The first time you encounter Dina Kelberman’s project titled I’m Google, you can’t help but fall under the spell of scrolling through what seems like an endless stream of colorful, aesthetically pleasing images. Of course, that’s the point, and it performs its task to stunning effect. We invite you to explore the site here, but we warn that you might easily find yourself absorbing hundreds of images in one sitting: http://dinakelberman.tumblr.com/
While the sheer spectacle of the project if what initially drew us to it, our interest in its function goes beyond that. It is interesting to think of Kelberman’s project in these terms: a carefully curated archive of found images of things that may or may no longer exist. Given the sheer number of images available online via a simple Google search, one assumes that many of those images have existed and might still exist only in digital form, meaning that they were never developed/printed. Some, we assume, were taken using cell phones, existed for brief periods of time, were uploaded online, after which they were deleted from the device. Therefore, the digital image is all that remains as a record of that object in that exact state in a moment in time. Some of the objects, as evident in the series Kelberman has provided for the Artists page, are indeed “trash” and can be assumed to have been discarded, buried in a landfill, or otherwise destroyed beyond recognition of original function/intent. As such, the afterlife of these objects exists solely in the virtual realm, digital specters of things.
As Teju Cole writes about photography in his article for The New York Times Magazine, “Memories of Things Unseen”, “when the photograph outlives the body — when people die, scenes change, trees grow or are chopped down — it becomes a memorial. And when the thing photographed is a work of art or architecture that has been destroyed, this effect is amplified even further. A painting, sculpture or temple, as a record of both human skill and emotion, is already a site of memory; when its only remaining trace is a photograph, that photograph becomes a memorial to a memory. Such a photograph is shadowed by its vanished ancestor.” He gives examples of Van Gogh’s ‘‘The Painter on the Road to Tarascon’’ and Courbet’s ‘‘The Stone Breakers’’, both of which were destroyed during World War II and survive only in photographs.
Photography therefore can preserve and make available for future generations everything from priceless works of art, historical artifacts and monuments, or your family ancestry. Whether photographic records of boxes of packing peanuts will also be regarded with the same kind of reverence as the works above is to be disputed. But the photographs are there. And upon viewing they tell us something about themselves, and maybe about us.
Below is a brief interview conducted with Dina Kelberman.
Artist’s statement about the project: I’m Google is an ongoing tumblr blog in which batches of images and videos that I cull from the internet are compiled into a long stream-of-consciousness. The batches move seamlessly from one subject to the next based on similarities in form, composition, color, and theme. [… ] I feel that my experience wandering through Google Image Search and YouTube hunting for obscure information and encountering unexpected results is a very common one. My blog serves as a visual representation of this phenomenon. This ability to endlessly drift from one topic to the next is the inherently fascinating quality that makes the internet so amazing.
Q: I’m Google consists of curated “found” images that you come across during Google image searches. Many of us spend hours on the Internet, often quite uselessly hopping from one site to another, but in your project you seem to have taken going down the “rabbit hole” of the Internet and elevated it to the status of an art form – in other words there seems to be a logic and rationale behind it, even if it might not be readily apparent. This logic manifests itself in the curatorial aspect of the project, which takes place when you select a series of related images to form visual relationships and patterns. You write in your artist’s statement on the CUE Art Foundation’s website that, “In close examination of the simple or the seemingly insignificant the viewer may bring their own limitless associations.” To what extent are you as the artist performing this search and subsequent arrangement purposefully guiding the viewer’s perception and interpretation of the images, as far as some kind of meaning might be gleaned from their arrangement? In other words, when faced with the seemingly limitless potential of choices of found images, how do you choose what to include and what to discard? Do you consider the images’ ability to suggest a certain concept you had in mind, or form particular emotions or ideas?
Like many of my projects this started out as pure self-entertainment, I was collecting images I liked and realized I could string them together in this way and just kept doing it. So I never really thought about what it would be like for someone else to look at it much until way later when other people started looking at it. The choice process is just my personal preference, so I guess if I’m trying to get anything across it’s just my own aesthetic. I do like that about this project, like someone else could do the exact same simple thing and it would look entirely different, that’s nice.
Q: On a related note to the above, the project’s associative properties at times give it a story-like quality. Much in the way an essay or even a short story might work and be propelled forward by “turns” in the narrative (even imaginative leaps), I’m Google similarly contains “shifts” (at seemingly regular intervals) from one set of closely related images to another. And it is within that shift that one sense most palpably the artist’s hand in the curatorial process, in the indication of a “turn” of the eye and the mind. How do you decide when a certain set of images has played its role and you need to move on to other objects to feature?
Oh I just get as many as I can possibly find and then weed them down to the ones I think are most undeniably beautiful. Sometimes there’ll be one that I love but it just clearly doesn’t fit the mix and has to go, stuff like that. But some sections end up longer than others, it’s not a specific amount I’m going for intentionally. I have folders of stuff I keep ready for if I can get to a place to put it in, so sometimes when I know where I’m going transitions or middle-ground clumps can end up faster than the times when I have no clue how I’m going to get to a next thing.
Q: One of the goals of The Afterlife of Discarded Objects is to function as an archive for individual stories and works of art that in some way serve as a testament to our consumerist culture and our complex relationship to “things”. In one sense, Google itself is the ultimate archive of all things relevant or irrelevant, but our project and yours seek a kind of organizing principle to the vast amount of “stuff” out there. Yet, we can’t overlook the fact that what we are organizing the things themselves but representations, mere digital traces. How do you explain and reconcile with this drive to curate and organize things that are in essence “not things”?
I have never thought about that at all. I definitely would and have been a hoarder if I had the space. It’s way easier to hoard jpegs and youtube clips!
Q: Whenever I type I'm Google into a search box I find that I can’t help but mouth it in silence in my own head – the “I” becomes me, “I” become the term itself – essentially inhabiting the phrase. And, in a way, I realize that maybe we’re all “a bit Google”. Was that part of your intent? To what extent do you believe that we have we become our digital selves? Are we indeed “Google”, or is the separation still possible?
Hahaha oh god I don’t know. I just thought it was a funny title because it seemed like an arrogant way to describe creating my own image archive and it also didn’t quite make sense.
Q: Partially related to the question above, you make note in your artist’s statement that you gravitate toward simple, concrete, everyday objects in your work, and that can be said for much of I’m Google. Why do you think that is? For someone who admits to spending quite a bit of time in front of her computer, why the interest in the mundane, familiar materials? Is there some relationship between the Dina whose work very much exists in a digital form and the Dina who values seemingly insignificant material objects?
Oh yes the relationship is that we’re the very same person haha. It relates to the hoarding thing above I guess, I would totally collect a huge junkyard of objects and bulldozers if I could. Definitely my main obsession in life is colors, and there’s something particularly nice and innocent about the use of bright colors in stuff that’s designed more for function than form. Like how every object in the uline catalog is exquisitely beautiful. Also I just really like in art when I can understand all the parts, like I’m more interested in a sculpture made of things I can identify than special materials I’ve never touched before. I like being able to imagine how the objects came together, what it was like to make it, I want other people to be able to imagine that with my work I guess. There’s an art 21 episode about one of my favorite artists, Jessica Stockholder, where she’s talking about her materials and she’s basically like “look at this plastic bucket, it’s just so beautiful look at it!” and that is also how I feel.
Q: German artist Joachim Schmid is known for his series of books of other people’s photographs. Dubbed as a “professional looker”, he’s been at it since the 1980s, presumably having looking at hundreds of thousands if not millions of images since. On Lensculture.com, Jim Casper writes about Schmid: “Using other people’s (often mundane) photographs, he crates artwork that is alluring, intriguing, and captivating. He revels in photographs that other people throw away in public, especially if they seem to have been discarded with some animosity or intense feeling. He is very much a modern day anthropologist who tries to understand contemporary cultures by studying its visual garbage.”
That description seems in part to resonate with some of the underlying impulse behind I’m Google, Your own project began in 2011 and is ongoing, ostensibly geared around “found” images. While the impulse to look and to collect what others discard (even digitally speaking) can be attributed part to curiosity and voyeuristic tendencies (the Internet as a place to see and to be seen), how do you personally explain this fascination with “other people’s things” or “other people’s stuff”?
Because there’s a story to other people’s things and the farther away you get from knowing the actual story the more interesting it is because you can just spin out imagining what the story could possibly be and you probably won’t have the disappointment of ever finding out if you’re wrong! It’s also what makes weirdo people so interesting, that even if they explain to you like why they made a drawing the way they did or something if can be so far from how your mind works that trying to imagine how they made certain connections is just endlessly fascinating. Right now as I write this I’m staring at a baffling drawing my good friend made that fits into this category perfectly and I think I will be able to stare at forever.
Caught up in this constant cycle of improvement and increasing speed (which undeniably has its benefits) there does not seem to be much room for nostalgia or regret over that first PC you owned that took several minutes to boot up and connect you to the World Wide Web via dial-up connection; and one would also assume that you’d be hard-pressed to find many people waxing nostalgic over the original iPhone, however revolutionary it was in its time. But there are certain pieces of technology that still have the ability to suggest and trigger memories of “the good ol’ days”. An old black and white television set, the kind with a dial and rabbit ears that had to be positioned just so might remind us of times when the entire family used to sit around the set to watch live programming (replaced among other things by brilliant flat screens, TiVo, Hulu, and Roku).
And, as Max from New York City recalls, so do video game consoles. Max writes: “I got a GameBoy Advance when I was 6, a SP, DS, DS slim, GameCube, Playstation 2, Playstation 3, and PSP throughout my life.” What Max remembers most, however, are the consoles and the game cartridges themselves, the solid objects that made the gaming possible. What he wanted most as he grew older and moved out was for his mother to save those items. But, over time, and due to his parents’ divorce, many of these items disappeared, “probably gone, lost in a nook, cranny, or fallen through a grate in the sidewalk.” Or, chances are, simply thrown out with the trash.
In an era when gaming is increasingly moving online and serious gamers connecting virtually across the world in real time via their computers and consoles, what seems to be disappearing is the kind of connection that Max had forged with his games. Early game systems such as Atari, Nintendo, and Genesis, just to name a few, required a certain bond between player and game, one of ten mediated through the consoles and the game cartridges themselves. Any child (or adult) can attest without fail to the various creative techniques employed to make a faulty Nintendo cartridge work inside the console. This includes blowing directly into cartridge, and if you couldn’t do it the cartridge went around the room until everyone took their best shot, using different angles, force, speed, etc. Robert Fee at the website Mandatory.com enumerates 12 steps to the process, each one more absurd and hard to fathom (by visiting the link to the complete story you can also get Fee’s more detailed and humorous explanations for each):
What Fee outlines above is part of what made playing those games both frustrating and enjoyable. The consoles and the cartridges mediated the degree of fun to be extracted from the game; they required active engagement, and sometimes a communal effort. Touching a certain game, pushing it into the right slot, and slamming the flimsy door shut activated an entire network of sensations, and by extent they became etched into memory. Those kinds of games are soon to be a thing of the past, much like record players and cassette tapes (more on those in another post). What will replace them are ever more ingenious and elaborate bits of software we could access via dedicated websites, and ever faster processors hidden inside ever more efficient laptops. While it might sound a bit sentimental to pine for the video game culture of the 1980s, one can’t help but feel that something is lost when you don’t have to blow sideways into a Super Mario Bros cartridge or jiggle it just right for those pixelated plumbers to appear on your TV screen. What that loss is might differ for everyone, and if it’s not a video game cartridge as it was for Max, then maybe it’s something else, another object that time has made obsolete but which we’re not yet willing to forget.
Here we highlight featured stories from the archive, contributions by fellow writers and artists, as well as reflections and comments on the value and impact of discarded objects in our world.