Vulnerability: The Space Between 

October 5, 2017 - December 29, 2017

Curated by NextArt, Vulnerability: The Space Between aims to highlight artists who are using digital mediums to explore the idea of vulnerability: Lauren McCarthy, Kate Hollenbach, Luxloop, Nicky Case, PlusFour (Ray McClure and Casey McGonigle), Kate Parsons,Mandy Mandelstein, and Fawn Rogers

The term 'vulnerability' is often associated with being wounded or hurt. By definition the term suggests “being open to criticism, temptation or assault.” But being vulnerable can also bring about extraordinary healing, empathy and understanding. In fact, it is utterly essential to the growth and maturation of virtually any human being. And yet, in today's divisive and confusing times it gets overshadowed by ideas of power and dominance.

Artists of course, have long used vulnerability to explore both, the nature of empathy and the profound power of human connection. Drama of course, has always been the primary vehicle for such explorations, but fine artists too, have long understood how a human body (in peril) can be used to not only foster empathy in the viewer, but to underscore the socio-political underpinnings of human interactions.

But what is the role of technology in all this? There has always been a strong relationship between the two. While poetry and prose (ie books) were some of the earliest mediums used for exploring empathy, the camera eventually served an equally crucial role. But by using a camera artists tended to bring far more to the equation, given that the camera itself can be seen as a tool of power and control.

But today, with the overwhelming prevalence of the internet, that idea has only been amplified, aggravated and complicated exponentially. Today we not only have more direct access to the intimate lives of others at our fingertips, but we’re also increasingly mistrustful and skeptical. People use technology to present themselves to the world, and yet at the same time, their personas tend to be greatly exaggerated or even fake. Meanwhile, we find notions of culpability, objectivity, moral obligation, trust and truth to be somewhat confusing at best, impossible at worst.

All these ideas and more are explored in the works included in the exhibition. The LA-based artist Lauren McCarthy for instance puts herself (and others) in highly vulnerability situations in two works featured in the exhibition. "Follower" (2016) was inspired by Sophie Calle's legendary work from the 1970s. But McCarthy updated the idea by having random people sign up via a website to be followed for a day by the artist. Each was asked to write something regarding their decision to participate, and then they received photos taken by the artist during the surveillance. In the second work, "Lauren" (2017), the artist created a version of Amazon's "Alexa" with IoT voice devices placed throughout her home. Then, while the artist was doing a residency in Europe, she allowed strangers to live in her home (after they signed up via a website). And during their stay she performed the same function as Alexa: answering questions, making recommendations, changing the music, turning on lights, etc. 

 

The idea of surveillance also appears in "phonelovesyoutoo" 2016 by Kate Hollenbach. For this work the artist wanted to explore the idea that we've become utterly dependent, addicted and reliant on our cellphones to the point where it now outstrips our intimate connections with others.  So after creating an app that would trigger both cameras (front and back) each time she picked up the phone and unlocked it, she was able to let the phone gaze back at the artist. The final piece presents a matrix of 31 videos presented simultaneously on a single screen. (Each is timed exactly to the time of day, which means that if a visitor to the gallery comes at 3:17pm he or she will see the videos that were recorded by Hollenbach at 3:17 that month).  

 

Being watched by a digital device also defines the work, "If The Walls Had Eyes" (2014) by Luxloop (Ivaylo Getov & Mandy Mandelstein). At first glance the work seems to suggest Salvador Dali's famous backdrop created for Alfred Hitchcock's "Spellbound" (1945), with dozens of eyes glaring at the viewer. But Luxloop's eyes are very real and constantly looking, blinking, and searching. If, and when, a viewer steps within the eye's viewing range, all eyes suddenly turn and look at him and following him wherever he goes. 

 

Vulnerability also defines the piece "Coming Out Simulator" (2014) by Nicky Case and "In Life in Death & After" (2017) by Kate Parsons. In the former the artist transforms his painful experience with telling his parents, who are strict conservatives, that he is gay into an on-line game. Thus visitors to the gallery can recreate the scenario by clicking a mouse and guiding animated characters to answer certain ways of their choosing. In the latter, the artist re-uses a series of blog posts that she posted while she was caring for her dying grandmother. The result is a new, hybrid form of essay film that's part documentary and part experimental film.  

 

"I Love You And That Makes Me God" (2017) by Fawn Rogers invites the viewer step into a video installation where they come face-to-face with several (life-sized) video portraits. Each figure looks directly into the eyes of the viewer while repeating (and considering) the title phrase in their own, unique way. This continues over the course of nearly 50 participants, including scientists, artists, well-known producers, musicians, a convicted sex offender and more (see details about the participants here). The result is a piece that forces the participants (and viewers) into heightened emotional states while navigating the sometimes thorny issue of intimacy.

 

Other works in the show require more than one person, which then liberalizes the idea of connectivity, chance and begin open. "VVVR" by Plus Four (Ray McClure and Casey McGonigle) encourages participants to don an Occulus headset and enter into a fantastical space. Here the viewers can see one another in the form of Avatars sitting close-legged approximately ten feet apart. Little happens until one of the participants finally decides to speak to the other. When that occurs their voices are transformed into colorful shapes and designs that can be controlled and manipulated by each. Similarly, "Touch" 2013, by Mandy Mandelstein also requires two participants. One takes position on a pair of footprints that are stenciled on the floor, while the other puts his or her hand through a hole that has been cut in the wall. When that happens, the participant's hand is projected onto the body of the other, allowing him or her to virtually caress the person. But is that improper? Can a virtual caress be as invasive as a real one? Or is it worse in some ways?

Lastly, two video screens are devoted to presenting multiple works from the history of performance art (1970s-today) including works by Marina Abramovic, Bas jan Ader, Chris Burden, Sophie Calle, Valie Export, Regina Jose Galindo, Roman Signer, Hito Steyerl, Kenneth Tam, Sam Taylor Wood and Yoko Ono