In ‘Emotional Supply Chains’, 17 artists tackle our increasingly fragmented sense of self in the age of the internet
Today as we are split and shared across online platforms, broken up into information and collated by computer algorithms, the instability of the self has never been more apparent. Taking a sweeping look at the fragmented and transitory nature of identity in our digital age, the Zabludowicz Collection’s latest group show ‘Emotional Supply Chains’, brings together a rich body of work, broadly addressing the tussle between technology and the self, emotion and machine. “Our identities and personalities are multiple and shifting rather than solid or stable,” curator Paul Luckraft says, discussing the main ideas behind the show. Although the fluidity of identity is not a new phenomenon, Luckraft is interested in how both culturally and technologically the digital age “has accelerated and heightened this sensation,” and how our sense of self is built upon a supply chain of objects, images and ideas.
The exhibition features 17 artists and presents existing works from the Zabludowicz Collection made since 2000, alongside a number of new commissions. Following the themes of authenticity, authorship and artifice the exhibition attempts to capture how, in an age defined by networks, the internet and big data, we have adapted the way we define and think about ourselves. Yet Luckraft is quick to clarify, “The show isn’t focused solely on online space – it’s more about how human subjectivity uses and reworks technology in unexpected directions; sometimes wonderful ones, sometimes unpleasant ones.”
Today as we are split and shared across online platforms, broken up into information and collated by computer algorithms, the instability of the self has never been more apparent.
Introducing the themes of authenticity and artificiality in the main hall is Simon Denny’s central installation The Personal Effects of Kim Dotcom. In this garish installation, Denny creates a portrait of Kim Dotcom, the eccentric billionaire behind the file sharing and streaming services Megaupload and Megavideo, based on some of the seized possessions from his 2012 indictment. The refashioned objects range from ironic licence plates with the words ‘HACKER’, ‘GUILTY’ and ‘POLICE’ to a life size Predator collectable still in its packaging. With these items he takes a close look at an identity made by the Internet, and draws attention to the complexities of digital ownership.
Further on, David Raymond Conroy’s film ‘(You (People) are All the Same)’ uses the heavily produced style present in the popular Serial and This American Life podcasts to explore the conflict between making what could be termed a ‘moral’ or ‘successful’ work. The film was made during his time at the Zabludowicz Collection’s Las Vegas residency at the Plaza Hotel. Within it Conroy the artist becomes the character David, and the subject of a mock investigation into what he achieved in his time at the residency, and his aimless search for a homeless man to use in his film. ‘What did he do with all that money and all that time?’ The female narrator asks, as she goes on to piece together ‘found’ cuttings from David’s hazy video dairy. Through a dramatic narrative Conroy’s cleverly manipulates his own story, in a kind of distorted video self-portrait. Drawing on techniques found in novels and entertainment that create compulsive consumption, the narrative is separated into parts; the familiar theme tune of Serial illustrates dramatic intervals within the story to lure the viewer back in.
While the internet has reconstituted the boundaries of self-portraiture, which often as Luckraft says ‘runs the risk of getting written off as narcissism of the ‘selfie generation’ works such as Conroy’s demonstrate how artists are playing with the boundaries of the self in new ways. In the second chapter of the exhibition titled ‘The Networked Self’, artists explore the boundaries of self-presentation further within the context of our online selves. Ed Fornieles’ interactive installation Dorm Daze explores the makings of public and private identities through a Facebook ‘sitcom’, which viewers can watch from behind the desk of an imaginary fraternity student. To create the sitcom he enlisted 32 volunteers to act out an online role-play based on the open Facebook profiles of Berkley students. As Fornieles explains, “They were inhabited by people who grew and expanded their characters, mixing archetypes, their own personal inclinations and current event to generate something distinct yet completely knowable.” Watching the manufactured drama debauchery unfold in the isolated setting of a dorm desk, the reality of the networked self presented here is as absorbing as it is troubling. “I think we are experiencing a continued fracturing of self that’s been going on for hundreds of years,” says Fornieles. “We are dividing up into smaller and smaller pieces, which is both fantastic and terrifying at the same time.”
“I think we are experiencing a continued fracturing of self that’s been going on for hundreds of years,” says Fornieles.
Drawing on elements from previously written scripts and plays Ann Hirsch has developed a new sculptural video installation Playground (The Beginning) which reflects on innocence in connection to the internet, based on her own experiences in AOL chat rooms in the late nineties. “The piece is very nostalgic,” says Hirsch. ‘It is looking specifically at one period of time on the internet, when the web was still primarily text-based.’ The change to a more visual based online world interests Hirsch is it has led to an obsession with our online appearance. ‘It has turned Warhol's "15 minutes of fame" into something more akin to a lifetime of micro fame for everyone’, Hirsch says. Yet despite this change Hirsch wants to capture the emotional intensity of online interactions, and her personal relationship to it. “Whether they are text based or image based, they can often be more emotionally intense than our offline interactions. I do think the internet has been a cathartic place for me because I was able to explore who I am and my sexuality in ways I felt I never could offline,” she says, before continuing wryly, “I sometimes also wonder if I'd be such a bitter, spiteful person if it wasn't for the internet.”
Moving from the internet to a broader overview of contemporary identity, the final chapter of the exhibition explores place and personal history. Delving into family myth and collective guilt is David Blandy’s 2010 installation film Child of the Atom. The film, which traces Blandy and his child as they travel to the reconstructed city of Hiroshima, is played on a television sitting within a stylised Japanese living room. Narrated by his daughter, it tells the story of their trip alongside a story about Blandy’s grandfather, who was an American prisoner of war in the Second World War, apparently released because of the bombing of Hiroshima. “How many died so I can live?” asks Blandy through the voice of his daughter, as they walk through the reconstructed streets, searching out their origins and questioning the momentous inhumanity and complexities of history that makes us who we are. Interspersed within these scenes, Blandy has created his own apocalyptic anime to tell a parallel fiction and reference the country’s own cultural trauma. It is a very personal story but it also, as Blandy articulates, became “a way of thinking about the individual's relationship to history and global politics, the historic violence being intercut with the peaceful tourism of the two children of the atom.”
“I sometimes also wonder if I'd be such a bitter, spiteful person if it wasn't for the internet.”
In the foyer, outside the main gallery doors, Eloise Hawser’s commission Sunrise Plaza, takes a melancholic look at the physical structure of cycles of destruction and regeneration. In a video, playing across a sculptural unit of translucent LCD displays, Hawser recaptures an encounter she had one morning with a now demolished office block near Heathrow. “It appeared to be burning, and the effect of the light cutting through the empty building made it seem like an X-ray of a building rather than a full, substantial structure,” says Hawser. Filmed in one long shot of the building’s exterior, at first glance it appears to be a glowing image or a motionless abandoned building. Placed across one of the gallery’s bright, arched windows, the work takes on another layer, with fleeting reflections influenced by the light outside. “There are formal parallels here between the subject of the film and its presentation,” says Hawser. “The ‘screen array’, upon which the film is shown, echoes the architectural grid of the building. The edifice is portrayed as flattened out and emptied of life so that is appears to be a kind of mirage. The translucent screens possess a similar kind of disembodied feeling; they are missing their backs, and seem unsupported and empty, gutted somehow.”
Housed in a room of its own, Hawser’s Sunrise Plaza speaks to the running themes of the show while also standing powerfully by itself. This is the case for many of the works on display in the show, from Guan Xiao’s sculpture Documentary: From National Geographic to BBC to Pierre Huyghe’s One Million Kingdoms to Korakrit Arunanondchai’s central installation. The diversity of the work and the rich background behind each piece is part of what makes the exhibition so captivating. As curator Luckraft explains “the manipulation of narrative is a key feature recurring across the show, with many of the pieces containing complex research and backstories, and visitors can choose how much to immerse themselves in each work.” While indeed the show is no cohesive whole, importantly neither are we ourselves, nor the chaotic, fragmented and unstable world in which we live.
Emotional Supply Chains is on at The Zabludowicz Collection until 17th July 2016.