Ryder Ripps Takes on Our Clickbait Culture with 50,000 Tiny Images

  • Image courtesy of Steve Turner.

Artist, entrepreneur, programmer, provocateur: Ryder Ripps and his controversial projects have earned both acclaim and notoriety. In “Art Whore” (2014), he hired Craigslist masseuses to collaborate on his artist residency at the Ace Hotel. In “Ho” (2015), he appropriated a fashion model’s Instagram photos, distorting the images into grotesque paintings. For his new exhibition, “Barbara Lee,” he once again dives into the tenuous relationship between human life and virtual reality, this time in a large installation featuring 50,000 images downloaded from the internet.

Midway through the show’s run at Steve Turner in L.A., we spoke with Ripps about the social media landscape, the clickbait cycle, and his admiration for Rep. Barbara Lee.

Artsy: In the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, Barbara Lee was the only member of Congress to vote against the authorization of military force. Why did you name your exhibition after her, and what significance does her dissent hold for you?

Ryder Ripps: The events of 9/11 caused the convergence of reality and cinema. The disaster films of the ’90s, such as Independence Day, were most visually analogous to 9/11. In the wake of that spectacle, Barbara Lee was the only member of Congress who used calm reason and logic in her decision-making. She paid the price for this by receiving death threats for years.

Since 9/11, successful media has used similar mechanics. Whether it’s Flavor of Love, Kanye, Trump, Rebecca Black, or the Harlem Shake, these media all make us ask, “Is this for real?” in the same way 9/11 did.

Most news today is divisive clickbait, traditionally known as yellow journalism. In a hyperbolic media landscape, where everyone is fighting for attention, I see myself like Barbara Lee. I’m willing to be a martyr in pursuit of the truth. The show title is an ode to Barbara Lee and grounds the work in the post-9/11 world it addresses.

Artsy: Your latest work includes 50,000 photographs, which you chose based on their visual impact when printed in a very small size. How did you judge that? What did you leave out?

Ryder Ripps: There is a direct link between the speed at which we move and the images we produce and consume. A.M. Cassandre was making posters in 1920s Paris, when automobiles ran alongside horses. He was once asked why his poster designs feature such large type. He responded, “How else would people in automobiles be able to read it?”

Today, images live within a narrow column which we scroll through quickly with our thumbs and/or forefingers. Every few minutes, we open our phones, swiping down for more content. Images today have to communicate much faster. There is no nuance or bearing to human scale. The feed satisfies the obvious, the grotesque, and the abstract absurdity of modern humor. I wanted the piece to represent a landscape like ours. Our landscape is no longer dominated by architecture and nature, but rather by Facebook and Instagram. We are perpetually looking down, not up. Thus, the work is on the floor, which also creates the visual analogy of a city grid for the World Trade Center sculptures to tower over.

Jules LaPlace and I downloaded millions of images from the internet and then went through them at thumbnail size to discern their legibility.

  • Image courtesy of Steve Turner.

Artsy: You’ve talked about the “attention economy” fueled by an endless image feed that favors sensationalism and disregards ideas and context. Tell me more about this. Is your new body of work a mirror of contemporary culture, a critique of it, or both?

Ryder Ripps: From afar, the work is overwhelming and abstract. No single image is able to stand out. Yet when you’re crawling on it, you start recognizing things, engrossed in the clickbait simulacra of today’s society. The past couple years, I have been feeling overwhelmed by the onslaught of media competing for my attention. The work mirrors this. It’s a critique of clickbait as a reflection/mirror of clickbait. In this sense, it too is clickbait in a way. What a vicious cycle.

Artsy: You’ve shown your work in a variety of different formats. Why did you choose to display your new exhibition across platforms that viewers can stand or sit on? What role does viewer interaction play in “Barbara Lee”?

Ryder Ripps: It’s difficult to reflect on our screen-based landscape within this same screen, as it has no bodily bearing. Transposing these images physically puts them in context of the body. I wanted people to feel physically enveloped by this imagery. I wanted to represent our landscape with the representational power of the World Trade Center to scale.

  • Image courtesy of Steve Turner.

Artsy: The New York Times called you “an artist of the internet,” partly because, in addition to making art and having a background in fashion, you’re a programmer and a founder of the online art community Dump.fm. In your work, where do art and technology intersect? Does one inspire the other? Which discipline interested you first?

Ryder Ripps: I don’t make distinctions between artists and other creators. Some people are posers, and some keep it real—I just try to keep it real in everything I do and not be beholden to commercial forces and corny fashions. I love exploring and challenging the status quo and pushing myself to intellectually grow, because the alternative depresses me.


—Bridget Gleeson


Ryder Ripps: Barbara Lee” is on view at Steve Turner, Los Angeles, Oct. 14–Nov. 10, 2016.

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