Opening Friday, June 8th, from 6PM - 8PM
On view through Saturday, August 18th
Thomas Robertello Gallery is pleased to present The Proto-History of the Internet, an exhibition of new drawings by Washington, DC-based artist Molly Springfield. This is the gallery’s third solo exhibition with the artist.
In 2010, Springfield wrote an article for the online magazine Triple Canopy about the life and work of Paul Otlet (1868-1944)—the first person to imagine all the world’s knowledge as one vast “web,” connected by “links” and accessed remotely through desktop screens.
The article begins:
On the night of June 1, 1934, a Belgian information scientist named Paul Otlet sat in silent, peaceful protest outside the locked doors of a government building in Brussels from which he had just been evicted. Inside was his life’s work: a vast archive of more than twelve million bibliographic three-by-five-inch index cards, which attempted to catalog and cross-reference the relationships among all the world’s published information. For Otlet, the archive was at the center of a plan to universalize human knowledge. He called it the Mundaneum, and he believed it would usher in a new era of peace and progress.
Taking Otlet’s failed utopian vision—which far outpaced the available technology of his time—as her source material, Springfield seeks to reverse engineer the Internet through a suite of seven modest, enigmatic graphite drawings. Springfield’s drawings appropriate from, alter, and supplement Otlet’s own efforts, which sought to imagine a classification system for knowledge that would travel across the globe through “electric telescopes.”
All of the source material for the exhibition entered Springfield’s studio through the Internet and emerges in the form of drawing. In the gallery’s front room, serving as a kind of wall text, is a drawing of a page from one of Springfield’s drafts of her Triple Canopy article, complete with the edits inserted by the magazine’s New York editors via Microsoft Word’s track changes tool and emailed to her studio in Washington. As in previous exhibitions, Springfield conflates the acts of writing and drawing and confuses the boundary between reading and seeing, digital and analog.
The rest of the drawings in the exhibition include content appropriated from Otlet’s Traité de Documentation, the first modern treatise on information science, illustrated with idiosyncratic charts and other imagery, which Springfield downloaded from the Internet. Four drawings appropriate and combine those illustrations with text from the index of W. Boyd Rayward’s The Universe of Information, a biography of Paul Otlet originally published in 1975. The resulting Constructivist-inspired drawings are a formal departure for Springfield that build on her interest in visualizing how technology fundmentally affects the way we experience and organize our accumulated information about the world.
Springfield received her MFA from Berkeley in 2004 and attended Skowhegan in 2006. Last year, an excerpt of Springfield’s Translation project was included in It Is Almost That: A Collection of Image + Text Work by Women Artists, which includes work by Eleanor Antin, Fiona Banner, Adrian Piper, and Ann Hamilton. The project—a translation of Proust in the form of drawings—was previously exhibited at Thomas Robertello Gallery in 2009. Later this year, Translation will be exhibited as part of Graphite, a major exhibition organized by the Indianapolis Museum of Art.