The Download: sorry to dump on you like

The Download is a series of Rhizome commissions that considers posted files, the act of downloading, and the user’s desktop as the space of exhibition.

To go beyond browsing, downloading must be considered.

Downloading is essential to almost any kind of engagement with the www, whether code is sent into a browser window or files are delivered to a desktop. To download is to take from the network and to navigate the choreography of circulation itself; when we download, we extend the file’s narrative—its time-stamped presence spanning any number of geo-located servers—into the intimate space of the hard drive. The download is a prerequisite to more local activities, like scanning, printing, dispersing, and archiving. Downloading can transform a public post into private property; to download may be political.

The browser typically acts as our portal to “the downloadable,” extending a view out onto distant servers and directories through the hyperlink. We can (almost) always download anything we see through the browser window, regardless of an artist’s intent, but while a browser-based work is meant to remain confined—“performed” into the user's browser window for a temporal experience that is measured and dictated in certain ways by its publisher—the download allows the user's experience to play out within the more private sphere of the desktop. The download involves agency.

To shift art out of the context of the browser and onto our desktop is to borrow from publishing—“making public” by dispersing copies of files and enjoying them locally (and privately). Artists who distribute downloadable work invite us to activate the computer desktop as an intimate, performative space for engaging with art.

Building on a past program curated by Zoë Salditch, The Download is a new series of six works commissioned by Rhizome that presents posted files, the act of downloading, and the user’s desktop as the space of exhibition. Beginning in November 2015 and continuing into the next year, each artist’s contribution will be zipped up and posted for download. The Download offers the JPG, the TXT, the PDF and other file extensions by artists who view the file format itself as substrate. These works are free to own, print, share, and perform under your own conditions.

Christopher Clary
sorry to dump on you like (2015)
112 MB

do you play.jpg

Somewhere deep inside the directory of Christopher Clary’s sorry to dump on you like, the text “do you play” appears as a file name. This particular JPG is one of 1,860 images in the work: a pixelated 320 x 240 photograph of a bearded man, perhaps a profile pic, creation date February 26, 2001. Is it an invitation? Without punctuation, the phrase “do you play” reads like a provocation, a quick text message, short for “do (the two of) you play (outside of your relationship?)” Surrounding texts encourage a sexualized reading, but isolating it as a fragment suggests other takes. Are you a player? Who’s playing whom?

Consisting only of still images and their filenames, sorry to dump on you like can be read as a dramatic desktop play that takes on an almost operatic depth, with characters, dialogue, and changing scenery. Multiple voices speak the texts, including a chorus of porn actors, tumblr users, and the artist himself, but in this case I imagine the computer asking me—the user who downloads—if I play. In Clary’s work, the paratextual spaces of the operating system (file names, dates, metadata, keywords) can perform unlimited narratives, if the player is game to save, search, and sort.

you may be that man.jpg

Clary’s practice builds upon a long history of artists who appropriate, a trajectory that only recently took a sharp turn into the crowd. Artists like Penelope Umbrico, Joan Fontcuberta, and Joachim Schmid sift through the new vernaculars of picture-taking to create works that result in massive textures, rather than singular portraits. sorry to dump on you like extends this fascination by pointing the crowd’s camera toward constructions of masculinity, sexuality, and ultimately, maps the subjectivity of the artist himself.

i'll stop, im just feeling very close to you, or romantic right now, in a way i guess these are modern versions of love letters.jpg

It’s tempting to call sorry to dump on you like a pornographic work, since an actual porn collection is embedded within it—the artist’s own archive of men accumulated in fifteen years of web browsing. But these JPGs serve only as a substrate: thin scaffolding for an epic textual work that hangs loosely from the files. The numerous written narratives describe intimate exchanges between boyfriends and lovers, alternating between dramatic betrayals, breakups, and banalities. Laced through the work are heart-breaking utterances, illustrated by found images of men that have already been downloaded, stored, and used. In making them available for us to “re-use,” Clary discards them—the title of the work an apology, even, for offloading his memory onto ours.

do you, in your heart, your soul, your head, truely love IMG_359551_4350759.jpg

The voices in sorry to dump on you like vary, merge, and separate, coalescing into a linear narrative when files are sorted by date. When actually called out, characters’ identities are revealed to be file names, like BM1710667 and GBEARFUCKED1. Entangled networks. Actors switch roles to stand in during the most painful scenes, managing to reveal very little. Has anyone been protected? Not all of the images are pornographic, and some have been pixelated beyond recognition, but maybe they’ve all been loved by Clary, the way one loves a fetish or a fantasy. Or an old file. Again and again, the work asks us—now that we’ve downloaded—is it ours? Who do we decide to keep or discard through time? These stories are an offering of sorts: characters once loved, now staged as daddies and bears, cigars and cocks. The object-files of sorry to dump on you like travel through networked relations, but settle into hard drives like angry ghosts.

Before you continue, please be sure it is legal in your area for you to download images of sex and nudity. 

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This Rhizome Commission was generously supported by Jerome Foundation.