The prejudice against art as the progenitor of artifice, deception, and metaphysical decay goes all the way back to Plato, but science shouldn’t be let off the hook too easily. Particularly in the realm of technological reproduction (be it print, electronic, digital, or genetic), the materially real has been imitated, replicated, and fabricated in any number of amazing and disconcerting ways. Strangely enough, and with all apologies to Socrates’ number one student, it has been left up to the artists to provide the content for that amazement as well as the criticism for what we should regard with scepticism. While this overlap between art, science, and technology was par for the course with the Ancient Greeks, we still retain some of the silofication of the intervening centuries when wrapping our heads around what’s real and what we should think about it.
Brent Watanabe, San Andreas Deer Cam, 2015-16
The Algorithmic Imagination, the current exhibition at InterAccess, Toronto’s gallery/production studio/educational facility dedicated to electronic arts and new media, is part of the larger Vector Festival of digital practices, gaming culture, and all things new, media, and electronic. These descriptive categories have become somewhat meaningless in the everyday world (that is, the world outside of galleries) of today where every interaction is mediated by technology that was unimaginable to even the wildest of professional dreamers a couple decades ago.
The speed with which this change came about makes it difficult to establish a critical distance from the new normal. I was brainstorming this review while wandering a suburban retail zone searching for directions from one big box store to another on GoogleMaps and MapQuest and my rental car’s GPS, trying to orient myself in a landscape that was a farmer’s field within my lifetime but was now indistinguishable from any other suburban retail zone on the continent. While it’s not jacking into the net like a character from Neuromancer, I was definitely displaced through multiple fields of reality. However, the experience was not heroic or futuristic, just simply disorienting. And a bit existentially draining (but that might be a sign of age).
I felt like Brent Watanabe’s San Andreas Deer Cam as it wanders, independent of any outside influence, through a variety of virtual gaming landscapes. The deer pursues its course whether the screen is on or not, and when the gallery is closed, by inhabiting an alternate world online. That place where we increasingly spend a lot of our time has a life beyond us and we have a life within it that continues even when we disconnect. I was trying to understand my place in the concrete world by searching this other approximate reality, but I didn’t’ expect to find the truth and I doubt the deer will ever make its way home.
COLL.EO, The Fregoli Delusions: Chapter 1, 2016
This is where Plato and his ilk hit the nail on the head and why they desperately try to shore up our sense of self against the uncertainty of permanent flux. And there is nothing more ever-changing that the reality-plus of our technologically mediated world. The purgatory that is this now can be experienced in the other virtual world work in this exhibition. COLL.EO’s episodes from the videogame Forza Motorsports 2 isolate background characters who should barely be noticed in passing as the racecars zip by. In an inversion of typical game dynamics, rather than engage in competition, the viewer witnesses the pointless wanderings of insignificant souls lost in their own thoughts or enrapt in silent conversations. The sense of alienation is both fascinating and familiar. My life is like this. I wander these streets as the race goes on elsewhere. Standing in the gallery, rather than being distracted by manufactured adventures, I’m faced with contemplating my own mundanity. It doesn’t make for an entertaining game, but it makes for affective art.
The Algorithmic Imagination continues until August 13.
Terence Dick is a freelance writer living in Toronto. His art criticism has appeared in Canadian Art, BorderCrossings, Prefix Photo, Camera Austria, Fuse, Mix, C Magazine, Azure, and The Globe and Mail. He is the editor of Akimblog. You can follow his quickie reviews and art news announcements on Twitter @TerenceDick.
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