Over the past 30 years, breakneck advances in computer technology have engendered inventions that were previously the speculation of science fiction. The internet, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and 3D printing are just a few of the novel tools that are now integrated into everyday life. As digital technology progresses it becomes more adept at responding to our needs, displays aspects of ‘intelligence’ eerily akin to our own, and helps us instantaneously fulfill a myriad of desires previously challenging or impossible to realize. Our lives are increasingly intertwined with these new mediums; and yet, as certain qualities which heretofore were considered fundamental to our humanity, become copied, distorted, displaced and dispersed through technological apparatus, it prompts an existential re-evaluation of what it means to be person.
TEXT: Maya Kramer
IMAGES: Courtesy of K11 Art Foundation and New Museum
After Us is the first co-produced exhibition between the K11 Art Foundation and New Museum and it grapples with this question and reflects on our existence by refracting it through a digital lens. Curated by Lauren Cornell, Curator and Associate Director of Technology Initiatives at the New Museum with support from K11 Art Foundation’s Assistant Curator Chen Baoyang, the show brings together 15 artists working primarily in Europe, America and in China who muse on what it might mean to be human in the digital age though an exploration of avatars. In an era where the post-internet and post-human dialogue is reaching a fever pitch, the curators adopted a more tangential approach to this question— focusing on the types of representations and narrative sensibilities engendered through technology.
Un-winnable Game, by Li Liao is the first work in the exhibition and was commissioned especially for this show. In this on-going, live performative work six professional gamers continuously play, but are barred from winning or finishing, the video game League of Legends. According to Lauren Cornell’s catalogue essay this repetitive and goalless work is ostensibly, “a reminder of the sweat and labor involved in sustaining fantasy worlds.” Yet, the prolonged engagement of these players seems less reminiscent of labor and instead is tinged with its inverse— the excessive amount of leisure time intrinsic to supporting such an activity.
In the adjacent room, Jon Rafman creates quirky forms through, almost literally, twisting the tradition of sculpted portraits. For these pieces the artist digitally manipulates 3-D computer models of busts, cloaks them in imagery, and prints them out, and the results are mildly intriguing. The online virtual world Second Life comes into play in a video work by Lin Ke, China Boat 漂流客 linke Waco. Here we watch as the artist, reflected in his computer screen, guides an avatar through the virtual tourist destination Hikari island. At certain points Lin attempts to ram his avatar into the limits of this imaginary world, but apart from this momentary drama, a sense of aimlessness— maybe akin to the hours we all waste online— permeates the work.
In contrast to the detached tenor of Lin’s piece, Lu Yang’s Uterus Man, a work I have seen multiple times, is as fresh and engaging as ever. The eponymously named manga video game character, who rides on a sanitary pad, obtains his power from eating placenta and melding with his powerful pelvic chariot, employs a host of biological wonders to fight off his enemies. This immersive installation engulfs the viewer in a manifold display of the super hero’s prowess and is comprised of: light boxes, wallpaper, photographs, video, a video game and slickly lit vitrines containing Uterus Man clothing. It is particularly refreshing that the work does not challenge gender assumptions, rather it bypasses them. Lu Yang’s creation is not so fantastical compared to the feats of transformation that occur biologically every minute. Nature is unrestricted, brutal and miraculous in its operations, and as the artist elaborates on that reality, it seems absurd in comparison to be tripped up by simple male/female categorizations.
Of all the works in After Us, Cecil B. Evan’s video, What the Heart Wants is the most layered and resonant. The product of an impressive amount of research, the video is narrated by a future, all encompassing virtual system named HYPER. Through encounters with different avatars residing in this system, the piece reflects on an age old question— who gets to be acknowledged as human? Corporate interests, rebel impulses, ethical questions, and humorous non-sequitur commercials butt up against another and conjure the complexity of the problems we are facing at the threshold of massive technological change. What the Heart Wants deftly expresses the staggering realization that such complexity is magnified beyond comprehension as our possibilities and problems become dispersed across a nearly infinite virtual apparatus.
Though the digital revolution is undoubtedly reconfiguring the human condition, only a handful of the works in the exhibition tackle some of the more profound implications of such change. Technology ostensibly offers us numerous possibilities and alternative fantasy worlds. Yet in After Us, is the more mundane interactions with digital realities, with their attendant mix of convenience, boredom and distraction, that come into view.
17th March 2017 – 31st May 2017
chi K11 art museum (Shanghai)
Maya Kramer is an artist, an independent art writer and arts project coordinator. She was based in New York City for nine years during which time she worked in the curatorial department of the Guggenheim Museum and for private collectors. In 2010 she moved to Shanghai, and has since exhibited internationally in conjunction with institutions such the Hong Kong Arts Centre (Hong Kong) and the Van Abbe Museum (Eindhoven, Holland) among others. She is the recipient of the Jacob Javits Fellowship, her works have been featured in media such as Fortune Art, Randian and Blouin Art Info, and she has written for The Shanghai Gallery of Art, Artlink, and Bank Gallery. She currently lives and works in Shanghai, China.
One thought on “After Us: Intertwining between Virtual and Reality”
Hey everyone! I just read this article about the exhibition and it really got me thinking about the profound impact of technology on our lives.
The exhibition explores the relationship between the digital and real worlds thru the lens of avatars and digital representations. It’s intriguing to see how artists like Li Liao, Lin Ke, Lu Yang, and Cecile B. Evans use their work to reflect on the complexities of our digital age.
I observed it fascinating to see these artists exploring the implications of technological change, and it makes me marvel about the future and the role of technological know-how in shaping our lives. This link has some amazing insights into the exhibition, and I highly recommend checking it out: https://andersenlab.com/services/custom-api-integration-andersen