Staying Connected

Altered Esthetics’ new exhibition makes sense of the communicative methods in the modern world.

Artist Kate Johnson holds her clay jar Saturday that will be on display in the Online (Dis)connect exhibit at Altered Esthetics from February 3-Feburary 24. This group exhibit addresses modern online social networking and communication.

Artist Kate Johnson holds her clay jar Saturday that will be on display in the Online (Dis)connect exhibit at Altered Esthetics from February 3-Feburary 24. This group exhibit addresses modern online social networking and communication.

Andrew Penkalski

What: Online (Dis)connect

When: Feb. 3 – Feb. 24

Where: Altered Esthetics

Fifteen years ago, the social thread of the Internet was still largely a text-based exchange. It was a meta-space where the dweebs of the world could burrow under their sheets of anonymity and fill the AOL chat rooms with their cleverly rearranged textual puns âÄî often crudely sexual.

But this nerdy expanse is now for the masses, and as Facebook continues to standardize the online social experience, the web-based community has slowly grown to feel less like the Wild West and more like a high school cafeteria.

Minneapolis-based gallery Altered EstheticsâÄô new exhibition, âÄúOnline (Dis)connect,âÄù does not look at the web in such a singularly juvenile or pessimistic thread, but there still seems to be an agreement that for such a crowded place, the Internet sure stirs up a lot of loneliness.

Born out of an idea related to social networking last year, Altered EstheticsâÄô new group exhibition examines the layered communicatory avenues of the web, from the implications of FacebookâÄôs distanced social experience to the exhaustively thorough collection of information on sites such as Wikipedia. Amidst early discussions of the exhibitionâÄôs focus last year, the largest concern was how the online landscape would change come show time.

âÄúWithin a year of planning, it may not be Facebook thatâÄôs the biggest thing,âÄù Group Exhibitions Director Amber Janey said.

Much to Mark ZuckerbergâÄòs delight, it most certainly is. And the sort of dilemmas and revelations that the gallery leaders hoped to explore still remain wholly relevant, particularly this idea of social networking as a rather lonely experience. Contributing artist Elisabeth PrebleâÄòs work âÄúMental OverloadâÄù shows a shadowed cut-out subject crippling in submission above a swell of social, informative and cultural burden. This use of single subjects seems to be a unifying theme through many of the submitted pieces.

âÄúWith Facebook, you have 500 friends,âÄù Preble said, âÄúbut do you honestly know 500 people that well or intimately?âÄù

That concept of intimacy also resonates within other works, particularly Marnie ErpestadâÄôs photograph âÄúBody Language.âÄù Although the shot is of Erpestad, she maintains anonymity by framing herself from the neck to the waist, her hands undoing a blouse to reveal distancing, but visually autographical binary code. It is a contrast that ultimately elevates the intimate aspect, if for no other reason than the exhibitionâÄôs lonely works.

âÄúI was just interested in how much of conversation is body language and tone of voice,âÄù Erpestad said. âÄúWith technology, when youâÄôre not even talking on the phone, it takes away all of those additional signals.âÄù

Altered EstheticsâÄô exhibition does attempt to reconcile such gloom, if through no other method but utilized media. One work was the product of iPod touch technology. There will also be a cross-streamed opening and display of Netherland-based comic artist Mattijs Mark van Katwijk.

Because these ruminations of personal identity and isolation are not entirely new revelations, and while works like ErpestadâÄôs have the capacity to propose unique conversations, Altered Esthetics will still offer up the simple âÄúwowâÄù moments that modern technology continues to propose.