The speed at which technology is produced, marketed and applied has the ability to make the events of last week look archaic. This aspect creates challenges when curating an exhibition of art as an expression of technological power or a resistance to it. Recognizing this, I approached the show with caution, as the issues that were salient at the time of curation are not quite the same as those at the time of its viewing, which happens to be one rife with emerging concerns about artificial intelligence in the context of art and beyond. There will be constants, however, and in seeing a range of works that include pieces that span decades, including Dara Birnbaum’s Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman, 1978–1979, a 5-minute, 30-second video featuring Wonder Woman’s alter ego, Diana Prince, repetitively spinning into her hero form, we can begin to chart the media-driven trend of sexualized persona commodification. The video potentializes transformation, inspiring today’s influencer industry of makeup tutorials or luxury-label-clad performances of the curated life.
Ilana Yacine Harris-Babou’s YouTube-style video Decision Fatigue, 2020 (which, for me, was the discreet star of the show), also comments on the influencer in the context of the white-aestheticized wellness culture. She seemingly questions what it is to be “well” and who gets to achieve this state. Harris-Babou claims that many of her ideas revolve around the notion of “taste” as both a sensory experience and a set of opinions or attractions, and that her work often mimics spaces where taste is enacted, such as beauty tutorials, cooking shows or home improvement. Decision Fatigue offers a sampling of each, demonstrated by the artist’s mother, who uses advertisement-industry lexicon to patiently walk the viewer through a number of absurd rituals such as a daily routine for not breastfeeding (this involves chocolate chip soap sourced from the Amazon—“very very pure and natural”); rolling your face before having a TV dinner (“it’s part of a relaxation process”); and preparing and applying a Cheeto face mask (“Cheeto mask: best thing you could do”).
It could be because of this rough passage (this glitch) in which I witnessed my transformation from body to data or one in possession of data (it’s difficult to divide the container from the contents these days), coupled with my fear of entering a labyrinth of screens at a time in my life when I feel particularly screen-averse, that I was so thankful to immediately come upon Special Delivery, 2023, a hand-beaded replica of a small Amazon shipping box by Nico Williams, an Ojibwe artist from Aamjiwnaang First Nation. It made a delightful yet poignant statement on the invisible labour of production and a virtual marketplace that facilitates an economy that simultaneously depends on and devalues humans, while enabling a “no-contact” exchange of money for goods. I also appreciated the texture of the beaded sculpture, which interrupted the smoothness of the many screen-based works, their flat displays serving as both a reflective and projective threshold between the real and the virtual, whose degrees of separation became increasingly incremental. Contemplating such divisions brought upon by the “remote” demands of the pandemic, Brendan Fernandes’s ongoing The Left Space, 2020–, a choreographed webcam performance arranged in the grid formation of Zoom, which in its original iteration connected dancers in their homes around the world, reflects on the limits and possibility of community building beyond physical gathering spaces at a time when solidarity is much needed.
Tracy Valcourt lives and writes in Montreal.