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The High-Tech Dialectic of Vulnerability


Bas Jan Ader and Sam Taylor Wood, Installation view, YoungProjects, Los Angeles

By AMANDA J. BERMUDEZ, Dec. 2017

To say that it’s an interesting cultural moment for an exhibition on vulnerability is putting things lightly, a fact of which Young Projects’ current show – Vulnerability: The Space Between – seems to be acutely aware. Highlighting a slew of established and emerging artists, each of whom offers a discrete and innovative take on the show’s eponymous theme, the exhibition follows a smartly curated trajectory that director Paul Young describes as “quite playful at the start, then becoming more intense near the end.”

The space itself – which, for an exhibition focused on mediated intimacy, is nearly metaphoric in its concurrence of cozy and confrontational – demonstrates an elegant grasp of installation media, and of the historical moment. Spatial allowances are engagingly thoughtful and permissively guided, loosely shepherding the viewer through an array of contemporary video projections, iconic installation footage, VR experiences, sensory-responsive AR, and embodied performance art. If this sounds ambitious, it is: the exhibition’s dialectic courts a range of temporal and spatial situations, unified and elevated (like all compelling works of art) by intelligence and intention.

Spatially bookending the exhibition are two dual-channel video installations, the first of which has been compiled – brazenly but successfully – primarily for the purpose of historicity. Emblematic footage like Marina Abramovic’s Rhythm 0 is played against Regina Jose Galindo’s Blind Spot, works that both invite and subsume traditional notions of vulnerability, each with a recurrently timely focus on female embodiment. Themes like violence, extremis, and fluidity of agency between subject and object pervade the video excerpts, which include offerings from video art titans like Chris Burden, Yoko Ono, Sam Taylor Wood, and Sophie Calle.

The second of these spatial bookends is a hauntingly prescient and sparingly cogent work from artist Fawn Rogers: I Love You And That Makes Me God. Restricted to a single viewer at a time, the dual-channel installation – framed in a sleek, confrontationally curved sculptural object reminiscent of Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey – feels very much like the future of the past (or the past of the future), and seems to be keenly conscious of its displaced and relevant historical locus. Within the installation footage, individuals look directly into the camera and state, “I love you, and that makes me god” – an expression which slyly implicates the viewer in a gamut of nociceptive impulses until, as Young recounts, “you see a woman watch the video, weeping openly, who then proceeds to watch the video four consecutive times.” 

At its core, Rogers’ installation reflects an element that the mass of contemporary art seems to dismiss: the premise that vulnerability and intimacy, while a shared human experience, is ultimately exclusive. From an initial, rigorous two-year filming process to the formatting of the installation itself, I Love You And That Makes Me God is both hypnotically personal and disconcertingly revealed. Rogers’ work tends to court both an expansive historical vision and feverish specificity, and serves as a surprisingly apposite curatorial anchor to Yoko Ono’s visceral exposure, Laura Nova’s hyper-emotive audio-visual motifs, and Marina Abramovic’s unflinching vulnerability. 

Fawn Rogers, I Love You and That Makes Me God, billboard

In the space between (so to speak), the viewer/participant can expect to encounter several notable works of contemporary and virtual media. The first of these is Coming Out Simulator by Nicky Case, an interactive web-based game that proves that serious art can still be emotive, inclusive, and charming without compromising complexity or meaning. VVVR by Plus Four (Casey McGonigle and Ray McClure) leverages the synthetic in service of the synesthetic, converting auditory communication into vividly colorful 3D expressions. While evolving technologies promise expanded potential for certain projects, others situate transient devices in classic temporal scapes, such as Lauren McCarthy’s Calle-inspired Follower and Kate Hollenbach’s Marclay-reminiscent phonelovesyoutoo, which not only triggers the device as an extension of the self, but one’s self as an extension of the device. 

In any case, while Marshall McLuhan presumably turns in his grave, Vulnerability serves as an augur of things to come: media theory may be predicated on the experiences of the past, but the technologies of the future are ultimately where it’s at. As Boris Groys noted in his “Politics of Installation,” “The goal of art, after all, is not to change things things are changing by themselves all the time anyway. Art’s function is rather to show, to make visible the realities that are generally overlooked.” In this, Vulnerability excels. WM

 

Amanda J. Bermudez

Amanda J. Bermudez is a writer in Los Angeles

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