With 50 artists, “I’ll Be Your Mirror” is one of the biggest shows from the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth. Here’s a sample of what you’ll see.
“I’ll Be Your Mirror: Art and the Digital Screen” — the new exhibition at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth — showcases electronic software and hardware from the late ’60s to the present day, everything from Andy Warhol’s original Commodore Amiga computer to 3D printings and NFTs.
But curator Alison Hearst said that artists haven’t simply adopted these technologies as a new means to produce works: “As in life, every artist is impacted by technology in one way or another. But the artists in this exhibition specifically use this screen as a tool and an irresistible subject in their work.”
“I’ll Be Your Mirror” is a sweeping group survey — large in scope and physically large as well, with single works taking up entire rooms, entire walls. (One artist featured is UNT professor Liss Lafleur and her work, “Queen Bee is Stinging Mad.”)
So the show is all about artists looking at life amid the networks, the data swarm, the deluge of pixels, simulations and cybersecurity. To organize all this, Hearst has grouped the artworks into nine themes, including such topics as “liminal space,” “the posthuman body” and “automation and the loneliness epidemic.”
A sampler of four artworks and their themes:
1. The Repository: “Total Recall” by Gretchen Bender, 1987
“The Repository” is Hearst’s term for the fact that we’ve now been saturated by electronic imagery for more than half a century. They are today’s reference points, our history. The late Gretchen Bender (along with Cindy Sherman) was one of the early artists to see such mass media as a new cultural landscape which she could sample, use and comment on.
One ongoing impression of mass media has been its omnipresence, its saturation, its ‘overwhelmingness’ (consider Sherman’s installations with hundreds of slogans all over the walls). Bender conveyed this through what she called “electronic theater” — as with “Total Recall” and its banks of TV screens, its repetitiveness, its aggressive soundtrack and network TV sampling.
This is electronic media as sensory overload, as a kind of totalitarian experience — what Bender called “a barrage.”
2: Connectivity: “My Best Thing” (excerpt) by Frances Stark, 2011
At first glance, Frances Stark’s deadpan animations would seem to fit more appropriately under the theme, “The Posthuman Body” — given her use of doll-like, CGI figures as little more than talking-head versions of Adam and Eve.
But the interactions in her feature-length animation, “My Best Thing,” are based on online, anonymous chats she had with Italian strangers on the site, Chatroulette — a form of human interaction that could not exist without cyberspace. The two characters’ attempts at intimacy, their stabs at meaning (“I want to talk about this ‘searching a sense of life'”) are quintessentially human but also — as distorted by this format and its technology — comical and alienated.
3. Surveillance: “Thousand Little Brothers v7” by Hasan Elahi, 2022
Tens of thousands of small photos from a cellphone are spread across a vast gallery wall:16 feet high, 52 feet long. Hasan Elahi is the artist, and he continues to add to what has become a visual database of his life. (“Thousand Little Brothers” is only a portion of it.)
“Just in the last couple of hours,” he said, “there’s about 15 images that have been added. Some of them are incredibly generic-looking. But I can give you every back story about these — similar to how I had to explain all of these to the FBI agent.”
That’s because, post 9/11, Elahi was erroneously identified as a terrorist. The FBI cleared him 6 months later, but this self-surveillance had become a habit — a habit that’s approaching some 150,000 images.
Elahi said what he’s been doing isn’t surprising anymore. It’s like the millions of Instagram feeds and Facebook posts we’ve put up. It’s called “self-surveillance.”
“It’s not just me doing this,” he said. “All of us are surveilling ourselves. All of us are a part of this. And we’re all feeding the big machine with all our data and all our information.”
You can listen to the radio feature on Hasan Elahi above — in the blue tag.
4. Turning the Mirror on Ourselves: “The White Album” (excerpt) by Arthur Jafa, 2018
Arthur Jafa has worked for years as a Hollywood cinematographer and cameraman (“Eyes Wide Shut,” “Daughters of Dust”), but he is perhaps best known for his 2016 video work, “Love is the Message, The Message is Death,” a collage of found video and historic films that conveys Black American life over the past 100 years. In such works, Jafa considers himself an ‘undertaker,’ unearthing video culture and history.
With “The White Album,” as the title implies, Jafa turns the camera on white identity, the white gaze, white supremacy. He uses the famous opening stare from “A Clockwork Orange,” videogame footage, home movies of militants, TV interviews as well as the closed-circuit video from the Charleston, South Carolina, church shooting by Dylann Roof that led to the deaths of nine Black people in 2015.
“I’ll Be Your Mirror: Art and the Digital Screen” at the Museum of Modern Art in Fort Worth through April 30th.
Got a tip? Email Jerome Weeks at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can follow him on Twitter @dazeandweex.
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