The show starts quietly with an historical video program of classics that set a tone and context for what comes after. Works by Marina Abramovic, Bas Jan Ader, Sam Taylor Wood, Yoko Ono, and others who explicitly offered physical and emotional intimacy, created art experiences that were intense and dangerous and made people very uncomfortable. They made themselves vulnerable, their bodies were sites and spectacles of potential transgression and trauma. This was done in order to deconstruct basics of Post-Modern human behavior. As with so many other art historical tropes, versions of this dynamic inquiry exist in an updated public sphere — the digital world of technology and social media. And that’s where Vulnerability: The Space Between picks up the thread and takes it to increasingly inventive, uncanny, and strangely familiar places.
This takes a few different forms in the course of the show. Performative and frequently interactive, video and digital media is the ideal conduit for examining both the private life and public spectacle aspects of the new frontier. But even as emotional intensity crescendos, and experiential surprises abound, the core qualities of vulnerability remain the same — we stay human. It’s poignant. The Coming Out Simulator by Nicky Case employs a simple, charming interface with an instantly engrossing multiple-choice “game” in which the viewer navigates a semi-autobiographical family episode from the artist’s life.
VR installations are common in gallery and museum shows these days, but folks are having trouble bridging the headset gap in which each viewer is forced to experience the work on their own. The meditation-station vibe of the two-player VVVR VR by PlusFour, which offers sound- and movement-responsive cosmic optics for a pair of users, specifically creates attentive togetherness through a typically isolating technology. It’s gorgeous and a bit addictive and much like real life, it’s better with a friend.
A wall of video clips creates a sampled montage of random moments in the artist’s day, based on the simple but vaguely alarming proposition that your phone might be watching you back, in phonelovesyoutoo by Kate Hollenbach. This motif explodes into a surreal and slightly terrifying sense of being watched, as though by a mythological AI which detects your presence and turns its myriad gazes upon you, transforming the viewer into the viewed in If the Walls Had Eyes by Luxloop. The voyeuristic audience becomes the active protagonist in a story of desire and contact, curiosity and transgression in Touch by Mandy Mandelstein. The viewer’s hand is transferred to her skin, as she receives and reacts to a perceived caress of another invited stranger. It combines remote-action projection mapping with in-person performance in one of the most unforgettable works in the exhibition, as innocent fun slides into a tumult of guilt and embarrassment and a host of conflicting, unexpected, self-conscious emotion. This feeling only intensifies when confronted by the two-channel video installation I Love You and That Makes Me God by Fawn Rogers. Claustrophobic, sexy, comforting, and creepy, your personal space is constricted, eye contact with the people on-screen is unavoidable, an assertive statement equating passion with control is repeated, and it’s difficult to know how to feel.
Perhaps the most ambitious, and certainly the most interactive work in the show is the delightful and insightful LAUREN by Lauren McCarthy. Based on the Amazon ALEXA smart home system, this is a performative series in which the art enacts the role and duties of the technology, in real time, live from off-site. Wiring the residence with cameras, microphones and so on, mimicking the wired-up status of a modern smart home, she invites participants to treat her as their companion, caretaker, and constant observer. During this exhibition she took advantage of a residency in Europe to open her own LA home to a few intrepid souls, who lived there and took advantage of LAUREN for a variety of their needs — even as watching their behavior satisfied the artist’s.
“This version was unique,” explains McCarthy, “in that I was seated in a gallery [in Europe] while remotely performing LAUREN. People could come up and see what I was doing and offer suggestions or thoughts. The audience experienced the surprising feeling that I did — that watching another person, even when they’re performing mundane actions, suddenly becomes gripping when you have a sense of remote control…feeling the sensation of affecting someone’s life in real-time, from half a world away.” This particular version of LAUREN was focused on daily rituals, watching different people going through their individual routines of getting ready for bed, sleeping, waking up, getting ready for the day. “I really appreciated how though the movements were similar,” she says, “each person was so unique in their actions. Because the duration was shorter and they weren’t in their own homes, it was harder for me to fall into the background. Instead, they would often engage me, and we had some really interesting, strange conversations about their feelings about home, AI, and technology.” In highlighting the actual depth and breadth of our involvement with this supposedly benign technology, McCarthy forces attention to be paid to how much privacy and practical autonomy we regularly agree to lose — at whose mercy we agree to live, with whom we choose to be ourselves, and to what invisible forces we are already bend.
Curated by NextArt. Artists: Lauren McCarthy, Kate Hollenbach, Luxloop, Nicky Case, PlusFour (Ray McClure and Casey McGonigle), Kate Parsons, Mandy Mandelstein, and Fawn Rogers. youngprojectsgallery.com
Shana Nys Dambrot is an art critic, curator, and author based in Downtown LA. She is LA Editor for Whitehot Magazine and a contributor to KCET’s Artbound, as well as HuffPost, Vice, Flaunt, Fabrik, Art and Cake,Artillery, Juxtapoz, ALTA Journal of California, Palm Springs Life, and Porter & Sail. She studied Art History at Vassar College, writes loads of essays for books and exhibition catalogs, curates and juries a few exhibitions each year, is a dedicated Instagram photographer and author of experimental short fiction, and speaks at galleries, schools, and cultural institutions nationally. She sits on the Boards of Art Share-LA and the Venice Institute of Contemporary Art, and the Advisory Council of Building Bridges Art Exchange.