Before virtual reality was anywhere on the foreseeable horizon, Korean-American artist Nam June Paik anticipated how far-reaching the digital age would be. He may have been referring more to broadcast media than the latest immersive technology when he coined the term "electronic superhighway" in 1974 (the same year he created his work "TV Garden," an installation of plants growing amid TV screens), but its relevance to the way the internet age has transformed global communication and human experience has led many art historians to the conclusion that Paik predicted the internet (and garnered him the title of the father of video art).
In a new exhibition at Whitechapel Gallery in London, the results of Paik's prediction come together in a reverse chronological display of art influenced by the technological world. Using Paik's famous term as its namesake, Electronic Superhighway exhibits works dating from the present back to the 1960s and includes Amalia Ulman's "Excellences & Perfections" (2014–15), an Instagram selfie project that examines views of the female body; Olia Lialina's "My Boyfriend Came Back From the War" (1996), one of the first major pieces of net art that engages the viewer in a narrative through an interactive screen; and artifacts from Experiments in Art and Technology, a series of performances from 1966 that were a collaboration between Bell Laboratories and artists including Robert Rauschenberg, John Cage, and Yvonne Rainer.
Electronic Superhighway celebrates technology's contribution to our interconnected world, while unpacking the narrative of how artists have tried to permeate digital consciousness, and the internet's influence on reality. Sounds complicated, looks incredible.
Electronic Superhighway (2016–1966) opens today and is on view through May 15. For more information, visit whitechapelgallery.org.