What do a science fiction movie made in the virtual world Second Life, a collection of sunset photos from Flickr, and a series of classic movie scenes of people answering telephones have in common?

They all represent glimpses into 21st- and 20th-century life on Earth.

These are just three artworks from 19 international artists whose works are on view in the exhibition "Message From Our Planet: Digital Art From the Thoma Collection" at the Weisman Art Museum. Thoma Foundation Curator of Digital & Media Art Jason Foumberg took inspiration from Voyager 1 and 2 spacecraft, both of which carried Golden Record time capsules.

"I personally love time capsules, and I think that a lot of people do — we're all interested in our legacy and what we leave behind," Foumberg said. "Artists who make physical things, by their nature are interested in artifacts of our time. I was interested in what are the artifacts of our time, especially since we're living in the information age, in the digital age. What does the digital artifact look like?"

The answer to that question varies. In Claudia Hart's 3-D animated video "The Seasons," 2009, roses grow from a woman's body, but the body itself never decays, thus evading the natural process of death.

Beijing-based Hong Hao's digital photograph "My Things No. 1," 2001, is a collection of every object he owned or used in his daily life over a 12-year period. The objects are what one would expect — a pack of Marlboro cigarettes, food, coins, Kleenex, keys, ink cartridges. Assembled together, they become reminiscent of a garbage island.

Paul Pfeiffer's 2018 "Caryatid (Stiverne) is a looped silent video of heavyweight boxer Bermane Stiverne losing his world title, but with his opponent edited out. The slowness and repetitiveness of this video shows how quickly everything can be lost.

Aging technology

The most recent work is "48,586,054 Suns From Sunsets From Flickr (Partial) 11/05/20" by Penelope Umbrico, which shows the proliferation of sameness on photo sharing sites. It's like that iconic moment on the train in New York City when everyone stops to take a photo of the sunset, then posts it to Instagram.

However, there is no direct reference to Instagram, TikTok or even Snapchat-infused artworks in this show. Although social media is one type of technology that's emerged, that's not the broader point of the show.

When Foumberg started researching and looking into works he could use for the show — the Chicago-based Thoma Foundation has some 300 works of digital art — he first looked back to the Voyager Golden Records, two phonographic records including 115 analog-encoded photographs, greetings in 55 languages, 90 minutes of music, and 12 minutes of sounds from Earth. These were included in the 1977 Voyager 1 and 2 missions.

"They fit a lot of achievements of human society onto the golden record," Foumberg said. "[Today] we could fit this exhibit onto a USB drive."

This is not the Thoma Foundation's first connection to Minneapolis. The foundation previously lent artworks and granted money to the Walker Art Center's major 2019 exhibition "The Body Electric." It has also given grants or lent works to the Minneapolis Institute of Art and was a major funder of "Hearts of Our People: Native Women Artists." Thoma also has funded exhibits at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. This is the exhibition's second of five stops; next up is the Grand Rapids Art Museum in Michigan, followed by the Pensacola Museum of Art and then the Chazen Museum of Art at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Many of the people encountering this show will be college students or Gen Z's who were born digital.

Foumberg argues that while everyone these days has their hands in digital technology and can use it to be creative, and millions of NFTs exist, these are the works by iconic digital artists from the 1980s to 2020.

"You go to a museum to see masterpieces," he said. "Well, what are the masterpieces of digital art? It's a newer field. It has existed since the 1960s, when computers first came out, but who gets to decide what the new masterpieces are going to be in this field?"


'Message From Our Planet: Digital Art From the Thoma Collection'

When: Ends May 21.

Where: Weisman Art Museum, 333 East River Road, Mpls.

Hours: 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Wed., 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Thu. & Fri., 11 a.m.-5 p.m. Sat. & Sun.

Info: 612-625-9494 or wam.umn.edu.

Cost: Free.