Whit MacLaughlin: Finding the art in a tangled Web

It’s easy to think of the Internet as a mundane place. Inboxes full of coupons for clothes you don’t need, Twitter feeds full of breakfast updates from people you don’t know, flashy news headlines meant only to attract your clicks: In 2011, the once mysterious “World Wide Web” can feel as empty and fleeting as a mall food court.

But for Whit MacLaughlin, there is still room — certainly a need, maybe even a demand — for art and wonder among the eerily specific Google advertisements. “When the printing press happened, the church was afraid that suddenly people could read the Bible in their own homes — it was a new method of communication, and nobody was there to tell you what to think,” says the Philly-based director. “We have this tool that I think is on some levels as powerful and as potent as the printing press. And as artists, we have to upload soul into cyberspace.”

Part of this year’s Live Arts Festival, MacLaughlin’s latest show with New Paradise Laboratories, “Extremely Public Displays of Privacy,” explores the unusual, evolving nature of the Web as it follows a budding online relationship.

“There’s this place where the Internet turns into real space, and so do the kinds of relationships that happen there,” says MacLaughlin. “A friend was having an IM fling, and she called me up, and said, ‘Am I having an affair?’ It just wasn’t clear to her what had happened there. There’s a lot of that happening in our show — trying to get at what’s so beguiling about 24/7 contact with people we don’t even have to be in the same room with.”

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