A review of “Transcendence”, a show I curated in October 2017.
Written by Terence Dick for Akimbo.
Searching for transcendence in the age of search engines might not be as optimistic an endeavour as curator Stacie Ant makes it out to be, but her exhibition Transcendence at InterAccess certainly presents a provocative assortment of evidence for the integration of technology and theology. Perhaps my atheist’s scepticism is the problem rather than the artists’ attempts at digital spirituality, but the exhibition isn’t simply there for the believers amongst you. Even within its aspirations to salvation, there is a critical undercutting of techno-dogma that serves as a lesson for all – especially the faithful.
The opening gambit is Kara Stone’s straightforward combination of electronics and divination. Her Techno Tarot is an iPad app that converts the age-old prognosticating tool into an interactive source for past, present, and future advice. Slipped into the readings by the AI fortune-teller are subtle passive-aggressive retorts that chastise the user for mistreating computers and warn of potential bad karma ahead. This shouldn’t be surprising given the homepage announcement: “Your technology will revolt.”
Alienation is the more likely form of damnation according to the uncanny valley modelling of Nathaniel Addison and Ryan Cherewaty. The former has created a holographic companion named Sonya who flickers like static and rotates through a sequence of gestures to approximate glimmers of lifelikeness. The latter contributes a short video populated by avatars who acquire a vivid, yet animated agency through motion capture and speak in the manufactured language of self-help infomercials. There is something tragic about them both as they replace what is directly human with virtual, lesser versions. The posthumanists out there might call me naïve for retaining an out-dated notion of authentic experience that has been all but erased over the past century of advances in electronic media and they probably have a point, but the capital-induced dehumanism that Marx identified in industrial processes is still part of our relationship to technology and it shouldn’t be ignored.
However, if you’re going to ignore it, there isn’t a more joyous rejoinder to the blissful transcendence of the present than Kevin Holliday’s RIP. Their installation cocoons the viewers in a nest of vibrant cushions and a curtain of LCD screens looping ecstatic dancers sourced from YouTube nobodies and Second Life stand-ins. The ever-ascending rhythms of happy hardcore music turns the space into a relentlessly life-affirming isolation booth that promises an afterlife party that never ends.
Cat Bluemke, on the other hand, has assembled a chapel that treats online chats and viewer-sourced videos as religious artefacts for the coming rapture. There is both a galvanizing sense of community and a pathetic desperation evident here. The number of searchers shown in view tallies is offset by the questionable documentation of their purported angel sightings. In the end, despite all that technology offers us, our hope for transcendence still comes down to faith. Whether it’s found in a burning bush or a video screen, the divine is always at a distance and can only be reached by leaving the material world behind. These works don’t provide answers, but they can act as jumping off points.
See photos from the exhibit on here: