I realized today how long it has been since my last post on here! I apologize for the digital silence and hope to keep up with regular posts again. Not that I’ve been totally slacking…since April I have completed my PhD dissertation and began a full-time faculty position in art history at Hanover College. Now that the dissertation is wrapped up (defending next week!), I am starting to turn my attention to developing new projects for research.
Moving from New York City to southern Indiana has certainly been an adjustment, but not an adjustment without contemporary art. I’ve been able to check out some great places to view art in Louisville, Cincinnati, and Indianapolis. Among my favorite locations are 21C Hotel and Cincinnati Contemporary Art Center.
Here I would like to briefly discuss and put together two artists I whose works I viewed at both locations. The works discussed below cause us to reflect on the material life (and death) of technology’s objects and imagine the distant and not-so-distant implications of our constant need to upgrade.
Pieter Hugo’s large scale photographs, currently on view at 21C in Louisville, document a post-apocalyptic landscape that is all too real. The vast dump on the outskirts of a slum in Ghana collects discarded obsolete technology from the first world. The juxtapositions Hugo captures recall the local’s name for the place–Sodom and Gomorrah. Images of cows and locals carrying traditional baskets clash with an infertile land littered with cellphones, keyboards, and discarded circuitry. Hugo’s overexposed skies and lifeless soil are the ground for a lifeless landscape devoid of color or energy. The obsolete technologies are often burned by locals to harvest valuable copper, though e-waste contains a number of other toxic materials that pollute water supplies and kill soil.
The figures peer out from this hellscape to engage the viewer in a manner similar to Finnish artist Eero Jarnefelt’s late nineteenth century painting Under the Yoke (Burning the Brushwood). Though the earlier artist depicted a traditional practice of slash and burn agriculture rather than a result of first world industrial waste, both images expose the harsh environment of those living on the outskirts to the urbane art viewer through both a stark and desolate landscape and the direct gaze of its inhabitants. Only with Hugo’s images, the detritus in the foreground makes the viewer culpable in the figure’s plight. Is that my old keyboard? Was that my cell phone from 2007? The material reality of places like Agogbloshie Market in Accra make us rethink our penchant for the upgrade.
Daniel Arsham’s exhibition at CAC similarly engaged with the continuing material presence of technology’s objects, though perhaps with more humor. Sculptures like Welcome to the Future feature record players, clocks, videocassette decks, and other obsolete technologies rendered in geological materials such as volcanic ash and crystals. The immense age conveyed by the artist’s medium clashes with the quickly outdated hardware of contemporary consumer electronics. Arsham’s works are both unnerving in their presentation of a grey future in materials that convey an inhuman span of time and humorous in the recognizability of their media archaeological referents. (“I remember having a cat clock like that” or “I haven’t seen an eight-track in years”)
The carcinogenic toxins in Hugo’s dump have seemingly already done their damage in the pile above, leaving only matter. Arsham then gives these sculptures their own narratives through his series of nine short films under the title Future Relic. The second installation of this series, which screened at CAC, is perhaps one of the better of James Franco’s recent projects in the contemporary art world. Future Relic 02 (below) imagines a scientist in the distant future discovering and experimenting on a number of geological discoveries, performing what Arsham refers to as “fictional archeology.” Franco’s character finds a strong affinity for one of the relics…and an uncanny resemblance to his subject.
Enjoy the film (and Future Relic 03, featuring Juliette Lewis) below.