|The Last Generation
curated by Max Henry
Examines mechanical reproduction and seemingly "analog" approaches to art-making in our contemporary "digital" world.
November 30 - January 7, 2006
Artists: Kota Ezawa, Malachi Farrell, Wayne Gonzales, Emilie Halpern, Jan Mancuska, Laurent Montaron, Scott Myles, Anne-Mie Van Kerckhoven
The Last Generation
Culturally altered for better or worse, every day we are steps closer to the cyber-fictional world of man/machine. From 20th century analog bulk-mass and "slowness" to early 21st century speed and compactness, this transition hurtles us forward. At some point in the near future the analog world of the 20th century will be a distant memory....
Many of you remember:
A phrase that most often refers to recently outmoded technology, a quick internet search on "The Last Generation" reveals thousands of references to video gaming, holocaust and A-bomb survivors, tomes written on the political history of the last generation of the Roman Republic, and end-time Christian ideology on "the rapture.” Such a term then indicates an irrepressible change from past knowledge towards an encounter or collision with new ideas and altered forms.
In contemporary art, the juxtaposition of the analog and digital has led to an ambiguous back and forth between the two. The virtual has seeped into our consciousness like a stimulant drug, and we find ourselves in an ambiguous artistic terrain that is grounded in the intangibility of matter. As physical objects become more condensed we find their origins in virtual forms, as seen in the unusual shapes of the architecture and design of Gehry and Hadid.
The group of artists hereby assembled represents a generation that experienced the last decades of an analog dominated world. While fully immersed in the digital ether of now, they maintain a strong link to analog processes and esthetics--in music often described as warm, as opposed to the coldness of digital.1
Emerging from this hyperspace of 21st century altermodernity and its numbing visual and informational matrix, many artists have found ways to process and edit the flux of our post-industrial information age.2 Such is the case in this show where the appropriation strategies of the 1980's are utilized in addition to some of the post-production techniques of post-90's art. Late postmodern irony has led us into the first decade of a new century full of paradox, marked by an exchange between naturally occurring phenomena (as in the physical world I associate with analog and the body) and the simulated supra-plasticity of the digital with its implied modifications of the real.
Immanuel Kant set up a distinction between phenomena and noumena—”phenomena” being that which can be experienced, and “noumena” being things that are beyond the possibility of experience and transcend the vehicles of representation. In the phenomenal world we experience something that reaches the senses and clues us in to an added dimension that leads to heightened perception. Videos, sculptures, and television monitors initially offer the viewer an analog (phenomenal) experience by virtue of their physical presence. Then digital compression takes over the information and a moment of conflation occurs, a seamless balance in the space/time continuum.
Situated on the axis of the phenomena/noumena, these works occupy the space where the raw materials of the analog world and the subtleties of the virtual interact, expand, and contract. The body is represented as a robotic tool that receives commands from an unknown source, coldly executing movements that (strangely) emote human neuroses (Farrell) / Text references hypertext, physical aberrations of mass produced signage, and the structure of words as thought in constructed form and connotation (Mancuska, Myles) / The propagandistic visual sound-bytes of the media are enlarged to a colossal scale, compounding their power to induce fear and awe (Gonzales) / The retrieval of dreams from the database of the unconscious underscores the encoded narrative of sleep cycles and the search for their meanings (Montaron) / Simply animated characters move with analog-like slowness like our lowest common denominator, the consuming television viewer (Ezawa) / A vortex of complexly layered pop imagery references western philosophers, numerology, cognitive association, and spatial perception, mirroring the brain’s synaptic response to a flood information and our ability to process it (Kerckhoven) / Eastern mysticism and metaphysical transcendence are evident in the landscape where a person dematerializes. Is this a romantic gesture or a hallucinatory moment in the virtual? (Halpern)
In the above-mentioned works there is a moment of cognition that takes the viewer from the alien to the familiar, a cause and effect within their mechanistic analog/digital sleight of hand. As such, "The Last Generation” is for me the equivalent of a transformer of the perceptual. The rich tonality associated with the analog is present, as are the cold, unquantifiable depths of the virtual. A visual blueprint for the exhibition might look like an analog/digital converter where one form transmutes into another and a double take reveals more.
Distancing itself from nostalgia and aware of Modernity's failed utopia, “The Last Generation” contains nonetheless a sense of the sublime. Not in the 19th-century Romantic sense, but by virtue of an intangible network of associations that push art further into the terrain of physics. As though gazing at a scaffold surrounding an invisible edifice, we experience the duality of nothing and something at the same time.
1. In layman's terms: analog is defined as a signal that has a continuously and smoothly varying amplitude or frequency. Digital is signal composed of electrical pulses representing either zero or one. Because digital signals are made up only of binary streams, less information is needed to transmit a message.
2. Nicolas Bourriaud has coined the term “altermodernity” which I interpret as a characterization of 21st century modernity: a modernity which is no longer a linear march forward but rather a revolving door that allows movement in either direction.Max Henry is an independent curator and critic based in New York.
apexart's exhibitions and public programs are supported in part by The Peter Norton Family Foundation, Altria Group, Inc., and with public funds from the New York Department of Cultural Affairs, and the New York State Council on the Arts through the Fund for Creative Communities, administered by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council. This exhibition received support from Etant donnés: the French-American Fund for Contemporary Art and The Experimental Television Center's Presentation Funds program, as supported by the New York State Council on the Arts.