Chillin In Cyberspace: Q&A With Parker Ito

<p>The &#8220;professional web surfer&#8221; orates on his relationship with the internet and how an online art curatorial space came to notoriety.</p>

Kathleen Flood

Image courtesy of the artist. 

L.A.-based artist and internet wunderkind Parker Ito isn’t defined by the confinements of geography, as his stomping grounds can be accessed virtually from any computer. Over the past year and a half, along with friend and co-curator Caitlin Denny, the duo ran an online exhibition entitled Serial Chillers in Paradise, allowing roughly 35 artists to essentially take over their website JstChillin.org, each for a two-week period. The show was brought to a close in real-world exhibition READ/WRITE at 319 Scholes in Brooklyn, New York, featuring the same group of artists (including unauthorized hacker MathRath), who translated their online work into physical objects.

At the opening earlier this month, we witnessed works that emitted sounds that can’t be heard by the elderly (Ryan Barone’s “A Moment of Silence (For Those Of A Certain Age)”, a white canvas prominently featuring a Facebook status (Tolga Taluy’s “Polaris”), and a projection of a mind-blowing maze of clouds (Anne de Vries’sFORECAST”), along with other revolutionary—albeit hard to decipher at first glance—videos, installations, clothing, and paintings. We ironically sat down in person with the smartly dressed and smartphone-less Ito to see what lies beyond the screen.

The Creators Project: So what were you doing before this whole JstChillin phenomenon?
Parker Ito:
Phenomenon, I like that. Well I’ve been really into the internet since 2006. I was into it before, but I would mainly use it for online shopping and then I became what I would call a “professional web surfer”.

What does that even mean?
Spend every waking moment on the internet. Being a professional web surfer is really all about putting the hours in. I live by the motto “Grip it and rip it.” I shred the internet [real] hard, I understand its beauty, potential, and limitations. I didn’t really get into making art on the internet until 2008.

Was that for school?
I think it had to do with school, but it wasn’t for school. At the time I was taking this class “Banal Strangeness” from a French artist who also does a lot of websites. Her name’s Katya Bonnenfant. She did this really famous website for Sketch London… do you know that restaurant? She was really into Flash and she actually showed me how to make a website. It seems weird now [to think about] not having a website, but there was a time and point where I didn’t have one. It gives me a little bit of anxiety thinking about that.

Why is that?
People complain about Facebook ruining our privacy and shit, but THE INTERNET IS FOR ACCESS TO INFORMATION, plain and simple. Not having a lil’ claim of my own in the vast terrain of the internet means I can’t mine for gold. My websites do a lot of work for me, and this gives me more time to ponder large existential questions like: “Why are cats and the internet such a perfect fit?”

A look at Eilis McDonald’s Untitled robotic cat, exhibited at READ/WRITE

How do you think net art came to be a medium?
I actually don’t believe in the term ‘net art’, but that’s sort of a disputed term in our community. I do believe in the term, but I don’t believe it applies to what these artists are doing. For me, net art is something that happened before Web 2.0. I just think of it as art. The internet is sort of everywhere right now, we’re all on our iPhones… I don’t think the art world has really picked up on that, but these artists are more ready and open to distributing their work online at a more rapid, accelerated pace.

Do you think people will start to stream art at home, rather than go to museums, with more mainstream nudges like the emergence of Google Art Project?
I think it’s two different experiences. They both offer something unique. JPEGs look great, you can Photoshop them and make the work look really good. Maybe you can’t sell work [as well] online, but maybe that will change in the future. You also can look at more [stuff] online, faster.

It’s older people who still think the internet is novel… not just the now thing that’s just sort of around. I meet these older curators all the time and they’re like: ‘How do I find you?’ and I’m just like: ‘Google me!’ Before people even meet me they have the potential to know everything about my work. It’s very easy to find out a lot of information about an artist if you know how to look.

How did the transition from online to physical manifestation in a gallery go?
While [their previous show] Avatar 4D was all about computers, we wanted to do a show that was all about objects. The show is only running for two weeks, which is the exact amount of time artists were allowed to present a project online.

The internet-based art community is very interested in different aspects of technology. There are GIF people who are championing the retro aesthetic, and then you have people who are making objects—they don’t actually use the materials of the web. They’re not utilizing HTML in a new way, but they’re distributing their work online. Then you have people who are into the sexy, 3D aesthetic, and you have people who are making paintings. READ/WRITE was just trying to be an overall collection of how people are using the internet. There’s different conceptual modes of thinking. Some of this work is really deeply conceptual, and some of it is extremely superficial. Some people are super interested in participating in a historical dialogue, and some people do not give a shit at all. I hope that that was all in this show.

What were your favorite projects exhibited online?
Eugene Kotlyarenko’s Skydiver was definitely one of my favorites. Eugene is a filmmaker living in L.A. whose last name is really hard for me to pronounce correctly. He had seen Zach Shipko’s film Why Are You Weird (another project on the site) and was really inspired to make something for JstChillin. Skydiver takes the form of 11 short films that were released incrementally. The whole movie is shot through a webcam and features mostly Eugene’s good looking friends—I have a one second cameo in it. Parts of the movie are obviously staged, but because of the webcam element, there seems to be a lot of genuine relationships that are re-performed for the sake of the movie. Meaning, I have difficulty figuring out what’s real, what’s performed, what’s doubly performed, or when Eugene’s just doing some cathartic shit.

Part 1 of Skydiver by Eugene Kotlyarenko exhibited on JstChillin.org

Ben Vickers did a really great project that was a chat room filled with bots, (nobody knew they were bots though) and 3D sculptures. The conversation that took place in the chat rooms each day were the basis for the form the sculptures took, so about 10 sculptures were made in total. I like this idea because it feeds into this “hanging out online as work” idea that had kinda been my thing for the last two years and the resulting forms became a documentation of something performed online. These are all important ideas I see in the new and exciting art on the internet. Shout out to all the children of the internets!

Is the internet-based art community hard to break into?
I don’t know, I mean, I would say yes and no. There are people who are very open, and I hope that JstChillin doesn’t come off as an elitist project, but there are also people who don’t want anything to do with the community. Everyone is so visible online and everyone is friends, essentially, and it’s really easy to be aware of that.

What are you up to next?
I think we’re done, I think this is the last hurrah. I think it’s a good point, a high note to end on. I think we did what we wanted to do. We’re still in demand, and everyone still wants to do something, so it seems appropriate to go out while we’re still hot instead of when we lose our edge. It’s a lot of work, you know, and there’s this whole element of feeling responsible for people. I don’t know how I feel about that anymore.

Are you going to be working more on your personal projects?
I’ve got my hands in a bunch of stuff. I’m in Paint FX, which is a painters collective and I’d like to start a gallery. I think Caitlin wants to focus more on curatorial stuff. I never thought of [JstChillin] as a curatorial project, but more as a performance of curating where the art is always first.

Do you think the internet is ever limiting?
I think it’s changed a lot about how I interact with people. Maybe that’s a problem, or maybe that’s a good thing because everyone’s on the internet now. I feel like it’s limiting when I’m having a conversation with people who are not informed about the internet.

Finally, where do you see the future of the internet heading… if 2012 doesn’t wipe us out?
More cat videos, more customization, better internet shopping, something involving smells, and humans becoming computers.

Parker would like to thank: Caitlin Denny for organization and emotional support; Mitch Trale and Cody Blanchard for technical support; all of the artists involved with JstChillin who continually impressed me; Ceci Moss, Brian Droitcour, and everyone at Rhizome.org; Karen Archey, Gene McHugh, Antoine Moody, all of my Facebook friends, and anyone whoever visited the site.