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Q&A: New Exhibit IRL_URL Brings Internet Art into Real Life


North Williamsburg venue/bar/café Muchmore's will be hosting a new "exhibition about the internet, by the internet" entitled IRL_URL starting this Thursday, December 6th. Conceived by internet enthusiasts including visual artist Anna Li, Pace Gallery assistant Morgan Shockley, and music curator Tristan Viner-Brown, the show brings the work of up-and-coming internet artists Al BaioMartha Hipley and Rob Sobotnik into a physical spaceThursday night's opening will feature a VJ set by Kyle Hiedacavage and a DJ set by the (supercute) band SUPERCUTE!. We recently sat down with curator Li and artist Baio to chat about the show's conception, the power of the reblog, and the ways the digital world affects their lives and art. 


Anna Li photo via Marco Hernandez; Al Baio photo via Trevor Powers

So how did the whole IRL_URL concept come to happen in real life, or "IRL"?

Anna Li: Well, I've always wanted to do a show about the internet, and I've always wanted to branch out as an artist [and] do some curatorial work. The opportunity didn't come up until someone on the camp of Muchmore's stumbled across me on the street and remembered seeing me at one of their preview shows. They were just curious, did I want to do anything with Muchmore, "anything you want to do." They told me they asked me because of essentially my online lifestyle, my presence online. Which I thought was great, being spoken to as two different Annas: "online Anna" and "offline Anna." I've always made art that was based around the concept of the internet.

What role has the internet played in your life as an artist?

AL: Well, I went to NYU for film and television, and the school encourages the students to have a participatory lifestyle outside of NYU. So the connection I made to the world outside of NYU was by going on the internet and figuring out who and what was out there. I began all of my internet interests on Tumblr, where I started off just sharing things I liked and things my friends did. Eventually I shared things I created on Tumblr, and it circulated, and now it's like I am known for my Tumblr. It's snowballed into a really lovely, little career where people find my photos via the internet.  That's an interesting commentary the show makes, because when you've created a social presence for yourself online, how does that affect your offline world? Because of Tumblr, I got all the jobs I have today. I just started working with Flavorwire and Old Navy, where they call me a "cultural influencer" [laughs]. I recently finished a music video for the band SUPERCUTE! because they like stuff I've done with Rookie magazine, and so on. So, there's the power of reblogging! In fact, you could say my whole life is a reblog...of Al Baio's life.

Hey Al Baio, your work was so interesting! Could you tell us a little bit about your aesthetic and how how the internet shapes it?

Al Baio: My parents enrolled me at three into an oil panting class, which is a really young age to start oil painting. Very messy and a little unsafe. On the side I would obsessively watch cartoons: I'd get up at around five a.m. to watch Sailor Moon. So in a way the two aesthetics meshed together and that's where I am at today. I feel like the internet for me is one, big nostalgia album for me to flip through. It's kind of my best friend, it's always there for me. There's always an image for me to find and work on, because every single thing I paint is from the internet.


All work by Al Baio

Like there is a contained, public archive already available?

AB: Exactly. And it's growing, it never ends, and it never will. People are always adding to it, people you don't know, but you're connected to. The main thing I do is paint my ideal sets of childhood friends, like a dream crew. So I look online for photos that parents put up of their children, because I find it bizarre that people will openly share these photos of their kids. The kids have no say, it's their big internet debut and they don't know their image is out there and people can find it and do whatever they want with it. And when I find that image, I paint it. That's it, I am kind of a super creeper on the internet [laughs].

So are you doing anything original for the show?

AB: Specifically for the show, the kids I am showing are dressed up as characters from my past. A lot of them are dressed up as Garfield, or Teletubbies. So it's about this wave of nostalgia. When I was a kid my dad would make these beautiful photo albums, which I treasure to this day. I think it's so weird with parents today, like, why are you sharing this image with me? You don't know me. I'm taking it! [Laughs.] I like to think that even if I am giving the parent a hard time, I am honoring the kid. Each painting is with admiration, and friendliness. Each kid is so cool, the clothes they are wearing, and the poses they are making. They are such a mystery to me. I kind of relate to them too, because people have taken photos of me when I was unaware of it and then I see them on random blogs. It's weird to find an image of yourself, and all these people are looking at it and liking it, but you have no real control or awareness that it's out there.


What's your dream childhood photo to paint?

AB: Ideally, I would love to work with kids and actually stage photos that already exist. Like art history, or album artwork. I do a lot of album covers for bands, and I'd love to do a painting of kids pretending to be David Bowie. That would be my dream. But, for an actual example, I went to Paris last week, and I made a friend at a museum. We exchanged emails and she just sent me a photo of herself as a kid without even asking. It's a cross-eyed, classic childhood photo, and this image is now my favorite image, and I am going to paint it. It's this magical connection that keeps me linked with her, even if I don't see her again, which I hope I do.

AL: I think Al brings up a really great point, and that's one of the reasons Morgan and I chose her for the show, she addressed the really beautiful idea of the flexibility of the internet. You could take a picture of, let's say a tree, and make a tidal wave on the internet, or [you could] see a picture of a tree online which prompts you to take your own picture in real life.

AB: It's like a never-ending cycle.

Al: And it doesn't have one single direction either.


How do you think the internet affects how art is viewed? 

AL: The first time I met with Al Baio, [I was] showing super eager interest in her work, and inquiring to see if her work would correlate to some commentary on the internet--which is ridiculous since her work is the internet. We were talking [about] how it's the opposite of Noah's Ark. It's like museums choose which pieces get seen by millions of eyes. Who gives them the license to choose who gets on Noah's Ark? Who chooses the .001% of art that's preserved? Everyone is a curator on the internet, if you deem it art, it could be art. Nothing is destroyed, it's all preserved. So when you make something, there's always a ghost of it, even if you were to delete it.

AB: Yeah. It's always there for someone else to experience. It's never gone.

How do you think we'll be living our lives more digitally down the road?

AL: I think the internet is slowly making it so there is no "offline" culture. Soon, at least here, it will be "online" twenty-four hours, seven days a week. I love the internet, but one of my biggest fears about it is that it no longer originates from our computer screens, it's on our cell phones--I honestly think it will eventually be in our eyes. The whole world is going to be taken over by the internet, and there's no way we can control what will be shown of us.

AB: I can't wait!

That kind of echoes the documentary We Live in Public, about Josh Harris and all the artistic experiments he did with the internet and its effect on our social lives. 

AL: Oh! I haven't seen that...

You should! It's on Netflix.

AB: Streaming?

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