The Internet is a Sea of Men

Jennifer Chan’s exhibition at Galleri CC in Malmö juxtaposes videos and web chats with objects made from perishable materials. The theme is affinity, on- and off-line.

Jennifer Chan, Body Party (detail), 2015. Photo: Raffaele Piano.
Jennifer Chan, Body Party (detail), 2015. Photo: Raffaele Piano.

In the last few years Canadian artist Jennifer Chan has persistently engaged with questions of post-Internet, Internet aesthetics and online representations of masculinity. Chan’s practice is characterized by her simultaneous positions as user, enthusiast and theoretician. An interest in historical Internet art and a notion of the present time being cast in mediated experiences, is expressed in remix videos that sample from and play with online culture. Visual languages are highlighted, decoded and undermined. Sea of Men at Galleri CC in Malmö is Chan’s first solo show in Scandinavia.

Internet is conceptualized as a «sea of men», and the exhibition itself is also a sea of men in the visual sense: naked torsos featured in the wallpaper Body Party (2015), men starring in the video works and in the large prints Tristan and Nicolas (2013), in which print-outs of web chats are overlaid on photos of young men.

Jennifer Chan, Nicholas, 2013.
Jennifer Chan, Nicholas, 2013. Photo: Raffaele Piano.

If Internet art of the 1990s was oriented toward new platforms and the elevation of the non-specialist, post-Internet has to a larger extent been embraced by contemporary art institutions. The notion of the Internet as an integrated aspect of the lives of connected people, as well as the heterogeneity that comes with the overwhelming amount of information online, makes it possible for the gallery to play the role of contact between the IRL and URL worlds. In keeping with this Chan skillfully highlights practices and aesthetics that are dominant in a certain realm, but that can remain invisible to the uninitiated.

Yet parts of the typology are easily recognizable: such as the young men with sparse facial hair who Skype, eat pizza and drink Red Bull in Young Money (2012). The climax of the video is a headless man masturbating at his computer. When Chan turns the camera on herself at the end of the movie, she recognizes the instigator and points to her own role as director. With an indifferent demeanor she pulls on the pizza-patterned sweater that the man recently ejaculated on; the loaded moment is placed in a context of everyday broishness in front of the computer, where the woman exists as bored subject, rather than as object or receptacle.

Jennifer Chan, Rose, 2015. Photo: Raffaele Piano.
Jennifer Chan, Rose, 2015. Photo: Raffaele Piano.

The explicit theme of the Internet as a surface of projection, or as Chan has put it «the toilet of the human mind», is also focused on the human dimension. It’s about performativity and how online representations of the self take place in a connected context. Even as the social aspects can seem pathetic, as in banal web chats and YouTube stripteases, this is still a moving and central aspect of online culture.

The latest works included in the exhibition have a different materiality and a quieter sense of poetics, which might be taken as a negation of Chan’s earlier practice. Dad, mom and me (2015) consists of three small objects, like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle made from soap, each placed on a cushion on the gallery floor. In Mutual/Idealism (2015) the title is carved in two bars of butter, a material that is even more perishable than soap, but with similar connotations to togetherness.

Perhaps the small, discrete sculptures signal a new direction, or a fatigue with the intense online aesthetic and performative representation, but in the context of the gallery they cast the themes of intimacy and the social in high relief.

Jennifer Chan, installationsvy med Tristan (2013)  och Rose (2015). Foto: Raffaele Piano.
Jennifer Chan, installation view with Tristan (2013) och Rose (2015). Photo: Raffaele Piano.