Screen Time: Photography and Video Art in the Internet Age

Anna DeNelsky, Contributing Writer 

The Samek Art Museum provides University students and their surrounding communities with opportunities to engage with art in meaningful ways. Exhibitions and other installations from the Samek can be viewed in the Campus Gallery, the Downtown Gallery, the Collection Study Room and in various locations across campus in pop-up pieces or permanent displays. 

The current exhibit – “Screen Time: Photography and Video Art in the Internet Age” – opened Jan. 18 at the Samek Campus Gallery in the ELC, and primarily investigates the role of viewing art and media in the context of contemporary culture. A journey through this exhibit proves captivating and thought-provoking, bringing the viewer through an exploration of the modern age documented by technology and new forms of media. The artwork features a variety of mediums, each harnessed to comment on themes including environmental collapse, social injustices, illusion and the progression of technology. These mediums include photography, sculpture, digital prints, clay animation and single-channel videos.

Richard Rinehart, Director of the Samek Art Museum, curates and selects the various exhibitions brought to the University’s campus. Rinehart explained that, of the criteria used for selecting exhibitions at the Samek, “primary among them [is] whether the art being presented will be intellectually rigorous and serve as an extension of the education offered to students by Bucknell.”

“Another criteria is how ripe an exhibition is for cross-campus and interdisciplinary connections,” he further explained. “This current exhibition, Screen Time, was curated by the director and comprised of artworks owned and loaned by a Bucknell Alum.” 

Personally, one of the author’s favorite pieces from the current exhibit was Nathalie Djurberg’s Deceiving Looks. Completed in 2011, the animation utilizes clay figures to add a sense of playfulness to a deeply violent and disturbing narrative. As elaborrated in the work’s description, “[it] contrasts visual playfulness with ethical subtexts. The surreal violence here seems an absurd but apt reflection of an era characterized by real social unrest contrasted with memes and deepfake videos.” Looks incorporates vivid colors and animated faces which starkly contrast with these darker, more poignant moments of the film – such as when mutilated snakes deceive and taunt a frightened claymation figure.

“Untitled”, 2012 by N. Dash emphasizes the lack of ‘tactility’ and physical contact in a society consumed by touchless media. The photograph depicts an assemblage of elements such as mud, raw pigment and cotton – perhaps referring back to a time when touch was a critical aspect of creating art – while highlighting the touch-less, digitized art that pervades modern culture. The fact that this assemblage is represented using photography further underscores both the contrast and the joining of tactile and media-centric art. 

“The conversation between technology and culture has, of course, been going on since humans invented the wheel and controlled fire,” Rinehart noted of the exhibit’s themes. “It’s perhaps a conversation that defines us as a species and this exhibition hopes to spotlight recent volleys in that historic back and forth.”

“Screen Time” is a traveling exhibition, meaning the artwork is curated by one organization to be borrowed by certain museums in varying locations to display in their own space. When asked about the mechanics of transporting the art, Rinehart said that “Artworks are transported using professional art shipping companies that exercise the utmost care as they are often protecting millions of dollars worth of art. Artists are sometimes involved in the display of their work, but when a museum borrows the art from a third-party lender then the artist may not be as involved.”

After its time at the University, “Screen Time” will travel to Princeton University this summer. While many installations at the Samek are temporary, it feels particularly fitting that “Screen Time” is a traveling exhibition – it furthers the conversation about viewing art in a contemporary setting that the pieces themselves invite. In our current society, artists and artwork are less separated by space and time; we can access art with the touch of a finger; and we can bring art into our own personal spaces and analyze the work in the context of our immediate environment. 

“Screen Time” will be available for viewing in the Campus Gallery until March 27. The gallery is located on the top floor of the ELC and is open from 12 p.m. through 5 p.m. every day, excluding Mondays. 

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