Petra Cortright, born 1986, is a Los Angeles-based interdisciplinary new media artist. She attended Parsons The New School of Design and the California College of the Arts (and dropped out of both), and her work has been shown in numerous international exhibitions, including New Museum in New York City, and the 2009 Venice Biennale.
It’s now been exactly 20 years since the birth of net.art. By this point in 2014, when everyone and their dog has an instagram account, it’s starting to feel a bit redundant to include “net” in art genre descriptors at all. Digital painting, choose-your-own-link hypertext adventures, highbrow GIF art, YouTube performance pieces – that these kinds of artwork are digitally housed is less and less a novelty. It’s a safe assumption to say that any new cultural forum will eventually be infiltrated by artists, and an even safer one that is especially true of millennials born with computers in their laps.
Enter Petra Cortright. Born as the granddaughter of the New Museum’s founding director Marcia Tucker into an Apple-loving family of artists, Cortright seemed destined to find international success in the art world. The Internet isn’t a linear space, and pinpointing the beginning of her career is tricky (are LiveJournal posts legitimate works to include in a CV?), but Cortright’s first widely viewed piece was VVEBCAM, first uploaded to YouTube in 2007 and now archived in Rhizome’s Artbase.
VVEBCAM is not a terribly exciting video. For one minute and 43 seconds, we, from the receiving end of a webcam, watch Cortright click through a list of clip art, her face displaying the familiar unenthused stoicism of the computer-absorbed. The hackneyed expression “modern art is I could do that, but I didn’t” is painfully applicable here – and this is why I like VVEBCAM. Anyone with a webcam (almost everyone) could have made this video, and the same goes for much of Cortright’s work.
So, why is her art good? It’s not, per se, but it is important. Cortright is a sort of poster child and time capsule for Generation Y, but she also has a tendency to be deflectively inarticulate when talking about her own work. Does this mean it’s any less artistic, or make it any unworthy of critical analysis? Cortright’s internet performances are a hallmark of digital banality, and yes, her work might seem bratty, but I’d argue that in the age of selfies and live tweeting, we’re a bit bratty too.