Tech-tonic: ’Electronic Superhighway’ charts the shifting landscape of computer-art

exhibition with archives of web and computer-based art
This spring, London’s Whitechapel Gallery digs into the archives of web and computer-based art in a new exhibition, ’Electronic Superhighway (2016 - 1966)’. Courtesy of the artist.
(Image credit: Stephen White)

When you think of Internet-based art, your mind might jump to the cutting edge. Although the hyper-modern aspects of multimedia art are displayed in the Whitechapel Gallery's first show of the year, the emphasis is firmly on the medium's rich and rebellious history.

'Electronic Superhighway' takes its name from one of its contributors - South Korean video artist Nam June Paik, who coined the term in 1977. In Paik's Internet Dream – a major video-wall installation of 52 monitors displaying electronically-processed images – blurred, garish colours have a hypnotic effect, showing his early awareness of society's move towards information saturation.

This abundance of data, ironically, could occur in such an ambitious, extensive exhibition. The dizzying array of computer screens, installations and radio static that greets gallery-goers is deliberately overwhelming. To prevent complete over-stimulation, 'Electronic Superhighway' is dispersed over two floors and three different gallery spaces, working backwards chronologically from the present day.

On the ground floor,  web art is represented by Amalia Ulman's Excellences Perfections Instagram, a four-month documentary series which examines the influence of social media on attitudes towards the female form. The theme of online identity (or lack thereof) is continued by Douglas Coupland's famously obscured Deep Face - a comment on Facebook's involuntary facial recognition technology.

As visitors make their way up stairs, they journey back to the 1990s. At the top of the staircase, Aristakh Chernyshev's custom LED panel eternally loops the word 'Loading' around in a frustrating circle. This signifies that although visitors are moving upwards, they are regressing into a time when information was not demanded or expected instantaneously.

The second gallery space concentrates on the explosion of the Internet, which brought with it an explosion of browser-based works. Ann Hircsh's Twelve (2013) and Martine Neddam's (1996) present interactive narratives about vulnerable teenage girl-users. In the latter, fluffy pink pens sit alongside vulgar images on a tablet, with no writing paper in sight.

In the final space, the tone shifts again. Here, the exhibition's pervading sense of foreboding is mingled with some light optimism - the works look forward to a bright-screened future. The 60s and 70s feature boundary-testing artists who pushed early technology to its creative limits. Highlights include the intricate, plotter-based algorithmic work by Manfred Mohr, and the early digital-media design of Frieder Nake.

'Electronic Superhighway' ends at the beginning, with memorabilia from Experiments in Art and Technology (E.A.T) - a series of events that took place in 1960s New York, which showcased artists like John Cage and Robert Rauschenberg. And what better way to end an exhibition about screen-based works, than with a good old-fashioned cabinet of physical artefacts.

computer art exhibition

The show takes its name from one of its contributors, South Korean artist Nam June Paik (his Internet Dream, 1994, pictured here), who coined the term in 1977. © ZKM Center for Art and Media Karlsruhe / Nam June Paik Estate.

(Image credit: ONUK (Berhard Schmitt))

exhibition shows starts and works backwards to the birth of computer art

Spread over two floors and three different gallery spaces, the exhibition starts at the present day (pictured) and works backwards to the birth of computer art in 1966. Courtesy of the artist.

(Image credit: Stephen White)

enlarged Instagram image by Amalia Ulman

In the first gallery, modern day is represented by enlarged Instagram images by Amalia Ulman. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of the artist and Arcadia Missa, London. © Amalia Ulman)

exhibition interior with Themes of online identity

Themes of online identity  – or lack thereof – are also presented on this floor. Courtesy of the artist.

(Image credit: Stephen White)

Walk-Through-Raster Vancouver Version, by Frieder Nake, 1972 & Deep Face, by Douglas Coupland

Pictured left: Walk-Through-Raster Vancouver Version, by Frieder Nake, 1972. Right: Deep Face, by Douglas Coupland, 2015. 

(Image credit: © Frieder Nake / Victoria and Albert Museum, London; Courtesy of the artist and The Daniel Faria Gallery, Toronto. © Douglas Coupland)

cctv camera's chandelier

Asymmetric Love, by Addie Wagenknecht, 2013. Courtesy of Bitforms Gallery, New York. © Addie Wagenknecht

(Image credit: David Payr)

Loading digital art

 Loading, by Aristarkh Chernyshev, 2007, informs visitors that they are about to step back in time. 

(Image credit: Courtesy of the artist and XL Gallery, Moscow. © Aristarkh Chernyshev)

computer art gallery

The final space is characterised by earlier, more optimistic works that push the boundaries of artistic technology. Courtesy of the artist.

(Image credit: Stephen White)


’Electronic Superhighways (2016 - 1966)’ runs until 15 May 2016. For more information, visit the Whitechapel Gallery website


77-82 Whitechapel High St
London E1 7QX


Elly Parsons is the Digital Editor of Wallpaper*, where she oversees and its social platforms. She has been with the brand since 2015 in various roles, spending time as digital writer – specialising in art, technology and contemporary culture – and as deputy digital editor. She was shortlisted for a PPA Award in 2017, has written extensively for many publications, and has contributed to three books. She is a guest lecturer in digital journalism at Goldsmiths University, London, where she also holds a masters degree in creative writing. Now, her main areas of expertise include content strategy, audience engagement, and social media.