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Penelope Umbrico's 5,537,594 Suns

Penelope Umbrico

What do we think about pulling information from the Internet, organizing it by subject and calling it art? Penelope Umbrico‘s text-based piece, “All Catalogs (A-Z), 2002-03,” is a list of every single mail-order catalog in existence at the time the piece was created, totaling more than 15,000.

The names of the catalog companies are alphabetized and presented in black ink, one after the other on the page without any curating on the part of the artist. I bring up this piece because Umbrico’s done it again, this time using public Flickr accounts to compile every photo with a direct shot of the sun – and there are more than 5.5 million of them. These are also presented, seemly sans curation, in a grid that will go up at BAM later this week.

What I’m curious about is the hand of the artist. Is Umbrico, who relies on search engines to develop her work, really just a human search engine, or is the possible commentary on art and the digital world, whatever that comment may be, a valuable one? Reading her artist statement, Umbrico seems to be mostly interested in the very appearance of the sun on the Internet, that people who use digital media would be interested, en masse, in this sustainer of the natural world. People, it seems, are not only interested in taking pictures of the sun, but in uploading them onto their public photo accounts for all to see. But people upload everything onto the Internet, from blurry party pictures to endless streams of puppies, kittens and babies. So really, why not the sun, too? See it for yourself at BAM, “Penelope Umbrico: Leonards for Leonard & 5,537,594 Suns from Flickr (Partial) 5/30/09,” opening reception Wedneday, January 6, until March 14, 2010.