New Iconographies: The Museum Of Internet

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Image taken from Museum of Internet

As I write, 99,243 people like the Museum of Internet. You might already be one of them, but you probably haven’t heard much about its two rather discreet creators, Emilie Gervais and Felix Magal. On the Facebook page thousands of images have been uploaded. Some of them are internet blockbusters, such as cats and babies, while others are photographs of artworks. The rest is a subtle mix of the two registers: the Kardashian-West couple in an Edward Hopper coffee shop or Lindsay Lohan mimicking Michelangelo’s Pietas pose. It is hard to find a category that fits their enterprise. Is the Museum of Internet a piece of art with an archival aesthetic? A curating project? An amusing buzz? Sleek sat down with the pair to find out.

What is the story behind the page? How did it all start?

It began with a simple observation. The web is creating a new iconography composed of cell phone pictures, screenshots, memes and dogs and we knew no place strong and well-adapted enough to archive and gather them. This is how we decided to turn the whole thing into a museum.

What is the criteria for an image to be published?

We are sometimes pretty limited by Facebook’s censorship, yet we look for the kind of images that would be out of fashion the next week. We want humour, cuteness, awkwardness and, if possible, animals. This is not really what the internet is actually about but it is definitely an interesting part of it, in that it is self-reflective. It is somehow the internet caricaturing itself.

Image taken from Museum of Internet.
Image taken from Museum of Internet.

Do you two see the images of Museum of Internet as net art pieces? If yes, were these images art to you before they were uploaded, or did their “institutionalization” gave them this status?

The images that we showcase can come from any background. Even if some of them are pictures of artworks or net art pieces, we don’t think they all need to be art. Yes, our staging on the page definitely allows the visitor to have another approach on them. It is something intrinsic to most museums actually. If you see a drawing on a milk bottle, you might not think it is art, but if you encounter it on a large canvas with an artist’s name and a date you will probably have a different perception of it. Same if you see this milk bottle in a museum or gallery.

Many curators have tried to exhibit net art in built-up museums while respecting – with more or less success – its digital nature. Do you believe an internet-based platform like yours could be a solution to the problematic exhibition of this genre?

On Facebook we are exactly on the same level than material museums such as the Louvre or the Tate. We  function the same way, since we upload pictures of works that belong to our institution. We have even met people thinking that the page was backing up an empirical museum! Having said that, we don’t think creating a virtual space is always a good way to exhibit net art. To us, reaching people on a digital space is primarily being where the internet users are, where they know how to interact. Because of this, Facebook was the perfect place for the Museum of Internet.

Museum of Internet is a Facebook page, an ArtStack profile and a website. How do the three work together?

The webpage was created for users to be able to upload artworks directly to Museum of Internet’s collection. Every time the page refreshes, artworks are pulled randomly from the collection and displayed on the front page. Artstack was for when we needed to create shows directly with artists on some of our interests such as the selfie in 2013. It is important for us not to solely rely on Facebook. Museum of Internet is not dependent to this specific social network but is really just there for convenience. We are on Facebook today because it is still a place where people share images every day, without over-thinking, as a daily habit, but tomorrow, it might be different.

Walter Benjamin wrote that a work of art loses its “aura” when it is reproduced and broadcast. What do you think of this theory in the digital era?

We think the internet changed a lot the way we live with images as well as the way we judge them. What Benjamin defines as the “aura” is the “here and now” of the artwork, and it is probably as close as it can be to the notion of “buzz”: what you see for the time it lasts as a trending topic in a defined part of the world. The “aura” of an image on internet is how viral a selfie by Ellen DeGeneres is or your new profile picture that was liked 150 times. Thus, this form of “aura”, of “here and now” actually needs reproduction on a multitude of screens to exist. 

Interview by Jacobé Huet

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