Future Shock: Visions of Worlds Created by Digital Technologies

Gener8ion, Neo Surf, 2020. Image courtesy of the artist.
Ryoichi Kurokawa, subassemblies, 2020/2022. Image courtesy of the artist.
UVA, Vanishing Point 3:1, 2022. Image courtesy of the artist.
Nonotak, Daydream V.6, 2021; installation view in “Future Shock” at 180 The Strand, London, 28 April – 28 August 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and 180 The Strand.
Tundra, ROW, 2020. Image courtesy of the artist.
Weirdcore, Subconscious, 2022; installation view in “Future Shock” at 180 The Strand, London, 28 April – 28 August 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and 180 The Strand.
Weirdcore, Subconscious, 2022. Image courtesy of the artist.
Ib Kamara, The Queen is Coming, 2022. Image courtesy of the artist.
Ibby Njoya, Mustafa, 2022; installation view in “Future Shock” at 180 The Strand, London, 28 April – 28 August 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and 180 The Strand.
Caterina Barbieri, Vigil, 2022; installation view in “Future Shock” at 180 The Strand, London, 28 April – 28 August 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and 180 The Strand.
Gaika, Convo 2.2 Complex Confessional, 2022. Image courtesy of the artist.
Lawrence Lek, Theta, 2022. Image courtesy of the artist.
Gener8ion, Neo Surf, 2020; installation view in “Future Shock” at 180 The Strand, London, 28 April – 28 August 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and 180 The Strand.
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In the group exhibition “Future Shock” at London’s 180 The Strand, a chain of immersive installations reveals the possibilities of digital technology, but ultimately re-asserts humanity.

TEXT: Herbert Wright
IMAGES: Courtesy of
various

 

A trail of digital spectacles threads through a dark labyrinth deep in a brutalist Central London building. “Future Shock”, at 180 The Strand, features works, many newly commissioned, by 15 artists and collectives from around the globe. They provide an immersive journey in which digital technologies are not just used as an artistic toolbox, but frequently becomes the subject of the art as well, notably in the case of artificial intelligence (AI). But film, a traditional technology, also plays an unexpectedly powerful part to illuminate the human experience.

 

Ryoichi Kurokawa, subassemblies, 2020/2022. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

The exhibition gets off to a super-charged start with subassemblies (2020/2022) by Berlin-based Japanese musical and visual composer Ryoichi Kurokawa. You find yourself sandwiched between opposite ceiling-high screens on which topographies, nature and deserted buildings are rendered with the precision of a laser scan, and morph, melt, spin and shift with a soundtrack of adrenaline-pumping music and flashes of coloured light. Kurokawa’s work seems to build on the pioneering combination of frenetic beats and graphics of Ryoji Ikeda, but greatly expands the bandwidth of image and sound.

 

UVA, Vanishing Point 3:1, 2022. Image courtesy of the artist.
Nonotak, Daydream V.6, 2021; installation view in “Future Shock” at 180 The Strand, London, 28 April – 28 August 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and 180 The Strand.
Tundra, ROW, 2020. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

On the other hand, Topologies #1 (2020) by London-based studio UVA (United Visual Artists) is a complete contrast. Silent planes of light move across the darkness over a sloping ramp, which gives an extra dimension by engaging our sense of balance, further reframing our spatial perception. The effect is simple but effective. It is one of several minimalist spatial sculptures where monochrome light is the medium, following in the footsteps of the 1970s “solid light” work of British artist Anthony McCall. Translucent screens intervene in another UVA work later in the show, Vanishing Point 3:1 (2019). It conjures up 3D geometries that seem to float in thin air. Elsewhere, Paris-based Nanotak’s DAYDREAM V.6 (2021) generates a tunnel of ethereal rectangles and lines. More contemporary, dynamic and amusing is ROW (2020) by St. Petersburg-based collective Tundra, in which flickers of red light dance within, and along, a row of floating circles.

 

Weirdcore, Subconscious, 2022; installation view in “Future Shock” at 180 The Strand, London, 28 April – 28 August 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and 180 The Strand.
Weirdcore, Subconscious, 2022. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

Two installations are defined by the design of their physical environments. Subconscious (2022) by Weirdcore, the UK studio behind the ever-lively, sometimes mad and funny visuals for Aphex Twin, a trailblazer in electronic music. He provides a soundtrack of optimistic electronic music for a walkthrough of spaces with walls of colourful fluorescent square patterns and columns of nothing more than coloured strips which stretch and twist, but the installation’s intended connection to lucid dreaming is not obvious. It leads into Columns (2022) by Ben Kelly, a British designer known for the urban-industrial interior aesthetic he introduced to dance clubs at Manchester’s Hacienda in 1982, which subsequently spread to Berlin and then around the world. For “Future Shock”, he sets up an eclectic variety of post-modernist architectural columns and rotating mirrors with a definite echo of the Hacienda. Sadly, the electronic soundtrack by Scanner is drowned out by Aphex Twin next door.

 

Ib Kamara, The Queen is Coming, 2022. Image courtesy of the artist.
Ibby Njoya, Mustafa, 2022; installation view in “Future Shock” at 180 The Strand, London, 28 April – 28 August 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and 180 The Strand.
Caterina Barbieri, Vigil, 2022; installation view in “Future Shock” at 180 The Strand, London, 28 April – 28 August 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and 180 The Strand.

 

Digital innovation seems absent in Sierra Leone-born fashion stylist Ib Kamara’s black-and-white film The Queen Is Coming (2022), but it is sheer delight and a highlight of the show. Young African women, sometimes in local costume, sometimes dressed in uniform, huddle and pose and break into sudden smiles, alive and mischievous. Although set designer Ibby Njoya also works with fashion, his installation Mustafa (2022) is an abstract experience. A box to stand in and watch a wall glowing with gently changing, warm, colourful, organic forms. Along with a soundtrack of shifting African rhythms, they draw upon his Cameroonian heritage. Meanwhile, Italian electronic composer Caterina Barbieri’s installation Vigil (2020) is filled with her serene music and features a film of clouds scudding over a low-hanging Sun, while a suspended ice block in front of the screen melts, as if from its warmth. These works generate timeless human, emotional responses.

 

Gaika, Convo 2.2 Complex Confessional, 2022. Image courtesy of the artist.
Lawrence Lek, Theta, 2022. Image courtesy of the artist.

 

However, where are the robots who are displacing humans and the AI that is reaching ever deeper into our lives? Such cutting-edge technologies have a dark edge. There’s something claustrophobic about Convo 2.2 Complex Confessional (2022) by London-based Gaika. Is the robotic machine at its centre imprisoned in a tight industrial prison space, or is it in a shrine, and what do the elusive images and words on a screen mean? Is the machine dreaming? Vicky (2022) by Los Angeles-based creative studio Actual Objects, proposes a very different future. A room of screens presents digital characters in game-like settings, and some of whom can be interacted with via your mobile. If this is a taste of the metaverse, much of it will be joyless. At least the digital avatars with abstracted human forms we find dancing in the tropical vegetation of a colourful rendered island in What Melissa Said (2022), an installation by Object Blue & Natalia Podgorska, seem to be having fun. But the most effective virtual world in “Future Shock” is in London-based Lawrence Lek’s film Theta (2020). A police car’s AI system is in conversation with another voice who reveals that she (it) is another part of the car’s AI, as the car drives around a deserted city called SimBeijing and encounters a fox. This “Sinofuturist” animation is superb, from the graphics and mood to the internal dialogue which raises exactly the sort of possibilities and existentialist questions that AI is heading towards.

 

Gener8ion, Neo Surf, 2020; installation view in “Future Shock” at 180 The Strand, London, 28 April – 28 August 2022. Image courtesy of the artist and 180 The Strand.

 

Lek’s work is not the only one where film delivers narrative. Even more powerful is Neo Surf (2020) by France’s Gener8ion, a collaboration between filmmaker Romain Gavras and musician Surkin. In a mesmerising projection across three screens, a handful of youths in a seemingly deserted near-future world play and dance. The cinematography is stunning, and the soundtrack swells with emotion. This is about freedom, togetherness, and survival, but there is also menace, as when emus are chased with swords, then chunks of meat are roasted is a limestone quarry as the teenagers party into the night. This ambiguity is like an echo of William Golding’s seminal Lord of the Flies (1954), a story of schoolboys stranded on an island paradise. Neo Surf’s backstory about AI and a spaceship we don’t see seems irrelevant. This work is about what it is to be human, and it is the best in the exhibition.

Although “Future Shock” is rooted in technology, NFTs are thankfully not on its agenda. The technology we see isn’t always cutting-edge. Minimalist conceptual light art and electro soundtracks have changed little over decades. But Kurokawa’s subassemblies is an exhilarating demonstration of today’s digital power, and the fantastic sci-fi graphics of Lek’s Theta delivers thought-provoking questions about AI. Ultimately perhaps the most effective visions, such as the works by Kamara and Gener8ion, are those which put us humans centre stage.

 

Future Shock
28 April — 28 August 2022
180 The Strand, London

 

 

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