State of Emergency
The U.S. debut of Neural Swamp (2021), a multi-channel video installation by American artist Martine Syms made for The Future Fields Commission, opens at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In the work, three characters trained on Syms’ voice engage in awkward, disjointed dialogue in a narrative ostensibly about golf (bolstered by related videogame footage), demonstrating the frustrating isolation of communication where “neither listening nor comprehension is possible.”
“If a Token Could Speak,” a show of video works by Sophie Auger that “put the NFT and the traditional art world in perspective,” opens at Montreal’s ELEKTRA Gallery. In Catalog (2022), the Quebec artist gets meta, tokenizing 3D models of the exhibition press release, archive, and making-of documentation—and puts everything up for sale on the blockchain; while an eponymous work (2022, image) demonstrates how even a ‘poor‘ image can attain “the same value as a rare work of art.”
“The Artwork as a Living System,” a retrospective of works by Christa Sommerer & Laurent Mignonneau, opens at ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany. Included are early A-Life works (image: Interactive Plant Growing, 1992) through the duo’s recent focus on augmented reality—14 interactive installations in total. “Few artists have shaped the transition from the moving image media phase to the living image media like Sommerer and Mignonneau,” note the curatorial team.
The culmination of the Studiotopia program, which embedded 13 artists in labs for 17 months, “Colliding Epistemes” opens at Bozar in Brussels. For their residencies, artists including Evelina Domnitch & Dmitry Gelfand, Kuang-Yi Ku, and Sandra Lorenzi (image: How to read poetry to cancer cells?, 2022) were paired with quantum physicists, molecular biologists, and other niche researchers, yielding works about “the collision of disciplines, methodologies, and mindsets.”
The Processing Foundation, a champion of software literacy within the visual arts and developer of the eponymous creative coding toolkits, announces that it received a record-breaking $10 million in donations in 2021, a majority of which came from artists donating cryptocurrency. This generous support has “allowed the Foundation’s work to become sustainable for the first time,” writes Executive Director Dorothy R. Santos, citing particularly giving artists such as Joshua Davis, Monica Rizzolli, Jared Tarbell, and Lia. Santos further announces that the foundation’s board decided to suspend new Ethereum donations over environmental concerns. Support for Tezos, a more energy-efficient cryptocurrency, will continue.
Bringing together 18 immersive installations that ponder planetary co-existence, “Our Time on Earth” opens at the Barbican, London. To mitigate dread and paralysis felt in the face of compounding environmental crises, guest curators Caroline Till and Kate Franklin selected works that “carve out space to imagine a constructive way forward.” Case in point: Superflux’ Refuge for Resurgence (2021), a interspecies dinner table “where all living beings are considered equal.”
Alice Bucknell’s dark eco-fiction Swamp City (2021), in which the American artist and writer imagines the Florida Everglades as a near-future luxury retreat, takes over HOXTON 253, London. For this UK premiere, the gallery space is transformed into the offices of The Evergreen Group, the mock real-estate vendor behind Swamp City, complete with property listings, promotional pamphlets, 3D printed models, and slick prints “to lure in its millennial clientele and investors.”
Metaverse Petshop, a beta version of a new project by Japanese duo Exonemo debuts at NADA New York. The “playable installation inspired by the relationship between information space and real space” lets participants purchase a CGI dog, release it from its ‘cage,’ and take custody of the pup on their smartphone. The work-in-progress will be presented at an upcoming solo show, and the duo envisions future iterations of the installation will allow users to “mint NFT pedigrees.”
In the first of six performances, Kerry Guinan’s The Red Thread links six industrial sewing machines at Dublin’s The Complex with six counterparts at a garment factory in Bangalore, India. “The kinetic installation appears to be self-operating, but there are puppeteers in hiding,” the Irish artist notes about the workers over 8,000 kilometers away. By eliminating that distance, she hopes to “make visceral the extraordinary scale, and underlying humanity, of the globalised economy.”
Monira Al Qadiri’s single-channel video Behind the Sun (2013) opens at Digital Arts Resource Centre (DARC) Project Space in Ottawa. Drawing on the Kuwaiti artist’s firsthand experience of the Gulf War, the video juxtaposes amateur VHS footage of burning oil fields with audio of Islamic television program monologues. Qadiri recalls the carnage as the “classic image of a biblical apocalypse … the earth belching fire and the black scorched sky felt like a portrait of hell as it should be.”
Tamlin Magee revisits the 16-bit heyday of the early ’90s, when the sound and sampling capabilities of Amiga home computers were central to a burgeoning electronic music scene. “It was the poor man’s studio,” recalls Marlon Sterling, AKA drum’n’bass producer Equinox, whose recently released Early Works 93-94 were made using the OctaMED music tracker when he was only 15. (image: Sterling during an Amiga music restoration session with fellow UK producer Bizzy B)
“A Sea of Data,” German media artist Hito Steyerl’s first solo show in Asia, opens at Seoul’s National Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art (MMCA). Named after an e-flux essay by the artist, the exhibition includes 23 works, spanning 1990-2000s video art through her more recent (often iconic) installations (image: Hell Yeah We Fuck Die, 2016). It also includes a debut: Animal Spirits (2022), commissioned by the MMCA for the show.
As part of her eponymous solo exhibition, American software artist Lauren Lee McCarthy performs a new iteration of her 2020 COVID response piece I Heard Talking Is Dangerous at EIGEN+ART Lab, Berlin. Whereas the original performance had McCarthy trigger text-to-speech monologues from her phone, Proceed At Your Own Risk invited the gallery audience to use the same technology (via a custom web app) to talk back.
“SKIN DEEP,” a Jonas Blume solo show, opens at Scope BLN in Berlin. Curated by Tina Sauerlaender, the exhibition lives up to its name, presenting works by the American artist exploring the “use of skin as medium to reflect on the relationship between reality and image world.” Included is motorized torso Partially True (2022) and creepy diptych Yes. (Double David) (2022, image). Collectively the works present the artist’s body “in an estranged and uncanny haptic beyond resemblance.”
Putting ecology-focused works by the Dutch and British artists in conversation, “Dialogue: James Bridle and Jonas Staal“ opens at Berlin’s NOME gallery. Stall’s “Comrades in Deep Future“ marshals a coalition of “extinct plants, neo-constructivist ammonites, and insurgent octopi“ into “a popular front of earth workers,“ while Bridle’s “Signs of Life,“ showcases a series of sustainable design ‘tributes’ (image: Windmill 03 (for Walter Segal), 2022).
Are the aesthetics of an immersive installation intellectual property? According to recently surfaced Los Angeles court documents the answer to that question is maybe. Spurned by similarities between a pair of their works and installations at the Museum of Dream Space (MODS) in Beverly Hills, teamLab are suing for copyright infringement. The prolific Japanese studio claims motifs from “Transcending Boundaries” (2017) and “Crystal” (2015), have been copied by exhibition designers at the American venue. The case may set an interesting legal precedent, as “streams of light and water cascading down the wall onto the ground” is not exactly ingenious—but immersive installations are big business now. Either a summary judgement will be issued in a few weeks, or the case heads to trial this summer.
“Simulating Gestures,” a show in which Jessica Field questions the visibility of the artist’s hand in digital art, opens at Toronto’s Pari Nadimi Gallery. Field’s explorations of emergence are demonstrated here, by works including a simulation pitting artificial agents against one another (to make aesthetic decisions), and a recent drawing series where AI personas sketch “emotionally infused ideas to communicate” (image: Shame is only heavy when it hurts, 2021).
The 59th edition of the Venice Biennale opens. Some highlights: central exhibition “The Milk of Dreams” includes early computer art by Vera Molnar; Iceland’s pavilion, for which Sigurður Guðjónsson zooms into infinitesimal metal dust; Malta’s pavilion, where Arcangelo Sassolino reimagines a Caravaggio scene in dripping molten steel (image: Diplomazija Astuta, 2022); and Uzbekistan’s pavilion, which honours the 8th-century polymath Muhammad ibn Musa al-Khwarizmi.
Showing the “divergent realities generated by the use of fossil fuels” worldwide, “Fossil Experience” opens at Berlin’s Prater Galerie. Participating artists include Marjolijn Dijkman, Monira Al Qadiri, and Rachel O’Reilly. Global North and South are represented, with Kat Austen’s This Land is Not Mine (2020-) chronicling waning coal production in Western Europe, and Ayọ̀ Akínwándé’s Ogoni Cleanup (image, 2020) resuscitating a Big Oil-ravaged Niger Delta river.
“Emo Gym,” a show inviting artists to “confront, dissect, and possibly embrace the vulnerability of our times,” opens at Hong Kong’s Tai Kwun Contemporary. Participating artists include Chloë Cheuk, Yim Sui Fong, and Eason Tsang ka wai contributing installations and video works. Of note: recent RCA grad Michele Chu‘s inti-gym (2021, image), a cozy tunnel that offers enclosure and respite for ‘intimacy fitness,’ an affective counterpoint to the physical regime of traditional gyms.
Natively Digital 1.3: Generative Art, Sotheby’s third post-NFT auction begins. While earlier editions sprinkled works from talent with contemporary art world bona fides (Addie Wagenknecht, Simon Denny, Casey Reas) into the mix with figures that emerged during the NFT boom, this auction looks in the rear view mirror. Lots include a 1976 Vera Molnar disorder study, a dot com-era Roman Verostko binary self-portrait, and Charles Csuri’s Sine Curve Man silkscreen (1967, image).
A hotspot in the Tezos NFT ecosystem, generative art marketplace fx(hash) emerges from beta. Version 1.0 boasts more robust architecture and speedier page updating (latency plagued past popular mints), and the new smart contract allows royalty splits between collaborators and Dutch auctions (which gives collectors better access to the primary market and discourages scalpers). “We’ve applied a global layer of polish across the whole website,” the fx(hash) team notes.
The U.S. Treasury Department has identified the culprits behind a recent $625 million theft from a Decentralized Finance (DeFi) exchange: North Korea’s Lazarus Group. The jaw-dropping 173,600 ETH and 25 million USDC heist took place on March 23rd, when Ronin Bridge (a DeFi exchange connected to Axie Infinity) was accessed via hacked private keys and then drained. DeFi hacks have been frequent thus far in 2022, and this is the largest yet. That a state actor is behind the theft, and bypassing sanctions by pickpocketing the NFT play-to-earn economy speaks to the deep strangeness of international banking and finance right now. “There may be mandatory secondary sanctions requirements on persons who knowingly, directly or indirectly, engage in money laundering,” warns the Treasury Department, stating they are working to track the purloined funds.
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