Review: “Entanglements” forces us to consider our relationship to technology

The Yards Gallery is an intimate space. Personal. Small. Real.

That’s why it was the perfect space to install Entanglements, curated by Her Environment. The show focuses on feminine-spectrum new media artists, where the art pieces are interactive, inviting you to enter a conversation with each artist through their work. The show opened on Jan. 26 and will be open by appointment until Feb. 15.

Featuring seven artists and the art partnership Anxious to Make, the art show is meant to examine the connections between people and technology through new media installation. Entanglements forces the viewer to not only think about the artwork in an analytical way, but to think about their own connections with technology.

The Space

The gallery starts with a projector playing the work “Making You” by Anxious to Make. On the opposite wall, there’s another projector showing the website “Laughing Web Dot Space,” an interactive website where a gallery goer can record and play back laughter. You’re immediately thrust into this world where technology is ubiquitous yet on full display. It feels familiar, but you know that there is something different, something important about what’s on display. It forces you into the headspace.

As you move back through the gallery, the artwork becomes quieter. It allows you stand and reflect, moving from “The Other” by Jen Kutler, inviting viewers to become a part of the art through human connection, to “Battery Weaving: Large and Battery Weavings: small experiments” by Madeeha Lamoreaux, a searing commentary on feminine voices in the modern era. By the time you are at the back of the gallery, the artwork is no longer interactive, but that doesn’t mean you won’t connect with it.

Perhaps the best (and most jarring) staging in the exhibit is Snow Xu’s “Perfecthuman Harasser I,” a bullhorn which catcalls whoever walks past it. They placed it by the coat rack—the viewer isn’t prepared for the distorted, robotic voice calling out “hey, sexy!” or whistling. It speaks to a larger feeling associated with catcalling. Just as a woman walking down the street is doing something else, completely unprepared for the unsolicited harassment, the viewer is just trying to put away their coat.

The Performances

img_3663
Jen Kutler’s perfromance set up, featuring a pick guard from a broken down Fender guitar. Photo by Elena Byrd.

What’s special to me about a show like this is the chance to have a connection not only with the artists but with the other people in attendance—and when art and performance transform a space so everyone is experiencing the same thing at once, it’s something truly special.

Perhaps what made it so mesmerizing at the Yards was the way you had to descend into the basement via a winding staircase—treacherous, considering all the snow on our shoes making the steps slick—separating the performances from the installations above. The basement is bare bones, meant to allow the artist to transform the space however they want. There was nowhere else to look. There was nowhere to hide.

And that was crucial when it came to Kutler’s performance, featuring a synthesizer, a modified set of pick-ups from a Fender stratocaster guitar, and a purple multichrome vibrator. When the pick-ups moved closer the vibrator, the sound intensified. When the distance was greater, the sound faded into ambient noise.

We were forced to understand the performative aspects of female sexuality. She was completely focused on herself, but she made that focus about herself into a performance—it subverted a common situation for women. Sexual encounters for women often involve performance over pleasure, making their male partners feel like they did everything perfectly even if the woman in the situation was left unsatisfied.

So Kutler masturbated on stage and turned it into music. She reclaimed the performance.

The second performance of the night, a DJ set by Sasha Tycko and Sara Goodman called “Cruising Utopia,” had that same interactive spirit that connected so many of the installations above to each other. A mixture of sound art and club music, the set was both a critique and celebration of club culture.

Goodman controlled the visuals, consisting of swirling electronic patterns projected onto the wall while Tycko controlled the sound. The audio narrative pushed the audience through the proverbial “thorns” before letting us smell the rose.

We started by hearing about the problems with club culture, making difficult observations about sexual assault and violence in nightlife spaces before moving into the portion of the set meant to get us all dancing and moving.

The narrators were far from derogatory about club culture—we heard about how clubbing allowed them to find community and safety. We heard about how they could dance away their baggage.

That was what we did. We danced away the baggage.

The Installations

In a lot of art that I have seen about technology, the new innovation is the villain of the story, crushing true human connection and vaporizing real feeling. Entanglements is not like that. Both a love letter to and a critique of technology, Entanglements forces you to take the bad with the good. The pieces push you to examine your own biases and understand how these biases can be integral in innovation.

I mentioned “Perfecthuman Harasser I” above, but besides the staging, the piece represents the theme of the entire exhibit perfectly. While technology is vital and essential in our world, the biases associated with the creation of these technologies can have disastrous effects.

Everything we use today is automated. Consider how many technologies have been made specifically to make our lives easier, to allow us to stand back while the device does the work for us, to allow us to disconnect from what we’re doing. While you might not see the outright bias in something like a toaster, Xu casts the potential bias into sharp relief. Yes, you can create a device that catcalls women automatically, but should you? What kind of biases go into creating something like that?

Juxtaposed with critiques of technology, however, are pieces like “Laughing Web Dot Space,” Erin Gee’s online interactive piece to create a space for survivors of sexual assault to record their laughter and play it back. The site doesn’t log any data on the users (a rarity in this day and age) and perhaps that is what is most important about it. The users can record on their own terms, disclose in their own way. What results is a cacophony of laughter—but that isn’t a bad thing. It’s meant to be raucous and fun. It’s meant to make you feel like letting go and laughing it off.

Kutler’s piece especially emphasizes the potential for technology to amplify human connection. “The Other” features a shovel, a pillowcase, and a speaker; you get a friend, one person grabs the pillowcase, the other grabs the shovel, and you hold hands. What results is a specific and personal sonic response, all from human connection. Move your hand across the pillowcase and the sound will shift.

Remove your hand—break the connection—and it doesn’t work.

 

 

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s