Away From Keyboard: Parker Ito

Parker Ito discusses AFK, IRL, and post-Web 2.0 arenas.

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Although his new paintings attempt to create an artwork that cannot be documented, it was documentation itself that was the aim of one emerging YIBA (Young Internet-based Artist). Parker Ito’s most well-known exhibition project, New Jpegs, took place at Johan Berggren Gallery in Malmo, Sweden in 2011; the artist generated content in the form of installation shots that were then manipulated through digital imaging software to create an entirely new body of work. This conversation between Ito’s practice in the digital realm and three-dimensional artworks that have the capacity to exist within physical space weaves throughout Ito’s work. JstChillin, an online curatorial project that lasted eighteen months, in its retrospective, stepped away from the screen and manifested itself in real space, while his project The Most Infamous Girl in the History of the Internet exists simultaneously as a series of paintings and a continuously re-blogged Internet meme.

With much of his earlier work available online via the artist’s website, and with three exhibitions this summer in New York, Chicago, and Toronto, the perceived notion that a digital environment exists separately from its physical counterpart is limiting. Musing over the oppositions of physicality and virtuality both in space and objects, Ito and I conclude that an artwork—and, by implication, an exhibition—cannot exist solely in real space, but must include an online presence in order to fully exist.

Antonia Marsh While some of your earlier projects such as and PaintFX were web-based to begin with, they have also included live, real-time aspects. How do you understand this transition from an online environment to an IRL [“In Real Life”] environment?

Parker Ito Well, to begin with, I no longer believe in the relevance of the term “IRL.” Although perhaps somewhat dogmatic, I find its usage antithetical to my entire practice. For me the term “IRL” constitutes a relic of Web 1.0 net anxiety/novelty. “IRL” infers a division between a presumed “real world” and what happens online that I don’t think exists anymore. We live in a technologically hybrid reality where the space between the physical and the virtual is fluid.

AM Ok, so if we are to avoid the term “IRL,” what can it be substituted with? Does another term communicate better the position such projects exist in when taken offline?

PI Currently, we exist in a post-Web 2.0 arena, floating slightly before or in the midst of what I believe will be Web 3.0. A more custom, personal web, whose language will remain consistently abbreviated due to the ubiquity of smart phones and other mobile devices, defines Web 3.0. “AFK” or “Away From Keyboard” is the term I use the most often, but even the meaning of this term is shifting. In being constantly connected, “Log Off” is increasingly becoming a redundant action for users, so in fact we are very rarely “AFK.” However, overall I still see this as a more appropriate term, because fundamentally it acknowledges that the Internet is very real, realer than it’s ever been, which the term “IRL” seems to inherently reject.

AM Now that we are armed with the appropriate terminology, let’s return to art practice: for you, how is the authenticity of a web-based artwork or exhibition affected when it is taken offline?

PI In my opinion, through its constant documentation, an art object now exists as much online as it does offline. Whether professional or amateur, the capacity for posts on Facebook or links on Twitter to share artworks with a global audience has transformed contemporary art into a cyclical network of documentation. Art since the Internet has become continuously documented, shared and exchanged, which I now visualize as a kind of loop with no ending point or final resting place. All information flows in more than one direction. A lot of times the initiators of these loops are objects, or exhibitions that take place AFK, but this isn’t always true. A website, jpeg, etc. can be the starting point too. I think of the production of an artwork intended for physical exhibition or web-based exhibition simultaneously. I never produce a work that won’t be online. So whether or not it is intended for physical exhibition, its relation to operating in this media distribution loop is embedded in my artistic practice.

AM So would you be inclined to argue that the online presence of an art object in fact legitimates its existence more so than its actual physical presence?

PI I would actually say that in the artist community that I’m most directly involved with, sometimes referred to as #YIBA (young, Internet-based artists), an artwork is most directly initiated into existence through its documentation as a non-object. For me, this initiation via non-objects equally exists in the realm of exhibition-making. What I mean by this is that until you post your show as an event on Facebook and begin actively generating responsive activity, such as “Likes,” it doesn’t really exist.

AM Are you therefore suggesting that the status of the art object has shifted so as to always maintain some sort of inherent online presence? In order to exist offline as a physical object, does an artwork have to exist virtually online at the same time?

PI There is a saying, “If it isn’t online, it doesn’t exist.” This is true now more than ever.

AM One of your most recent projects, an exhibition in Zurich, Switzerland entitled Anime Bettie Page Fucked by Steampunk Horse Warrior, had a considerable Internet presence. Was this a deliberate choice, perhaps an attempt to embody what we have been discussing about the necessity for an online presence in order for an exhibition to fully exist?

PI I initiated Anime Bettie Page Fucked by Steampunk Horse Warrior as part of Aventa Garden, a collaboration between Body By Body (Cameron Soren and Melissa Sachs) and myself as Deke 2. The exhibition spawned out of observations surrounding the way counter-cultures and sub-cultures have become increasingly popularized through their hybridization and increased prominence via the Internet. Contemporary popular culture is reliant on the Internet for its visibility; however, similarly, everything that is taken online has the potential to become “pop” almost immediately, including what might otherwise be considered counter-cultural.

In terms of using Web space to present exhibitions that occur offline, Anime Bettie Page Fucked by Steampunk Horse Warrior reflects what I’m most interested in at the moment. For the show, Aventa Garden (which describes itself as the leading American-Anime Deviant Art Studio Concept-Powerhouse) generated a lot of content, even though the actual exhibition only consisted of one projection, one painting, and some Mountain Dew cans stacked around a door. The gallery exhibition was just a tiny aspect of the show and in some sense is overshadowed by the extensive collating and archiving of documentation of the project’s process and supporting materials.

Thinking about this particular project enables a visualization of what we just discussed—this idea that art exists within a network. If a viewer were only to see the gallery component of this exhibition, they’d be missing out on a lot. On the website, email correspondence between the curators and the artists and craftsmen who helped us realize the exhibition are made available; as well as Google Chat conversations between Melissa, Cameron, and myself discussing the concept of the exhibition. We even documented our attempts to contact an ice block store to see if they could freeze a saxophone for us. As a result of this continuous amalgamation of information, the project feels somewhat never-ending, and we seem to be constantly updating the site with new tidbits.

AM In relation to what we have been discussing, it might also be beneficial to talk about some of your earlier projects, like and Paint FX …

PI It’s interesting that you bring up JstChillin and Paint FX, both highly collaborative projects that, while I initiated and remain associated with, equally exist as authorless projects, or belong to a collective rather than individual voice. Paint FX (Jon Rafman, John Transue, Tabor Robak, Micah Schippa, and myself) began in response to a returning interest in formalism and a general fetishism for glossy software. Paint FX had several offline shows where we printed jpegs from the site on paper and displayed them in a casual salon-hang. Over 700 images exist on, and I found selecting ten works for exhibition in a gallery space challenging, because it instigated a conversation about quality that I felt uncomfortable with. The element of constant, unhierarchical output was something that had always appealed to me about the project.

AM I agree, the Internet as an unhierarchical network offers the works on Paint FX a kind of utopian horizontality, however as soon as some kind of curatorial selection is implemented in order to choose which works might be taken offline, this horizontal organization is lost. In addition, in terms of curatorial modes of display, the salon-hang is historically associated with artistic hierarchies between genres of painting.

PI When the project was placed into a gallery space, it suddenly felt contrived and static. I do believe there was potential for the project to work as an exhibition, although more attention to display was needed. Unfortunately Paint FX ended at the peak of its popularity, so for me the project still feels unresolved, and in some ways this lack of conclusion feels like failure. Although my role was less in production of work for the site and I functioned more as a facilitator for the project, in the end we were successful in branding a new aesthetic of shimmering software, which I am happy with.

JstChillin was a long-term project I started in collaboration with Caitlin Denny, an artist I studied with in California. In total JstChillin lasted two years, from Spring 2009 until Spring 2011, which is an unusually long time when considering the speed normally associated with the Web. This unconstrained timing allowed us to develop our own unique voice. For me, what was most successful about the project was our transformation of the online platform model into a constantly morphing project that constituted part social experiment, part networked performance and part gallery. Every two weeks we invited an artist to launch an exclusively commissioned project that was featured on the homepage. We intended to rebel against the online gallery “reblog” model that seemed to be dominating web-based exhibition spaces at the time.

AM What offline endeavors were programmed and how did these affect the rhythm and identity of JstChillin?

PI “Avatar 4D,” a one night performance event we curated in San Francisco in 2010 was the first AFK event we hosted and in a lot of ways was a major turning point for the project as well as for my own work. This was the first time I met a lot of the artists we had been working with in person, including Artie Vierkant, Chris Coy, and Jon Rafman. All three of these artists were included in New Jpegs, an exhibition I curated in Malmö, Sweden last year and then Jon and I started Paint FX together. JstChillin culminated with a retrospective over the last two years at 319 Scholes Gallery in New York, entitled READ/WRITE. The title of the exhibition is derived from a term coined by Lawrence Lessig, developed in order to describe the difference between Web 1.0, a read-only web, and Web 2.0, a read/write web.

Our approach to the show was loose in some ways, but was mostly focused on objects, and more than anything was really about the social component of a group of artists whose practices are defined by a high online presence.

But in short I view offline and online exhibiting as two unique experiences, and two unique perspectives, one is not more important than the other. They are both essential for contemporary art in the midst of smart phones, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, [and beyond].

For more information about the work of Parker Ito, visit his website here.

Antonia Marsh is an art writer and curator from London.