Zach Whitworth is an artist based in Portland, OR who is currently a BFA candidate at Portland State University. In 2018, Whitworth received the Arlene Schnitzer Visual Arts Prize and had his work featured in The Wrong New Digital Art Biennale.
With a local art exhibition, the artists can potentially meet and greet every single person that happens to come view the work on display. How does that exchange operate in the era of Net Art? How do you know your audience when they are anonymous? Any human with WiFi or an Ethernet cable can digitally enter your display of artwork. This is where Whitworth is pushing Net Art. He has used digital exhibitions/spaces to see exactly how malleable the internet is and how you can both broaden and specify your audience via the web.
For instance, Whitworth’s Instagram page @roseburg.oregon is both a love letter and critique of his hometown. Each post on the page features a photo from the town as well as a poetic caption. Given that the page was dedicated to a city, some began to believe it was the city’s official Instagram account and even began using it to tag their own photos. Therefore, Whitworth was writing on the wall of the internet for all to see, only those from Roseburg could truly understand the small moments captured in the images or the cryptic captions which voiced Whitworth’s criticisms of local politics.
Being a child of the 90s, Whitworth witnessed the hyper speed at which the internet took on during the period as it transitioned from luxury item to an expected fabric of every home. Growing up in rural Oregon, Whitworth also noticed a “fear towards the internet (because) it looked so urban – because of its sleekness, it’s flashy colors.” Whitworth identifies this sleekness seen on most web pages as far removed from the look of real life. Identifying this issue, he tends to keep his work less polished in an effort to avoid alienating and shutting out much of his audience.
“I read a lot. I write down thoughts and ideas in a jumbled mess on paper that I keep tucked under my laptop on my desk. I’ll bracket those thoughts together into more cohesive lists, and that becomes my rough outline for a project. Rather than create a list of materials, I write a string of actions I want to take within a project, how I want the project to operate, and what its purpose is. Most of these projects are on or related to the Internet in some way, so I’ll build a platform on the web for each to live, and any visual elements will be designed in Adobe Illustrator and InDesign. My general strategies are rooted in social practice, meaning I lean more toward collaboration and participation. Rather than fabricating objects, I’ll usually build structures in which relationships and dialogue can be generated or collected.”
Another digital gallery for Whitworth can be located at the Museum of Digital Endearment (MoDE), a Tumblr blog he crafted with Sarah Grace Faulk. While @roseburg.oregon speaks directly to the town of Roseburg, MoDE aims to be “an archive of love in the Internet Age” that speaks predominantly to those who know about online love or relationships.
MoDE compiles content from across the internet, ranging from videos such as “How to Have Great Phone Sex” to articles such as “I'm Sorry Messages for Him and Her: 40 Ways to Apologize” and “First Comes Skype, Then Comes Marriage.” Similar to @roseburg.oregon, anyone could wander onto the MoDE webpage and find either a niche that speaks directly to them or be completely lost in the wall of text, videos, and imagery. Between both @roseburg.oregon and MoDe there exist a spectrum of the micro and the macro in terms of audience, one proJect being documentation of a rural city and the other tapping into the zeitgeist of modern love in the digital age.
When he can specify a target audience, Whitworth looks to provide a sense of hope to younger generations. He believes younger people need the “hope for a sincere and real future” despite general cynicism in the culture - especially that associated with the digital world. Whitworth understands some digital criticism is derived from privacy concerns, yet he sees a significant benefit in allowing people to easily communicate with one another no matter the geographical or cultural boundaries.
“I had a lot of creative energy in my family, and I picked it up pretty quickly. My dad is an environmental designer, and my mum is a dancer, so I grew up around both computers and performers. My grandfather also used to make home movies, which is how I wound up with my first video camera when I was maybe 4 or 5 years old. My dad and grandfather showed me by example, and I made few short films with my action figures and Beanie Babies.
My dad was friends with a couple local artists who did biomedical illustrations, and when they upgraded to a new computer, they gave me their old Macintosh Performa 5200. I had that old thing in my bedroom for years, and it came with an early version of Adobe Photoshop, which in retrospect was probably the gateway to my later focuses in media art and design.”
what is next
“I’m cataloguing my personal PDF collection as a first step toward building a conceptual art research library, and I’m in the planning stages of developing a crazy institutional critique project for my graduating exhibition in June. I suppose it’s more of a scheme than a project––I’m figuring out a way to place some physical objects in a gallery without having to sign any contracts or spend any money, and I’m hoping to organize some sort of social happening or event around them.”
To view more of Zach’s work please visit his website.