Exhibition // Glitches in the Web Cam: Petra Cortright at Société Berlin

Article by Alena Sokhan in Berlin; Thursday, Nov. 13, 2014

Petra Cortright, Petwelt installation view at Societe Berlin 2014Petra Cortright, “Petwelt” (2014), installation view, photo courtesy of Société Berlin and the artist

Unexpectedly projected onto the white walls of Société Berlin is a scene familiar to most of us: the charismatic washed out tone and upward angle of a webcam recording, a private house with a pretty girl in the frame, walking, prancing and making different expressions in a calculated way towards the camera. Petra Cortright is the artist that created the video works being shown in Petwelt. Cortright works with a carefully constructed new media performance: it appears that she is posing as much for art world as for the laptop. Her works are clever appropriations of popular web graphics and other online kitsch, everything from excessive amounts of sparkling glitter, to a amateur porn aesthetic, to the distinct internet shorthand that she writes in.

Petra Cortright, Dot Warp with door at Societe Berlin 2014Petra Cortright “Dot Warp with Door” (2014), webcam video, 54 sec. installation view, photo courtesy of Société Berlin and the artist

Petwelt is a series of films that are a poignant and strange montage of things very particular of the digital age and all so familiar: something like watching cat videos with the unicorn obsession of the internet age fetishized through a cam-girl voyeurism. These films are more than simply surrealist appropriations of found themes, as they make evident very real cultural shifts.

‘Bridal Shower’ is a glowing video of Cortright posing deliberately for the webcam, dressed in white and fixing a white shawl over her hair with dramatic pauses, as digital rose petals cascade down the screen. This film shows not a transgressive fantasy of the seductive virginal bride, but personifies a taboo which has become a standard figure easily recognizable in popular culture.

Petra Cortright, Petwelt, at Societe Berlin 2014Petra Cortright, “Petwelt” (2014), installation view, photo courtesy of Société Berlin and the artist

A much earlier video titled ‘when you walk through the storm’ includes a simple setup of just Cortright’s face and upper torso in the shot. With a calmly provocative gaze towards the screen, she slowly waves her hand across her face, dissolving the image in a puddle of raindrops. The graphics and setup are silly in a homemade way, but have a distinct aesthetic to them of art that undeniably belongs to this generation.

Bewitchingly tacky, ‘Sparkling 1’ is a video of Cortright strolling through a cloud of pink digital glitter in what appears to be her backyard. The video starts and ends with her putting on and taking off her sunglasses, her face warped slightly from being so close to the camera. These multiple screens and lenses – the camera and the glasses, one a fashion accessory, the other a medium of communication – are all transparent but nevertheless have the effect of distorting the image. It is hard to tell to what extent Cortright performs contemporary culture and to what extent she has internalized and is a participant in that world. The press release for the exhibition is an assemblage of sentences from previous statements and interviews by Cortright, where she explains herself through a rearrangement of her previous work.

Petra Cortright, Sparkling 1, at Petwelt, Societe Berlin 2014Petra Cortright “Sparkling 1” (2010), webcam video, 1 min, 54 sec. installation view, photo courtesy of Société Berlin and the artist

Société is a gallery that is highly supportive of creative digital and new media work, representing artists like Bunny Rogers, or Timur Si-Qin, or Trisha Baga, which speaks to the growing importance and relevance of art that reflects on our means of expressing ourselves to others through digital platforms. Instead of rejecting these media as too ‘base’ or simply kitsch, we have to explore the potential and the problems of the web experience today as a reality that we maneuver.

Additional Information

Exhibition: Oct. 09 – Nov. 22, 2014
Genthiner Straße 36 (click here for map)

Alena Sokhan is working on her Masters in Media and Communications at the European Graduate School. Her research interests lie in the topics of Queer Theory, Critical Theory, Film and New Media Art, and Economics.

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