In the pages of Weird Science and the backdrops of midcentury sci-fi, the future was all brushed metal and gleaming glass: a baroque vision of the technological sublime viewed through the lens of Cold War utopianism. It was stately, extravagant; governed by a single, unifying design. It looked, in other words, a bit like a prog-rock album cover.
That future is now, and lo, it’s far different from what those wide-eyed comic artists divined. Lack of flying cars and aperture-style doors aside, the future that we’ve been handed is most distinguished by its material philosophy; far from stationed at some aesthetic singularity, given standard-issue jumpsuits and fed diets of color-coded pills, we are, rather, living in an age of recombinance, repurposing, and breakneck reproduction.
Our future is one thousand water bottles crunching underfoot; it’s a Young Thug mixtape dropped every hour, on the hour; it’s bent into memes, .gifs, vines, and recompiled as clickbait. And now, with the advent of MakerBots, medical prostheses, and bit-crunching milling machines, it’s every object imaginable, hovering on the tip of a 3D printing head.
In LOW, the alternately beautiful and uncomfortable new group show at Lyles & King, eleven artists stage interrogations of this new reality—one in which the very possibility of an ‘object’ as traditionally understood has been put on trial. Where does sculpture go when the handmade and manmade blur at the edges; when it doesn’t really matter how much you sweated and worked it with your fingers? (Because who can tell the difference while squinting at a 6S?)
Now, I know—stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Since theorist Jean Baudrillard waxed on about Disneyland and long before, the notion’s been floated that the ubiquity of technology has ushered in a ‘derealization’ of the world; that our reality has already become virtual. While this subject is hardly a new one within contemporary art, what makes the work in LOW so radical is that it reverses the terms of the operative questions. Where Thomas Ruff’s jpeg photos visualized the destructive passage of the real into the online repository, LOW’s artists muse at what awaits now that the image can so easily be made real. Ambiguity, tension, and plastic prevail.
The work that most directly tugs at this line of inquiry is that of artist David Kennedy Cutler, who, with the aid of allover inkjet prints and transfers, crafts Frankenstein monsters of online refuse and strip-mall ciphers. Like DIS Magazine renders brought to fruition or the creations of Google Deep Dream bots strung out on dope, works like Sick Bacchus (Head and Bread Repeat) (2016) gape at us like monumental pop-ups; adware given matter and mass.
Anissa Mack and Michael Henry Hayden partake in subtler but equally jarring gestures, taking aim at our perceptual grounding. Mack’s Gypsy Janus (2011), an inset aquaresin relief, is a ghostly apparition of an artwork that oscillates between concavity and convexity as one teeters before it. Its face stripped of character like that of a 3D avatar, it quivers and morphs with CGI liquidity. Dashed in vibrant neon, Hayden’s tromp-l’œil doors present us with plays of light that are in sealed fast in paint. Whereas the of extreme illusionism sought to carve dimension out of the canvas, Hayden’s paneled sculptures are reduced to photographs. We experience their throw of shadows as we would in any online reproduction: firmly locked in place.
One of the most striking sensory runarounds comes courtesy of Sean Kennedy, who, in a characteristic (and untitled) 2016 work featuring two acrylic panels, stages an act of material alchemy. Hung at a low remove from the ceiling and framed in white aluminum, these panels suspend a wide variety of sundry objects on their glass surfaces. The viewer, inevitably forced to gaze upward, will see ping pong balls, pool racks, tubing, and dildos, all telescoped onto two flat surfaces. The effect is uncanny; unable to view these materials in the round, as it were, or even at the slightest of angles, we’re forced to look upon them as static, dimensionless shapes and vectors. Kennedy’s glass panes leave us with sculptural jpegs: image-objects.
LOW, then, leaves us stranded on the thinning coast of the material world, floating in a limbo between cold concrete and the endless grid of a Maya window. It’s an ensemble effort that stuns as powerfully as it disquiets, showing us a fast-nearing future of both endless potential and atomized objecthood. Lugging our 3D printers and augmented reality behind us, we march upward and onward, moving towards a glossy synthetic frontier.