I’m still reflecting on the video works presented at the “Strange Days: Memories of the Future” , the exhibition curated by Massimiliano Gionni, the artistic director of the New Museum in New York, who brought those film and video installations by twenty-one of today’s most radical image makers to the Store X in London.
“Grosse Fatigue” is a real dragon’s entrance to the whole vibe of the exhibition. Camille Henrot created a visual representation of an endless spiral of links, which starts with natural history and ends up lost in a pile of references and terms. Those seemingly chaotic images are however connected in an intricate way of a mind which tries to track down the beginnings of a thought, or of the Universe. I felt that the artist is posing a question- are we, humans, still displying the Universal activities, or merely trying to investigate and copy something we’d lost connection with?
From present reflecting on the past to the future. Ed Atkins “Happy Birthday!!” video revolves around a man, whose AI looks and fragmentary speech reveal his dehumanised nature. Either a computer generated image or a man-made robot with perfect facial features and skin, he pukes oil and repeatedly disintegrates. His speech consists of repeated and broken lines which reference to dates. He sounds like an actor training in expressions. Training to sound human (again?). As if he was trying to acquire a personality or sell a convincing story. Or perhaps he is repeating his memories? ” You were always on my mind” by Elvis Presley can be heard in the background and the figure is seen holding to a head of someone inanimate next to a bed, repeating cheerfully ” 6 months to a year. It will be 6 months to a year. This time next year. It’s all right“. Ed Atkins was apparently inspired by “a drawing of Pierre Klossowski that depicts an ambiguous scene of a man hovering over a sickbead and cradling the head of its occupant in a manner that seems at once tender and menacing. (…) In the narration of the video, Atkins constructs an elusive dialogue about the shifting context of numbers as both abstract, universal representations and the most exquisite, personal metaphors, that represent birthdays, death dates, anniversaries, and bank accounts. Pointing to the multiple meaning of the word “digit”- both a number and a bodily appendage- the text draws together the CGi body, encoded in binary, and the human hand.”
The Myth of Progress (Moonwalk) by Klara Liden was one of my favourite’s. It’s beauty lies in simplicity
Other works worth mentioning are:
Pipilotti Rist’s “4th Floor to Madness”, recording of which I re-mixed in my short video
“Teeth, Gums, Machine, Future, Society (One Body, Two Souls)” by Lili Reynaud-Dewar, which I see as a way of looking at our modern concept of beauty in relation to classical sculptures. Is it solidifying or still in flux? Reynaud-Dewar examines “the vulnerability and empowerment associated with acts of exposing oneself to the world (…). Her works consider the fluid border between public and private space, and challenge established conventions relating to the body, sexuality, and power relations, especially as circumscribed by institutional space.”
“The Looks” by Wu Tsang (featuring Boychild) about surveillance pop-culture briefly speaking and “a sci-fi short-cum-performance document that opens with views of a futuristic cityscape (..) Tsang’s frequent collaborator, Boychild, plays Blis, a pop star overseen by the Looks, which Tsang has described as “digital avatars that control humans through a panoptical social media platforms (known as PRSM). Surveillance style shots of Blis in bed contrast with footage of her coated in glitter, singing and dancing on stage for the official PRSM Channel and before a rapt audience- until a glitch gives way to a moment of rave-like euphoria.
And last but not least Cheng Ran, Diary of a Madman, “which borrows its title from what is considered China’s first modern short story, written by Lu Xun in 1918 (…). Cheng’s videos take the form of diaristic vignettes that reveal a larger assessment of a foreign place through the eyes of an outsider.”
From the exhibition catalogue we read: “The works in “Strange Days” emphasize a fractured sense of time: history collides with the present, and future speculations are vexed by a distant past. Departing from the format of film essay and the use of cinema verité, a number of artists adopt unusual forms of lyrical reportage and sentimental documentary. Others take on a more confessional tone, as they speculate, with both optimism and unease, about language and visibility, desires and fears, and origins and destinies. (…) In many of the videos technology is both a subject and medium- perhaps even a talisman- in peculiar parables that expand definitions of identity, vulnerability, and power. ”