Unified Fabric Review in Frieze 160
‘Unified Fabric’, 2013, installation view
‘Unified Fabric’, a collaboration between the London-based artist Harry Sanderson and Arcadia Missa, was the latest exhibition in the latter’s ongoing research into the economy of the digital image in its post-internet incarnations. Since opening in 2011, Arcadia Missa has established itself as a prolific gallery and publisher with a strong investment in an emerging generation of digital artists. With ‘Unified Fabric’, Sanderson, who graduated recently from Central Saint Martins, returned to the gallery for the second time.
The exhibition title was borrowed from a service offered by the American multinational Cisco Systems, which claims to sell ‘connectivity across physical, virtual and cloud environments’. The reference betrayed an ambiguous fascination with the corporate world that has become familiar in much recent art – think of the self-proclaimed ‘company’ LuckyPDF, with which Sanderson has collaborated in the past. But it also provided the context for a critique of the marketization of human connectivity online and offline. ‘United Fabric’ claimed to present an alternative network, which, though not exactly divorced from the market, is committed to exposing the invisible economy of data transmission.
The centrepiece was a DIY render farm, a super-computer that can create high- definition digital images, put together by Sanderson himself. Ordered neatly on a white plinth, the processors are logo-less black boxes; the technology’s inert minimalism belies the artist’s manual work. By extension, the piece emphasizes how HD images conceal the hands-on labour involved in the global rendering industry, where huge farms operate like factories, with workers moving pixels along a production line. In his novel Pattern Recognition (2003), William Gibson compared the process to a beauty parlour, where the staff massages the image, sharpens it, does its hair (high-res hair is notoriously difficult). By presenting a handmade farm, Sanderson hinted at the manufacturing industry that lurks behind the illusion of seamless immateriality hailed by so many fans of the digital dimension.
Six flat-screen monitors were installed around Sanderson’s processors. Each was apparently selected on the basis of its conceptual engagement with the digital image beyond its visible configuration. Perhaps ironically, though, this wasn’t always evident. In Maja Cule’s The Horizon (2013), a young woman seems to hang from the edge of the Trump Building, as in an image of post-9/11 financial vertigo; the video superimposes footage of a model lying on a table in front of a green screen with looped footage of Wall Street. Takeshi Shiomitsu’s Cleanroom Study (I keep falling and falling) (2013) is a montage of spaces hinting at restricted areas of work where the eye is denied access.Unexotica (2013) by Melika Ngombe Kolongo and Daniella Russo shows a somewhat perplexing sequence of looped low-definition stills and slow-motion footage. These artists are mostly just starting out, which perhaps accounts for the elusiveness of some of the footage they present. Clunie Reid’s The More or Less of Miley Cyrus (2013) superimposes the recent exploits of the American pop star at the MTV VMAs with details from Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass (1915–23), with tenuous bearing on the premise of the exhibition besides the reference to the master of anti-optical teasing.
Sanderson’s own video, Detail (2013), stuck to the score with a micro-motion rendering of the artist’s body. This process amplifies imperceptible movements, making visible normally invisible dynamics like blood circulation and pulse. The effect is uncanny, suggesting a new level of surveillance of the self and others. You get the point. By showing the throbbing life of the finest hairs and tiniest light particles, Sanderson presents a microscopic metaphor for the expanded phenomenology of the digital image. The idea is that, as technology zooms in ever closer, we increasingly lose sight of the bigger picture. An untitled digital sound piece by Sanderson enveloped the exhibition, shifting according to our movements and adding another layer to the artist’s pursuit of embodied digital perception. Sanderson wrote about this project earlier this year on Mute’s website, in a persuasive essay titled ‘Human Resolution’, which laid the groundwork for this exhibition.
Hito Steyerl’s STRIKE (2010) provided the punch line for the whole show. The most prominent of the artists in ‘United Fabric’, Steyerl featured as a kind of patron saint of a younger generation likewise concerned with the socio-economic circuits of the digital image. In STRIKE, Steyerl cracks open a screen with a stake only to generate another image upon impact, as in a self-defeating attempt to boycott the ‘mere surface’ of the digital image, its optical sensuousness. This critique of the limited agency of art beyond symbolic protest and of its cyclical subsumption (to the system, to the market) says a lot about the critical parameters within which the rest of the exhibition operated. ‘United Fabric’ knowingly took on Cisco’s ethos, countering it with an alternative network situated ambiguously between corporate parody and enforced DIY survival. As the modern management motto has it: network or perish.
Highlights of 2013 in Frieze
Review of HTSF E3 – AQNB
by Most-D on 14/12/2013
Generously offering various routes into its discourse, How to Sleep Faster is the digital sister series to Arcadia Missa’s print publication of the same name. Providing just as much depth of content as the previous editions, episode 3 operates on its own custom platform –an element of the ejournal which is reimaged for each individual online publication, transforming the same domain. For this project, a structure of responsive, pastel degrade grids extend outwards and downwards, revealing a collection of thoughtfully curated works which all connect to themes laid out in a rather magnificent editorial essay. Such an assemblage of content gives the online project the feel of a space rather than a browser page: an exhibition rather than a publication. It encourages exploration.
This is all carefully considered, of course –and the particular presentation of How to Sleep Faster only initiates the allusion of what this impressive (and ambitious) collection of work investigates: digital systems and context. As an exhibition, involved pieces relate to each other, and particular themes accumulate throughout the duration of the viewer’s involvement. A moment in Daniel Rourke’s interview with Dora Budor picks up on this interpretational process: Budor’s work ‘New Lavoro’, which culminated in the hosting of a competition for artists in the style of a reality TV show (at Venice Biennale), illustrates artistic labour as a system, in which different parts of a project make themselves and contribute to each other. Challenging systems in this way echoes the video work of Andrew Norman Wilson who questions responses to capitalist imagery and expectation in ‘Confused Foreigner at McDonalds Hoog Catharijne’. The journalistic approach to his practice, aiming to promote an awareness of contemporary subjective systems, also confronts Marxist (and Capitalist) ideologies –as an invitation to figure out some solutions. It’s recognised by Ben Clarke in his essay ‘DC Cinema’ as a particularly appropriate medium: the economy of moving or digital images recognises the system of cinema image distribution, as well as the transaction of profit.
But this Capitalist exchange is not the only recognised routine. The monetary gain made by distributors and cinemas is partnered by a physical transaction, “of bodies to the multiplex each week and their relationship with the screen”. The material realities resulting from interaction with technology is crucial throughout How to Sleep Faster, itself a critically digital ejournal. Maja Cule also challenges various necessary interfaces between body and representation, arguing in opposition to a particularly well-referenced figure of modern art history. Walter Benjamin’s now classic notion of “aura” collapses in the context of contemporary visual or social media: Cule suggests that each time a moving image is watched, it’s aura in fact expands –and with single videos on YouTube racking up millions and millions of views, this inversion of an established idea certainly seems justified.
Like choosing to watch a clip online, making a decision within a system features in Leslie Kulesh’s concise piece, presumably arbitrarily named ‘Pop Up Penguin Palooza’. Choosing to be active or passive when faced with her instruction inevitably results in some kind of physical movement (of the mouse or trackpad) – further implying the suggestion of confusion and tension between virtual consequences and human actions. The “truth to materials” as the evidence of self-production in Daniella Russo’s film ‘Tear, Break’ highlights this tension, as does the visual focus on texture and surface in Jala Wahid’s ‘Wearing Natalie Portman’. It’s a point of contention when the fluidity and ease of online action or movement simultaneously enacts the opposite on the body.
But the risks of engaging with a system (as lifestyle) that relies so heavily on software and hardware is made unassumingly desperate in Tom Duggan’s absorbing and haunting story of ‘The Troglodyte Network’. Our dependence on the internet and digital information networks –even as a way to facilitate the most personal, intimate and menial tasks –leaves its subject feeling isolated, despite the re-imagining and initiating of new data systems and communities. Duggan’s use of technical language, combined with the surrealism of the story, the real situations the subject finds himself in, and the dry wit with which they’re retold leaves behind a residue of a sad narrative –it seems to reflect some of the actual culture structures of contemporary society’s processes.
Despite the variety of references, histories and mediums of the pieces selected for How to Sleep Fasterepisode 3, all of these works aim to bind together their separate and often complex parts, rather than to investigate them individually and untangle them further: the featured artists explore that infinite process of interpretation, presenting their distribution and narrative (crucially, in the context of the digital) as the artwork itself. The exhibition’s editorial, which was a joy to read, begins by recognising the “two absolutes we can never attain. One is freedom and the other is authenticity”. By giving the featured pieces a firm position in an informed, art-historical discourse, Arcadia Missa not only offers a legitimate platform for such work to be viewed from (in an appropriate format), but recognises the contextual position of many artists who are making their way through the complicated systems of our contemporary, information society. These artists are not working towards answers as absolutes. Instead, the collapsing of symbolic reference in a digital context is refused by the body –those material realities engaging with the webcams and keyboards that they control. **
Review of Ecology of Secrets by William Kherbek, in A-N
Publications, Arcadia Missa, London
Arcadia Missa, the London-based self-organised studios, gallery and publishers, have recently launched an artists’ book series and the first two publications are available for £9 each in signed editions of 100. These exhibitions in book format critically enhance Arcadia Missa’s curatorial investigation of today’s digitally-networked environment. William Kherbek’s novel, Ecology of Secrets, covers surveillance, activism, police spies and more, through the format of a detective novel. Ocean Living by Megan Rooney and Holly White is both an exhibition and artists’ book that draws on communications between the two artists from a cruise liner to the mainland.