Socio-Fi @Basement Project Space (exhibition)
July 5th -7th 2011
Review by Miranda Corcoran
Incorporating a broad array of visual and technical styles, the diverse collection of artworks assembled under the auspices of the Socio-Fi exhibition comprise a remarkable evisceration of the manner in which technology impinges upon our minds, bodies and lived experience, transforming our conception of reality and mediating our engagement with the world around
us. Drawing inspiration from the theoretical writings of prominent 20th-century thinkers such as Baudrillard and McLuhan, the artworks collected within the Basement Project Space subtly interrogate the myriad ways in which our perception of social reality is determined by the modes of communication employed by our culture. In doing so, the various pieces which comprise the Socio-Fi experience reflect the corruption of reality by the insidious ubiquity of modern technological forms and media-generated images.
This vision of a technological simulacrum slowly encroaching upon the once inviolable veracity of everyday experience is, in my view, apotheosised by two works whose forms dominate the central floor space of the subterranean gallery. The first of these is a multimedia piece by Stephanie Hough. An engaging dialogue between the image and the actual, this piece consists of a sparse composition in which a fan rotates aimlessly; intermittently generating gusts of cool air which occasionally disrupt a rack of gently fluttering papers, while its pixelated image is relayed to a television screen standing just
metres away. However, despite its proximity to the actual composition, the centralised location of the television set invites us to view the rotating fan, not as a real object, but rather through the filter of the television screen. Thus, this nuanced piece draws the viewer into a complex meditation on the nature of a socio-cultural reality which, rather than being grounded in any kind of ontological veracity, is instead constructed through an endless proliferation of media-generated images. Subtly reflecting Hough’s preoccupation with the role played by the media in defining the nature of our engagement with the world around us, Joan Healy’s intriguing contribution to the Socio-Fi exhibition expresses a fascination with the power of the media as communicative tool.
Comprised of a single chair sitting alone in front of a television set, both objects haphazardly encased in tinfoil – a gesture whose crude, almost childlike, rendering of the steel and silver aesthetic popularised in science fiction appears to parody the naivety of our utopian dreams of a technologically resplendent future, Healy’s composition represents an engaging deconstruction of the complex relationship between the technological medium and the message it conveys. Consisting simply of fingers dexterously texting on a mobile phone, the ostensibly mundane image which flickers repetitively across the screen assumes a greater significance when it becomes apparent that the letters and words which have been so hastily typed on the phone’s keypad are not simply random statements, but the lyrics to the Rage Against the Machine song “Killing in the Name Of”. However, as these words pass across the screen in silence, it becomes increasingly obvious that any vestige of anger or passion that may have been contained within in these lyrics has been muted and nullified. In this way, Healy interrogates the manner in which any radical sentiment embedded in these words is, through the process of their constant reproduction
and repeated visual transmission, gradually diluted and eventually divested of the power of their original meaning.
However, while this theme of technological reproduction as a corrosive force may dominate many of the pieces on display, the notion of the media as a largely negative influence is repeatedly called into question, as the artists represented thoroughly interrogate the complex nature of our relationship with the technologies that circumscribe our understanding of the world around us. Jonathan Mayhew’s work Render Repeat Okay is an understated piece made up of strategically placed strips of vinyl tape arranged in such a way as to spell out the slogan “Nothing is real till you copy it”. While the confrontational immediacy of the piece suggests a satiric criticism of a culture that has descended into the semiotic miasma of the hyperreal, Mayhew’s work also addresses an issue which ultimately lingers behind all of the works on display here: the possibility that it might in fact be the very process of copying and disseminating images and ideas that renders “real” even the most intangible of concepts. Eschewing the temptation to indulge in overt criticism of media culture, the works collected here force the viewer to consider whether the act of reproduction is simply a deindividuating process which effaces the aesthetic or conceptual essence of the subject being copied or if this process of reproduction and dissemination instead functions to provide the subjects copied with a more profound sense of presence or actuality. After all, as products of the media age, our perception of social reality and, indeed, our very selfhoods are circumscribed by continuous exposure to an endless cascade of media-generated images. Thus, Socio-Fi evokes the complex nature of our increasingly fraught relationship with the technological accoutrements that define the boundaries of our sensory and cultural experiences. In Seamus Bradley’s highly-original installation, for example, we are confronted with a multimedia kinetic sculpture in which a film projector, rather than issuing forth a diaphanous beam of light, instead produces a solid beam of silver material in which the moving image resides. In this piece, it is the art of projection that renders solid and tangible the image contained within the machine or on the strip of film. In transforming what should be an ethereal sliver of silver light into a solid image, Bradley’s piece seeks to remind us of the manner in which our perception of reality and perhaps even our individual identities are constructed via a myriad of endlessly replicated projected and pixelated images.
Further elucidating the complexity of our interactions with the multitudinous technological and media forms that surround and define us, Stephanie Hough also presents an intriguing series of ersatz advertisements for imaginary products whose structures and functions seem at once mundane and fantastic. This display of imagined consumer goods includes an “Eye-phone”, a device which claims the power to conjure up the transcendent beauty of the synaesthetic experience, and an “I-Wave” which promises to construct “playlists pre-defined by careful market research” thereby “removing the need for tiresome decisions”. In constructing these quasi-whimsical products and their accompanying advertisements, Hough not only subtly recalls Baudrillard’s maxim that the media creates a simulacral state of consumer desire by blurring the line between goods that are needed and a need that is created by the media, she also delineates the means through which our experience of the world is defined by manifold technological forms. Perhaps, one of the most intriguing facets of Hough’s work is her use of parodic adverts to accompany her satirical commercial products. Humorously subversive in tone, the language used in these advertisements displays a number of clear parallels with the unabashed optimism of mid-twentieth-century American advertising. As such, they are evocatively reminiscent of an era in which the rapid acceleration of technological progress appeared to signal the imminence of a technocratic utopia. In emulating this buoyantly optimistic rhetoric, Hough’s satirical adverts recall the hopeful enthusiasm of an epoch in which the much-anticipated birth of a seemingly-imminent utopian future was seen to be inextricably linked with scientific advancement and the desire to accrue technologically sophisticated household appliances and consumer goods. Drawing on a similar theme, Adam Gibney’s unique sound-based installation offers a fascinating insight into the myriad ways in which technological forms intrude upon our experience of ostensibly objective reality. Composed of a series of four domestic blenders, each one placed in an opposite corner of a rectangular space and filled with a different brightly coloured liquid, Gibney has synchronised each blender to switch on when the recorded voice which emanates from the radio standing at the centre of the arrangement intermittently calls out a colour corresponding to the hue of the liquid it contains. In co-ordinating the actions of the blenders to seemingly react to the commands issued by the disembodied voice emanating from the radio, Gibney’s unique installation poses a series of intriguing questions regarding the nature of a society whose understanding of reality has become increasingly dependent upon technology.
Dexterously interweaving multimedia installation and experimental artistic forms, the diverse collection of artworks which make up the Socio-Fi exhibition offer an engaging dialogue on the manner in which our experience of so-called objective reality is forever mediated by the technological media through which we perceive our socio-cultural environment. As such, Socio-Fi constitutes a fascinating exploration of contemporary culture’s descent into the hyperreal which questions the efficacy of our ability to interact with the world around us and perceive our socio-cultural reality as anything other than a media-generated verisimilitude.