Whitehot Magazine

LIFELIKE: The Perforated Lines Between Technology and Our Bodies

LIFELIKE, Vellum LA x Epoch Gallery, courtesy Vellum LA.

By VICTOR SLEDGE, April 2023 

As digital art takes over the zeitgeist of the art world, questions persist about the humanity behind the work. How personal can a piece of coded art be? Where is the soul behind AI art? Vellum LA has been interrogating, extrapolating and ultimately reimagining those questions since its opening, and they have taken that one step further with their most recent exhibition, LIFELIKE, curated by Katie Peyton Hofstadter. 

The exhibition was shown at Vellum LA, the digital art gallery that has made a name for themselves contextualizing digital and crypto art within art history and educating the art world and beyond about how technology and the blockchain can influence art for years to come. It was also a collaboration with EPOCH Gallery, a virtual exhibition space run by artist Peter Wu+, focused on highlighting contemporary digital art. In the fall of 2022, Wu+ invited Hofstadter to curate a virtual group exhibition based on her writing, which Epoch presents inside a virtual representation of Biosphere 2, the entirety of which is exhibited inside Vellum as an interactive virtual experience, as well as online at Epoch.gallery.

“Given the conceptual nature of the work in this show, we wanted to create an experience that could help the general public wrap their heads around it and ultimately do the work justice by showing it in a physical space,” Sinziana Velicescu, the director and curator of Vellum LA explains.

Vellum LA opened in 2021, offering Los Angeles an innovative way to experience digital art in a physical space and allowing viewers to reimagine how they view and digest the art. A space filled with Luma Canvas LED displays, Velicescu describes experiencing the digital art less as looking at it on a screen and more as viewing the art through a window. It’s a striking gallery experience that both recalls more traditional art-viewing while also pushing the public into where art-viewing is heading.

“You’re seeing a rise in widespread interest around digital art and what we’re trying to do as a gallery is storytelling and contextualizing the art work,” Velicescu says.

Lauren Lee McCarthy, courtesy Vellum LA.

Since its opening, Vellum LA has been a vigilant liaison between the public and the art world, creating thoughtful art-viewing that takes the technology-based artistic progression that grew throughout the height of the pandemic and crafts a way for viewers to understand and situate this art’s place within the grand timeline of the art world. The experiential design of Vellum LA also lends itself to tackling new, lofty ideas in our world and presenting them to the public in a way that’s enveloping and resonant, making it the perfect setting for exhibits like LIFELIKE.

The curator for the exhibition, Katie Peyton Hofstadter, penned “Bodies On The Blockchain,” a think piece published in Right, Click, Save pondering what it means for our bodies to exist in Web3. Hofstadter offers turbulent ideas about what technology slowly infiltrating our physicality could mean as we consider control and surveillance and how these are complicated by societal factors like race, gender and sexuality.  

“I’m interested in how artists are looking at emerging technology and the systems around it, not by following the manual, but by following curiosity,” Hofstadter explains. 

In this particular exhibition, that curiosity leads viewers to their own physical being, which isn’t out of place for Vellum LA. 

“This show, in relation to the shows that we’ve had up until this point and the shows we’re going to have, reveals a theme of the body and identity,” Velicescu says. “As women gallerists, this is something that is always at the forefront of our community, so it makes sense that this is something that we’d invite into our space.”

Hofstadter’s work around these issues eventually caught Velicescu’s attention and sparked the collaboration for the exhibit.

“There’s something urgent in what she is talking about, and I thought that it would be a timely show to put together,”  Velicescu explains. 

Vellum LA is always asking what’s relevant right now and what will be relevant in years to come, so Hofstadter’s seemingly prophetic thinking around technology and our bodies fit squarely into the gallery’s ethos. 

Left: Sammie Veeler, Right: Edgar Fabián Frias, courtesy Vellum LA.

Hofstadter has a background in art campaigns that use technology to explore concerning concepts, such as climate change or public monuments, and her work with LIFELIKE falls right in line with that, as she thumbed through somewhat ominous artistic manifestations of the potentially invasive nature of technology and how that may evolve with our bodies in the future. 

“I wanted to explore how technology is breaching and blurring the boundaries of our bodies, whether we like it or not,” Hofstadter explains.

The artists presented in LIFELIKE echo her own work grappling with these questions of humanity and technology, and the artists in LIFELIKE weren’t afraid to pose more questions surrounding the topic. 

“The show scrutinized what exactly happens in the world as we become more reliant on technology to surveil and control human bodies,” Velicescu says. “Many of the artists put their bodies on the blockchain to make a statement about these interwoven aspects of our lives.”

The artists in LIFELIKE took what we as a society have imagined for digital art and pushed it to the limit. While some may question the humanity in digital art, these artists skirted that by turning their humanity into the art itself. The artists in LIFELIKE used their own biological information – DNA, brain waves and even feces – along with technology to comprise an exhibition that peered into what happens at the perforated lines between people, art and technology. 

“These artists are all taking a creative approach to what that looks like and what that will look like in the future,”  Velicescu says. 

There was a liviness to each piece and the artist’s intention behind it that spilled over the question of whether digital art is humanistic enough and instead pondered what happens when digital art starts to become more humanistic than we ever even imagined. 

These are pressing worries to pose as we consider our physical and digital lives. In the social media world we inhabit, how does one make meaningful connections with people virtually without feeling like their private conversations are somehow monitored by their devices? Can we reconcile with Big Brother being replaced with more efficient, more consistent surveillance that technology could bring to our physical bodies? 

For Hofstadfer, these issues come full circle to the very humanistic plights within the history of racism, power dynamics and body sovereignty in technocapitalism’s inherently colonial nature. 

Xin Liu, courtesy Vellum LA.

For Velicescu and Vellum LA, these are exactly the ideas that digital art can unpack. There’s a parallel between introducing the public to new forms of art and ways to view it and introducing new ideas and ways to interpret them. Vellum LA runs those parallels in a way that forces people to wonder. 

“The more people that are questioning what’s happening, the more education there will be around that,” Velicescu explains.

And with LIFELIKE, Hofstadter does the same thing.

“It’s bringing humanity back to this technology," Hofstadter says. “It’s bringing it back to a human scale and reminding us of that scale.”  

LIFELIKE wasn’t the answer to any of these questions so much as it was the door creaking open to reveal a host of other questions awaiting us. The exhibition was a subpoena of techno-futurism, anticipating the often stealthy and ubiquitous nature of technology and how it might bleed into our bodies. 

And it was an exhibition that was in the right place at the right time with Vellum LA, a gallery that is continually proving that not only is there humanity in digital art but that humanity is what elevates digital art. 

Velicescu’s work at Vellum LA is proving repeatedly the stock held in technology-based art, the impact it has on modernity, and the place it has in our world. Vellum LA is sure to continue presenting thought-provoking ideas through exhibits like LIFELIKE in the future, starting with their upcoming IPSEITY, a solo exhibition featuring work from Enrique Agudo exploring identity, humanity and our relationship with technology through new deities and their environments.  

To learn more about Vellum LA and its exhibitions, visit www.vellumla.com. WM


Victor Sledge

Victor Sledge is an Atlanta-based writer with experience in journalism, academic, creative, and business writing. He has a B.A. in English with a concentration in British/American Cultures and a minor in Journalism from Georgia State University. Victor was an Arts & Living reporter for Georgia State’s newspaper, The Signal, which is the largest university newspaper in Georgia.  He spent a year abroad studying English at Northumbria University in Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK, where he served as an editor for their creative magazine before returning to the U.S. as the Communications Ambassador for Georgia State’s African American Male Initiative. He is now a master’s student in Georgia State’s Africana Studies Program, and his research interest is Black representation in media, particularly for Black Americans and Britons. His undergraduate thesis, Black on Black Representation: How to Represent Black Characters in Media, explores the same topic. 

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