Catharine Clark Gallery opens its 2019 program with "The Network Paradox," a collaborative project by artist Greg Niemeyer and computer scientist and artist Roger Antonsen, with Mullowney Printing, San Francisco. Realized in celebration of the 50th anniversary of the Internet, "The Network Paradox" depicts “an animated view of the evolution of the Internet from 1969 to 2019,” as Niemeyer describes, while inviting meditation on how we form communities through technologies.
The centerpiece of Niemeyer’s exhibition is an 18-foot long gravure scroll printed from 26 plates, published by Mullowney Printing with assistance from graduate printmaking students at Pacific Northwest College of the Arts. The monumentally-scaled work on paper draws inspiration from the Daoist hexagrams of the I Ching, the historical divination text that dates to China’s Western Zhou period (1000 – 750 BC). The 64 hexagrams in the I Ching are composed through sequences of straight and broken lines that form unique compositions, representing different elements that are essential to Daoist philosophy, and that find a visual parallel in Niemeyer’s rendering of the net. In identifying these symbolic constructions as an early form of code, Niemeyer and Antonsen created a graphic composition that imagines an expanded history of the Internet and its evolution through the technological advancements of the Cold War (1946 – 1991), the first dot-com wave, the rise of big data, and the influence of artificial intelligence, among other sources and events.
The scroll offers viewers a data visualization in analogue form; and through the unexpected use of the 19th century process of gravure etching, "The Network Paradox" encourages viewers to consider how, throughout time, technology continuously offers us tools for finding meaning and connection through visual storytelling. The graphic shapes and lines in Niemeyer’s and Antonsen’s composition also evoke the logograms of non-Western writing systems, such as hieroglyphics or cuneiform, that use images and symbols to convey narrative. Niemeyer writes, the scroll itself encourages interpretation and debate, noting that “the mystery of the scroll lies in the tension between a bold, iconic rendering of turning points in the history of the Internet layered with billowing clouds of network formations” that could alternatively represent “the desires which drive technological development, the drama of total quantification, or the energies of generational change.” In rendering this history of the Internet, Niemeyer and Antonsen eschew any one totalizing narrative, and instead opts for broader, more generous visual poetics, where viewers can consider “the way we form communities” that define our futures.
In Gallery II, the scroll is presented as a solo project by Niemeyer and Antonsen, printed by Paul Mullowney and his team. In Gallery I, Niemeyer and Antonsen present a contextual installation of works which led to the scroll. The installation includes preparatory studies, storyboards, generative art by Antonsen and Niemeyer, an interactive digital network drawing tool, and a sculpture representing the network. On view in the gallery’s Media Room is another interactive, immersive installation experienced through VR created by Niemeyer and Medium Labs. The VR work visualizes the network as nodes that are the scaffolding of internet connections, and their project allows the viewer to touch and operate within their 3-D representation of networks.