NEW YORK.- As part of its ongoing Contemporary Series, the Whitney Museum will present Listening Post, a multimedia installation by Ben Rubin and Mark Hansen that plunges its audience into real-time online conversations, exploring the content, scale, and immediacy of communication on the Internet. The project, which uses sound, text, motion, and space to convey the magnitude and diversity of online discourse, creates a visual and sonic environment composed of tens of thousands of online messages, projected on a grid of small hanging screens. Listening Post will be presented from December 17, 2002 through March 9, 2003 in the Anne & Joel Ehrenkranz Gallery on the Museum’s main floor.
Unlike many net art projects, which are experienced on a computer monitor, this one achieves total immersion: a suspended, curved grid of more than 200 small rectangular electronic screens displays fragments of texts that are continuously gathered in real time from thousands of unrestricted Internet chat rooms, bulletin boards and other forums. The work is structured as a sequence of “scenes,” each of which organizes incoming communications according to different statistical criteria; excerpts may be chosen based on word counts, common phrases, or shared subject matter. Mirroring the fluidity and dynamism of the Internet itself, random topics emerge and change from day to day, hour to hour, in effect creating an almost biorhythmic visual and sonic response to global conversations. An audio component alternates musical passages with the vocalization of captured messages.
Debra Singer, the Whitney’s associate curator of contemporary art, comments, “Listening Post plays off a paradox inherent to participating in online dialogues: although the experience is ostensibly social and public in nature, it is also ultimately solitary and private. By recasting snippets of on-screen conversational exchanges in a new physical context, the installation projects a visceral sense of a collective global ‘buzz’ that forms a shifting linguistic portrait of online crowds at any given instant.”
Listening Post is the result of a two-year collaboration between New York multimedia artist Ben Rubin and Mark Hansen, a statistician at Lucent Technologies’ Bell Labs research center in Murray Hill, New Jersey. An earlier version of the piece was seen at BAM for a two-week period in December 2001. Rubin has collaborated with many well-known artists such as Laurie Anderson, Ann Hamilton, Arto Lindsay, Diller + Scofidio, and Steve Reich and Beryl Korot. For Hansen, this represents his first major artistic venture.
The Contemporary Series, launched in 2001, is devoted to work by emerging artists who have yet to be shown prominently in New York. Organized by Debra Singer, the Whitney’s associate curator of contemporary art, the series reflects and forecasts shifting trends in contemporary American art and enhances the Whitney’s commitment to living artists. Recent projects have included a sculptural installation by Chicago-based artist Helen Mirra and an installation by Tom Burr that re-imagined Richard Serra’s Tilted Arc in purple plywood.