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Its walls having been given over to the weird and wonderful world of internet memes, Jordan Barker was at the opening of Centrespace Gallery’s latest exhibition, ‘URL IRL’.

The word ‘meme’ is banded around a lot these days. One hears people saying, ‘That’s a dank meme’, or, ‘This meme is so dead’, and even, ‘This meme has been called by normies!’ The meme renaissance which is taken place has created an entire online culture, a way of thinking, a language.

Memes might appear to be harmless viral entities, but their social implications have been phenomenal. Just last year, the Unites States elected Donald Trump as their meme president. And recently, The Sun expressed disdain for ‘sick dark humour and offensive memes’ relating to the 2007 disappearance of Madeleine McCann. Whether you think this is just harmless banter or the exemplary of humankind’s worst excesses, one thing is for certain: the power of memes is unprecedented.

the idea at the heart of the exhibition is certainly a promising and inviting one

Hopes were therefore high for ‘URL IRL’, an exhibition at Centrespace by UWE Fine Art students which aims at investigating the effect of memes on modern communication and culture. Finally, I thought, someone is addressing the cultural societal impact of memes.

‘URL IRL’ is, however, a bitter disappointment. Instead of ‘challenging and questioning online presence and online culture’ as it sets out to do, it provides little insight into the cultural ramifications of memes. Rather than irreverent, it strikes the viewer as insincere or immature.

The works are so completely wrapped up in the novelty of memes that nothing significant or provocative ever really gets said

The Instagram toilet roll is a real hoot, the first piece seen upon entering. Do you get it? Wiping your arse! I looked up from the work, quickly surveyed the room and said: ‘Is this it?’. I love toilet humour as much as the next guy, but what did it have to do with memes? Posting numerous selfies on your Instagram account is not a meme. Is it an anti-meme? Is it a statement about how the word meme is used so frequently that even a reel of Insta-photos can be considered a meme? I am doubtful.

‘The Instagram toilet roll is a real hoot, the first piece seen upon entering’

What pervades the exhibition is a cluelessness about what memes actually are. Projected onto the rearmost wall is a film of students attempting to recreate the ‘Shooting Stars’ meme. As a meme, it has evolved from being a crudely drawn character dancing, into videos of people plummeting through space. Yet in just recreating the meme, there does not seem to be any elaboration or examination on its significance as a cultural artefact. No comment on the vacuity of internet culture, or the relationship between self-loathing, irony and memes. Just a really poor ‘Shooting Stars’ meme pastiche.

This really is the biggest issue with the entire exhibition; it feels so forced. The works are so completely wrapped up in the novelty of memes that nothing significant or provocative ever really gets said. It is difficult, of course, to know to gauge how self-ironizing the artwork is attempting to be. However, judging by the lacklustre quality, ‘URL IRL’ does not appear to possess a level of self-awareness that may be enough to save it from banality.

‘URL IRL’ is a missed opportunity. This is a shame given the lack of artistic and academic attention internet memes have received—the idea at the heart of the exhibition is certainly a promising and inviting one. It is, however, an exhibition for normies, to appropriate some meme jargon. Lacking in insight, it is not for those who know their ‘Increasingly Verbose’ memes from their ‘Trash Doves’.

‘URL IRL’ runs at Centrespace Gallery until 6th April. Entry is free.


What were your thoughts on the latest exhibition at Centrespace? Did you agree with our writer? Let us know in the comments below or on social media

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