‘Ill Be Your Mirror Reflects The Blessings And Curse Of Technology In Art
In the 1960s, Canadian theorist Marshall McLuhan described the idea of a "global village" run by tightly connected media.
As the term sounds, McLuhan's words are a cautionary tale about the consequences of rapidly connecting people of different backgrounds and ideologies without context or filter.
McLuhan called it humanity's "revenge": a return to isolationism and inter-group warfare.
The blessings and curses of technology are the focus of I'll Be Your Mirror: Art and the Digital Screen, currently on display at the Fort Worth Museum of Contemporary Art.
Co-curator Alison Hirst has brought together around 70 works by 50 artists from 1969 to the present for the exhibition. The works are organized into nine thematic sections.
The idea for the show came to Hirst in the summer of 2020, when most of the world's population was concentrated on the screen: work, education, communication and other opportunities to consume content through digital media.
“The pandemic has shaped my thinking in many ways about the central theme of the show, especially the overarching theme of making the screen the focal point of the show and the art I include,” Hirst explained. “Like many others, most of my interaction with people and art during the pandemic has been through screens, and this has forced me to pay particular attention to art that uses screens as tools and objects.”
"I'll Be Your Mirror" opens with a collage of 1,200 photographs by Penélope Umbric. Umbrico's work, courtesy of Flickr, explores how social media has led to oversharing and the idealization of "special" but ubiquitous moments. This fact is even more obvious as the collage itself is the primary feed of social media photos/selfies.
The first thematic section "Limal Space" contains the largest concentration of home screen works. During the 1960s and 1970s, artists used video, computer, robotics, and communications equipment as production tools or illustration objects in their own right.
Among them are two works by pioneering video artist Nam June Paik, as well as a computer project by Andy Warhol, created in collaboration with Commodore International.
There are a number of interactive works, some of which use augmented reality. Huntrez Janos' hacks include an Instagram filter that turns users into mythical tech creatures, suggesting alternate realities where we can outgrow the human body, and commenting on how well people filter their real bodies for social media personalities. FlARmingos by Christine Lucas allows visitors to enter a world created by artificial intelligence and inhabited by a charismatic group of animatronic flamingos, a species whose natural habitat is threatened by environmental abandonment.
Other artists address issues such as communication, surveillance and how we inadvertently use technology for ourselves.
Wickerham & Lomax Lovers Interfacing between Home and the Moon details the collaborative exchange that has taken place between the two artists during the pandemic. The collage was created by individual artists who continuously superimposed a series of three-dimensional objects onto portraits of the couple, leading to an in-depth analysis of the digital reduction that develops in relationships separated by space and time.
Thousand Little Brothers v8 is Hassan Elahi's self-management project with over 30,000 images. The artist started the project in 2002 after being suspected of involvement in terrorism due to his travels and Arabic name. For 12 years Elahi documented his life with photographs and GPS coordinates and provided information to the FBI.
Ghost Eva and Franco Mates My Generation have a broken desktop computer lying on the floor. A YouTube video shows a young gamer throwing a tantrum while World of Warcraft Flash plays on screen. Gamers break screens, throw game consoles, yell obscenities and, in extreme cases, tear off their clothes and run around the room.
Arthur Jaffa's award-winning "White Album" and Molly Soda's webcam video chorus of Rihanna's I Sing Stay Out of the Show. Comprised of found and original footage, Jaffa is a deeply disturbing exploration of contemporary whiteness, as CCTV and YouTube clips are interspersed with images of whites closely associated with a black man in Jaffa. Mercy and anger, beauty and hate merged into one.
The trailer for Soda features YouTube singles with 42 people singing Rihanna's "Stay" together. They are all seen singing "Hey guys, welcome to my channel" before the whole song turns into a somewhat disorganized but touching ballad. Once completed, they disappear from the screen one by one until there is only one person left who reminds us to like, follow and unfollow them on different social networks.
Video Soda gives a glimmer of hope that technology, perhaps even momentarily, can find common ground, become a force for good. But, as you point out, the line between union and tribalism is as thin as a screen.
The exhibition "I'll Be Your Mirror: Digital and Screen Art" will be open through April 30 at the Fort Worth Museum of Contemporary Art, 3200 Darnell Street, Fort Worth. Tuesday to Sunday, 10am to 5pm. For more information, visit themodern.org or call 817-738-9215.
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