instead of growing with these people by sharing their personal arc of life, we fall under the illusion that we know them instantaneously. The sad product of these circumstances is that the market does not train us to evolve with artists whose process contradicts itself in its evolution. Rather it teaches us to find a novel version of what we are looking for in another identity. When Bob Dylan went electric, he was booed. His fans went to other acoustic musicians for a period. Viewers are trained to consume a brand named an artist, not an artist. The result is commercial resistance to self-contradictory artists. This forces artists to narrow their output to their market. It inhibits artists from stepping too far away from what is already vetted by the art establishment. The hand of the market has recently weighed very heavily on what it determines to be art history. The economic laws governing art world sanctioned artists exclude those at the margins. Therefore these artists are expected to survive the dissemination of their work through the web to a global audience with a short attention span over the course of an entire creative evolution—all under one name. This leads us to a contradiction between the temperament of the viewer and the tendencies of the authentic artist. The artist is expected to behave like a commodity, when innovation is the mother of art.
Every time in history there is a substantial technological advance, art reacts to the substance of what the new technology has made accessible by deeming it anachronistic. When the camera became a mass market phenomenon, realistic painting became redundant. Following the invention of the printing press, the accessibility of authorship diminished the authority of what was once accepted as fact. With the advent of the internet, the hierarchy of authority was entirely ruptured by cacophony. The virality of content assumed its own credibility, geometrically expanding traditional forms of bibliography. This latter development has proved to be a particular challenge to the art world as it attempts to outpace the dawning irrelevance of context. Depriving the art world of context is in the process of creating a drought. The art establishment’s advantage had been in allowing context to determine value. Its bond with the market was that these contexts were telltales of art history to come. Its clumsy evolution has been to attempt to supplant context with qualification. This brought a torrent of non-aesthetic process-driven objects to the forefront of the market. The artists/conceivers, therefore, had to navigate a very precarious belief system that surrounded the value of their work. One of the staples of their value was their identity, locking them into a trajectory of what the market would bear as acceptable future creations. This leaves but one path to redemption: the viewer and the unimpeachable relevance of the viewer’s interpretation. By creating works that operate independently of contrived systems, utilizing the distribution of the internet, the art will find its angle of repose in the cultural niches it most resonates with.
Examine the narrative arcs of mass cinema. Blockbuster cinema is accelerating a process that is becoming increasingly derivative. Essentially, we now watch the same films we have seen before, mashed up with other successful films from the past, cut together at a rate that accelerates yearly. The problems and resolutions, the car chases and the love making are sped up to the point where we are convinced we are seeing something new. With twists of sequencing we see the familiar again and again. This is the same safe familiarity that we employ scrutinizing the web. Using hyper relativity in order to deduce the media we consume, we blind ourselves to novelty. Culture fueled by hyper-relativity mirrors the infinite access of the web--in the way we meet people, look at paintings, or discover new food. Our experience is governed by comparison rather than objective observation and our own interpretation. As long as the mysterious mechanism which mints art history in a linear fashion keeps a step ahead of consumption, the Avant-guard will show up to acquire in the window of relevance. The derivatives grow smaller and smaller, leaving a shrinking trajectory for art history.
With an increasing demand for content on the web, there will be a Malthusian catastrophe of originality. Because artists are not supported to explore self-contradiction, novelty will leap to a new source of stimulation rather than an appreciation of the artists’ organic development.
Maybe this is changing. Familiar social interaction may come to be the governing criteria for the way we engage with our content by opening up the possibility of interactivity with the material. The game theory of voyeurism organically leads to a shared alternative reality. Under these circumstances, the viewer and the artist enter a new symbiotic relationship in which the viewer experiences primitive pattern recognition and stylistic notes across media that connect him to the ethos of the artist. As we scale this involvement with each artist relating to multiple active viewers, all of whom have their unique relationship with and interpretations of the same work, we enter what could be the era of quantum modernism. Each painting was once allowed only to mean one thing in one context. Now each painting can mean many things to many people simultaneously. This underlines the fact that the internet is rupturing the context-driven singular hold that it has had for centuries on the way we have been conditioned to view art. In Quantum Modernism, meaning is infinitely adaptable.
So where does that leave us? Art will exist without emphasis on identity. It will be free to migrate from one mode of distribution to the next, from viewer to viewer, from one compression to another. As long as the work is interesting, as long as it has a utility for its viewer, it will survive through sharing alone. It will live past the sphere of the gallery, and the context of its author, and into realms it was never intended for. To some degree we are witnessing open source hieroglyphics, but maybe it’s even going beyond that. Perhaps the works themselves will be able to survive deconstruction and translation and emerge with something akin to a binary gesture on the other end. In our era of fast identity generation for viewers, the most apt comparison is that of the Medusa Hydra, which until seeing a mirror could always outpace its own destruction. Quantum modernism is the mirror for all because it demands the viewer’s analysis. In this grand reversal of placing the concept in the viewers’ lap, viewers must project themselves into the work in order to make it relative to their core identity. In the process of integrating the work, like the mirror, into the viewer's psyche, the work can now define the viewer as a proxy and alternate manifestation of themselves. Call it epigenetic painting, or viral painting. It spreads by triggering emotional significance and relies on the common behavior of interactive validation. This opens and democratizes the access and posterity of art. Art returns to the signifier with the viewer becoming its vassal. This progression is an organic extension of performative and conceptual practices in the alternate dimension of the web.
This will help contemporary paintings, like ancient mythology, live past the confines of a throw-away commercial civilization. Much of the work will never be seen in person. Those viewers who will be able to access the picture on the web far exceed those who will see the original. With technology once again changing the significance of art, the works that will ultimately survive, as always, will be works that address the human condition across time and culture.
Thus art can reach back to its role as cultural artifact, meta-story telling device, and/or allegorical relic. It can trigger a collection of information that adds to a more dynamic provenance, opening doors to validate new views about its significance, views that will on occasion transform the viewers themselves. Perhaps this reversal of long time singular meaning attached to art will catalyze into a contradictory whole, resolving the fractured identity that has been the product of early internet culture. Works of this nature will have the digital benefits of distribution with the old world accountability of personal artifacts. They will be governed less by who made them and more by who saw them and what effect they had. Self-discovery, consequently, becomes a product of our personal analysis of works, and each piece becomes a Rorschach test of our world view.
Ultimately this eventuality will assure that our legacy won't remain in digital fragments, but instead will be the sum total of the pieces through which we define ourselves. Works of art, therefore, can again be mooring points for the self and guideposts for the soul in an era that tempts us to splinter ourselves. In my own case, Bernard Gwilliam, which is a composite of my paternal grandfather’s name and my mother’s maiden name, will for me be a marker along the way of my own personal struggle with ongoing re-invention.