Wham City artist turns online experience into art
Published: July 24, 2013
Through Aug. 17 at Nudashank
p> Last March, Wham City artist and creator of City Paper’s “Important Comics” Dina Kelberman found herself in the strange position of being name-dropped by New York magazine art critic Jerry Saltz, television host Ryan Seacrest, and avant-garde novelist Ben Marcus. Of the three, Marcus made the only really perceptive comment, remarking on his Facebook page that Kelberman’s “I’m Google” is structured like a novel. The artist herself describes the project as “an ongoing Tumblr blog in which batches of images and videos that I cull from the internet are compiled into a long stream-of-consciousness.” Indeed, the stream-of-consciousness technique is essential to the novel, reaching not just back to the early 20th-century works of James Joyce and Virginia Woolf but all the way back to the beginning of the genre, with Lawrence Sterne’s Tristram Shandy, in which the narrator says he will relate the story of his life but takes a couple hundred pages to make it to his birth because of the number of digressions in which he engages. “Digressions, incontestably, are the sunshine; they are the life, the soul of reading!” Sterne wrote.
He was deeply influenced by philosopher John Locke’s theory of association—that the mind functions by jumping from one thing to the next not by logic but by association of similarities. This same technique now animates many of our most interesting prose writers, like Geoff Dyer, Ian Frazier, and Lawrence Weschler. Through her own obsessive surfing, Kelberman has harnessed the endless associative capacity of the internet to create an epic, even infinite narrative of “this ability to endlessly drift from one topic to the next” as her images classify things “based on similarities in form, composition, color, and theme.”
“I’m Google” is only one of Kelberman’s internet-based projects. For her show Screencaps, at Nudashank through Aug. 17, she presents “Smoke and Fire,” a collection of GIFs created for the New Museum’s online gallery, which has collected currently about 900 GIFs of animated smoke and fire. Instead of functioning by association, “Smoke and Fire” functions more along the lines of classification. It is an impressive, wildly smoking, flaming, and jumping grid online, but it becomes something altogether different and more badass when it takes up an entire wall at Nudashank and the squares drift slowly upward from clouds of billowing smoke until they reach a wall of raging animated orange fire before slowly scrolling downward again.
Maybe it’s because I came very late to the internet, but I will confess that I have always hated GIFs. Kelberman’s “Smoke and Fire” has taught me, however, that it wasn’t the media that was lacking but its users. A single GIF feels like those jokes that end in a punchline rather than the more extended comedic riffs that actually say something interesting about the world. By making a wall of GIFs, Kelberman utilizes the tension between the colors and motion of each individual screen-cap to create something ultra-compelling and new from the form.
Like “I’m Google,” “Smoke and Fire” remains a work in progress. “I keep starting only infinite projects,” Kelberman says. “Almost nothing I’ve started in the last year can be concluded. They can just keep going forever.”
There is something about Kelberman’s art that is not self-consciously internet-based. It is simply a reaction to the way she lives her life. “I am obsessively on the computer pretty much at all times,” she says.
Obsessive is a good word to describe Kelberman’s process. “They’re all kind of OCD-style projects,” she concedes. Another body of work partially on display at Nudashank involves watching the credits to every single episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation and blurring out the words with blue. The project began when her boyfriend innocently enough tried to get her to watch the series. And though she has hardly watched a single episode, she wasn’t only interested in the credits. She was also fascinated with the portrayal of doors—thus, another series consists of GIFS of, you guessed it, Star Trek doors.
Also on view is “Sleep Video,” an ongoing series of “overlaid YouTube playlists of found videos continuously edited and reconfigured.” The videos all involve colored smoke, and Kelberman initially found herself watching and listening to them in order to go to sleep. The overall effect of the three videos and their sounds overlapping is dreamlike, when, for instance, a ghostly figure emerges from a sun-drenched cloud of orange smoke and birds begin to chirp above the hiss in layers.
Kelberman grew up in Severna Park and went to college at Purchase, where she met a group of friends who eventually came to Baltimore to create the Wham City collective. “We didn’t want to live in New York, so a bunch of us came down here. Wham City is a big conglomerate of people doing unrelated things who sometimes work together. We sort of accidentally started an art collective because we didn’t know what to call it.”
They do work together on the Wham City Comedy Tour, which Kelberman calls “an excuse to go on a fun trip with my friends.”
It’s not entirely all about fun. She is working with her boyfriend, Alan Resnick, on a comedic infomercial, derived from his comedy tour routine, for the Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim and just got a Tumblr grant to continue her web-based work. In addition to the ongoing, infinite projects, Kelberman is working on something very practical: She is creating a new home—out of a large UPS-style van. Typically, she is less concerned with the usual creature comforts, like a kitchen, than she is with making sure that the van is equipped with wi-fi—ensuring that she will continue to be Google, collecting smoke and fire, and creating visual narratives.
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