Monday, April 27, 2015

The 3rd 3 Year

            2015 brings the third installment of The New Museum’s Triennial. The museum’s decision to present a triennial diverges from the ubiquitous biennials, seen at most older and more established institutions. In this way the triennial format points to the New Museum’s mission to be and show art that is new and a-typical.

            The 2015 triennial entitled "Surround Audience" seems to follow this mission more than the first two installments of the exhibition. Perhaps this is due to the unusual choice of curators: Lauren Cornell, who before stepping down to curate the triennial, was the director of the new media platform Rhizome, and the young innovative artist Ryan Trecartin. The pair’s curation, which I feel comfortable declaring “brilliant,” is innovative, thoughtful and very much in the process of having a complex conversation with this current moment in art and society. 

           DIS, Studies for The Island (KEN), 2015. Codesigned by Mike Meiré

         After years of working together as artist and curator, the two bring a shared interest in the social and psychological effects of digital technology. For Cornell the titles and concept of “Surround Audience” is inspired by Trecartin’s artwork, which she describes as

 “vividly manifest[ing] a world in which the effects of technology and late capitalism have been absorbed into our bodies and altered our vision of the world.”[1]

    Featuring the work of 51 artists and collectives whose work explores and depicts the state of being surrounded by a post-internet culture replete with social media avatars and cultural symbols, what Cornell called “impressions of life." This state producing a way of life that is filled with a multiplicity of choices and information that in turn has created a more porous culture. 


            The artwork included in the show spans a multitude of mediums, from sculpture to performance. There seems to be a predominantly concerned in this work, with creating art that synthesizes myriads of ideas and experiences.  In this synthesis these elements are allowed to unfold simultaneously, creating pieces that are antonymous ‘symbols’ and do not necessarily signify or express a single thing. 

           The included sound works by DJ / composer Ashland Mines a.k.a. Total Freedom step outside the visual but also create new combinations and experiences.  Installed in the museum the dance music echoes the porous state of culture by symbolically undoing the prestigious and guarded museum space. Mines' pieces 'soundtracks' the transitional non white cube spaces of a stair case, which has been lit like a nightclub or a Dan Flavin piece with green neon tubes.

             Likewise lived experience in this surround state has become replete with possibilities to create and consume said “impressions of life” with social media, selfies and the like.  This experience of and methods to consume or create these impressions with technology is reflected in Trecartin’s own work, which often read like surrealist   ‘reality’ television. When considering my and many people’s first experience of seeing one of the artists' videos was on the ever accessible cyber archive You Tube we can see that even the triennial’s art is subject to the complexities of a time in which information, ideas and even art are all up for grabs. 

With their instillation The Island (KEN), made specifically for the triennial, the collective Dis creates a spherical 'smart' space in which life and nature, by way of the body and water, as well as technology and information can meet and interact. The instillation is a work of art, an exhibition in of itself and a platform for digital consciousness. The centerpiece of The Island (KEN) is an island like horizontal shower with a kitchen sink and a drinking spout. With this fountain unit Dis breaks down normative notions of space by combining the personal/private shower with the public and utilitarian sink and drinking spout. Further disrupting both expected uses of pouring water, color changing lights are positioned on or above the island.


            Around the sink-spa unit photographs and other art objects line the gallery walls. More importantly the instillation is not simply a collection of art arranged in an in closed gallery but an active space for discourse. It should be noted that the collective's fame is due in part to their digital magazine so it seems natural that their project include something that goes beyond itself or that the project is always and already more than itself. Keeping with the trade of information that is an intrinsic part of magazines and digitized life Dis has used the gallery as a place to hold talks on privacy, smartification and recently a Discussion with the sentient robot Bina 48.  

Bina 48 like an archive or rather or rather a post-human journal was created with the process of "mind uploading." This process theoretically transfers an individual’s consciousness, memories, personality etc.  into a digital file which can then be used to emulate the person via robot. Mind uploading maybe the final stage of social media; with which our mediated being can be reborn.

Juliana Huxtable, Untitled (Casual Power) from the “Universal Crop Tops For All The Self  Canonized Saints of Becoming” series, 2015. Inkjet print.

            The unusual inclusion of object works by performance artists, whose work and presence in an exhibition are usually impermanent, further points to the progressive and concept driven curation. Reflecting the flexibility of medium and culture these pieces by Niv Acosta and Juliana Huxtable, who are both transgendered people, work with the "visual metaphors", that Cornell recognized, in different, and in Huxtable's case more than one medium, to address complex ideas.

            Huxtable is a poet and performer and her pieces from her series Universal  Crop Tops For All The Self Cononized Saints of Becoming 2015) are both text piece and digital image pieces. Sci-Fi like portraits of the artist represent "avatars" of the pieces concept and are over layered with poems that further explore these ideas.  With these pieces Huxtable was thinking about social activist impulses and internet culture. Using and exploring cultural semiotics; Huxtable addresses how digital counciousness has changed society. Picturing her black body in a sports bra Huxtable sought to address how these combined things once signified an empowered black woman and how in the rapid age of the internet this symbol and the feelings that it came out of have dispersed or been muted.

               The sci-fi images also act in a socially conscious way, referring to images that have a “mystical and symbolic power circulated in American black communities.”  These images mythologize the civil rights movement or are set in Egypt that has a “mystical and symbolic power circulated in American black communities.”[2] In her own images.

               Huxtable layers these mythic and Afrocentric qualities with racial and pop culture tropes. This layering of the personal, political, pop cultural and fantastic seems symptomatic of the “internet age” in which we can be whatever and how ever many things we want to be. By drawing on this technology-induced schizophrenia Huxtable is able to, in a Queer way, assume different personas and symbolically transform social roles and representations.  In performing this transformations and undoing of stereotypes Huxtable is able to create not just alternative identities or icons but also new ones that act as “avatars” for the future. 

Juliana Huxtable, Untitled (Psychosocial Stuntin’) from the “Universal Crop Tops For All The Self  Canonized Saints of Becoming” series, 2015. Inkjet print.           

        Placed in the center of the gallery in which Huxtable’s work is hung is a sculpture not exactly by the artist but owes much to her presences. The sculpture Juliana (2015) by Frank Benson is a 3D scan and print of Huxtable.  The sculpture done in the scarab like greenish blue/gold seems to draw on Huxtable’s   "Blue Lip (she wears blue lipstick almost daily) Black Witch Nuwaubian Princess" persona.  The piece like Huxtable’s work deals the body as a mediated thing.

Niv Acosta’s piece, placed in the museum’s street windows, like Juliana Huxtable’s work incorporates multiple references and tactics for the ‘queering’ of socio-cultural norms. The piece features a collection of hand crocheted phalluses. Crocheting a phallus is already an abnormal thing in a culture which is so unsettled by sexuality and nudity. But more so because it turns the decorative craft on its head, taking it away from doilies and scarves into organ inspired art.

 Niv Acosta, LIMP PHALLUSE, 2011,crochet 

            These formal qualities however are not the most importing tactics the piece employs. Crochet like say knitting or scrap booking is considered to be a “feminine craft”. In his use of crochet as a trans man Acosta disrupts this gender association in a queer and feminist way that can be compared to Judy Chicago’s use of the ‘wifely’ duties of setting the table and glazing ceramics to create her famed The Dinner Party (1974-79) in which Chicago arranged ceramic plates she had painted with vulvar based floral motifs. 

            Acosta’s piece seems well placed on the façade of the museum as it encapsulates the “neither here nor there” nature of the work that the triennial looks at.  These works are arguably akin to what is contentiously called “Post – Internet Art” but are more fluid and complex and not as dependent. Perhaps this art is more a part of an age and state of art that the art critic and philosopher Arthur Danto identified as “Post – Historical” moving beyond what has been set and identified as art. More over the art is not exactly post – Internet but product of the age of the Internet predominantly made by artists who grew up with the emergence of the Internet. Maybe because of this but also a larger socio-cultural flux the art is able to move freely through unpack and draw on the semiotic web and the state of life in the years 2013-15 in an interesting way.

And of coarse  nothing concerned with digital consciousness or art would be complete with out a self reflexive You Tube video. The triennial 'surrounds' it self in this way featuring a video by artist/comic/You Tube star Casey Jane Ellison in conversation with other female artists,critics and curators. In a post-post-internet way Lauren Cornell is included in the conversation, like a spector. 

all images courtesy the New Museum

[1] Cornell, Lauren, "Notes on Surround Audience." In Surround Audience: New Museum Triennial: 2015, p. 10, 2015.

[2] Juliana Huxtable & Frank Benson In Conversation With Andrew Durbin

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