McGill University

Frances Cullen is a current Art History Ph.D. student at McGill University, where she specializes in the study of post-conceptual media art. Her research is deeply informed by film, photography, and new media theory, with additional interests in issues of spectatorship, temporality, historicity, and the politics of aesthetics. She has previously studied at the University of Toronto, Ryerson University, the George Eastman House International Museum of Photography and Film, and the University of Alberta.

Tobias Rehberger’s Seven Ends of the World (2003) and the Mis-Design of Networked Place

Tobias Rehberger’s contribution to the 2003 Venice Biennale, Seven Ends of the World, seems indirectly to have found itself in the crosshatches of a particular debate about the politics of contemporary art. That is, it has been advanced on the one hand as an emblem of art’s complicity with neo-liberal capitalist politics; and on the other, heralded as the model for an art that refuses and deflects the image hegemony operating in collusion with that same economic regime. Against these views, Frances Cullen suggests that the installation operated to subvert the differential economies of power supporting both global information networks and the biennale itself.

Seven Ends featured a room filled with 111 coloured glass lamps, which Rehberger had arranged into nine groups. Each of these clusters was connected by the internet to one of various distant locations, including Las Vegas and Kyoto, such that the intensity of light emanating from it analogue the lighting conditions of its particular geographic referent. Others have compellingly argued that the artwork created the conditions for a spectatorial experience of temporal simultaneity, but this reading fails to account for a certain anomaly that was built into the installation’s technological structure. Namely, one of these groupings renders not the natural lighting conditions of a distant urban centre, but flickers with the opening and closing of an abject space: a bathroom door in a restaurant outside of Venice. This paper will posit instead that the artwork mis-designs (borrowing Grace McQuilten’s term) a perceptual experience of networked place, quietly incorporating within it a reference to the peripheral and the excluded, in order to undermine the very power structures of which it is part.