What Does Digital Culture Look Like?

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One of the key functions of art is to represent the world we inhabit. That might be simple enough, except that our experience of the world is infinitely complex. It’s physical and embodied, it’s emotional, it’s intellectual, it’s simultaneously concrete and abstract, it’s rhizomatic but organized by hierarchical social institutions. And in a world saturated with digital technology, virtual spaces may be every bit as meaningful as the spaces we used to call IRL. How do we represent digital culture? Digital artists like Alexandra Gorczynski have done it, as she put it, by mixing “classic elements of painting with classic elements of graphic design, the meshing of two worlds.”

Gorczynski’s work has been especially resonant because she also meshes images of her own life with ubiquitous forms of digital media. The above image, for instance, combines a serene digital backdrop with a porn video screen capture being burned by “Electrical Fire.” The image asks us to reflect on the artist’s place in a media environment saturated by pornographic representations of women. At the same time, the image raises questions about the relationship between digital technologies and core elements of nature. How do we set fire to digital texts? How do we destroy viral images? Attempts to explore those questions in art have already started to upend assumptions about the newness and progressiveness of digital culture. Meanwhile, the art world has its own troubling questions. How, for instance, do you sell a webpage to an art collector?

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