Smoke & Fire (2013)

Continuously growing arrangement of animated gifs made from instances of smoke or fire in animation. This piece is a commission from New Museum for First Look series.

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(from New Museum website: http://www.newmuseum.org/exhibitions/view/dina-kelberman-smoke-fire)

Kelberman’s original website features an ever-growing grid of gifs (at the time of launch, there are seven hundred total)—each one an image of smoke or fire excerpted from an iconic cartoon (the list now includes The Smurfs, The Simpsons, Tom & Jerry, Darkwing Duck, Rocky & Bullwinkle, and many more). The project is hatched out of the artist’s obsessive online surfing—for this project, she located and sampled hundreds of cartoons out of the thousands that she chose—as well as out of a desire to order and rearrange the seemingly endless amount of information available to her. The gif images are linked not strictly by subject matter but also through more free-form visual associations, like form, color, and shape. The resulting work is a psychic tour of disasters as they are pictured to children (and/or other cartoon enthusiasts). Here, the successive images of smoke and fire pose no threat.

Much has been written about the withering aspects of the web’s surfeit of information. But for Kelberman, like so many other artists, this visual excess and the process of surfing through it is an inspiration. This tendency has been covered by the New Museum before: In 2007, the Museum copresented a show (also organized by Lauren Cornell) with Rhizome called “Professional Surfer” that explored this process of surfing the web as an emergent practice. More recently, curator Domenico Quaranta organized “Collect the WWWorld: The Artist as Archivist in the Internet Age,” which began at the Link Center in Brescia, Italy, before traveling to New York. On the exhibition, Quaranta has written: “Mass media has now been replaced by a mass of mediators. Art is not responding to what they [the mediators] do with a more professional and technically advanced use of the same tools, but is instead refining its own languages and codes.” His point is key to contextualizing Smoke & Fire in a history of appropriation and within contemporary practice. Where earlier artists unveiled the inherent politics or ideologies in TV or advertising, often artists today engage amateur (i.e., consumer) engagements with pop culture by amplifying the impulses to collect and re-represent aspects of it.

Smoke & Fire, and previous works by Kelberman, manifest the feeling of drifting or surfing online by compiling images along lines that reflect the way we wander through information online, which can either follow or work against the way images are indexed by search engines. For instance, I’m Google (2011–ongoing) is a tumblr blog in which Kelberman compiles batches of images and videos into a stream-of-consciousness grid that moves seamlessly from one subject to the next, from uniformed workers standing in formation, to sand castles, to craters, to mountains. For Blue Clouds (2012), Kelberman blurred screenshots of the Star Trek the Next Generation credits, turning each one into what looks like a blue-tinted, erased line in the sky. In Kelberman’s practice, surfing, searching, saving, and reordering merge into a broader artistic practice that distills shared preoccupations or ways of seeing the world. Smoke & Fire will evolve—growing in number of gifs featured—while it is featured on the New Museum website from February 14 to March 13, 2013.

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