Luddites - don't be cowed: it might be tech-heavy but the Whitechapel Gallery's latest show Electronic Superhighway is a boisterous and fascinating adventure.
The exhibition explores the impact of computer and Internet technologies on artists from the mid-1960s to the present day. The show travels back in time, from artists working now, such as Instagram artist Amalia Ulman, to those making art in the 60s like John Cage, Robert Rauschenberg and Yvonne Rainer.
The exhibition's title is drawn from a work by Nam June Paik, the Korean American artist who pioneered video art and was fascinated by the idea of telecommunications, or what he called 'electronic super highways'. His complex ideas considerably influenced late twentieth century work: art and technology were seen as opposed to each other, but Paik paved a way to integrate them. Several of his works are on show.
Granted, this all sounds quite full-on - and it's true that there are some pretty abstruse work here. But what's so surprising about this exhibition is quite how playful it is. We loved Olaf Breuning's Text Butt, where we're shown a giant cardboard cut out of a woman's backside, out of which emerge iMessages. We're all talking s**t, Breuning suggests. Thomson & Craighead's interactive piece turns spam emails requesting money into karaoke, so you can sing along to things like "We've been to the Embassy and the Police here they're not helping issues at all and our flight leaves tomorrow but we're having problems settling the hotel bills and the hotel manager won't let us leave until we settle the bills."
Several works appear from British artist Celia Hempton's Chat Random series, where the artists meets strangers on hook-up sights. She asks these men if she can paint them, and the result is strangely moving.
Youtube sensation Hennessy Youngman, (alter-ego of Jayson Musson) had us hooting with laughter in his ART THOUGHTZ. Musson's persona is a self-styled culture commentator, who drapes himself in gold chains and wears absurd caps. Youngman expounds his views on art in hip-hop vernacular, to hilarious effect.
And yet - fun and games aside, technology has a dark-side. Douglas Coupland addresses worrying breaches in privacy with his Deep Face series. Black and white photographic portraits show people with their faces obscured; disconcertingly pixelated, showing that technology can both expose and camouflage our identity.
Rafael Lozano-Hemmer's Orwellian installation Surface Tension explores the culture of surveillance. A giant human eye follows the observer round the room, closing when he leaves. Clever and chilling.
The effect of technological saturation on the human mind is shown in Lorna, by Lynn Hershman. So obsessed by television 'Lorna' become, that she is now an agoraphobe. The 1980's installation invites the viewer into her flat, and lets you choose what she watches. This fictitious woman has lost all autonomy.
Twelve by Ann Hirsch is similarly poignant. The installation shows a child's desk, covered in pink pens, but dominated by an iPad. Children no longer play or draw, Hirsch suggests, but are consumed by their tablets.
Balanced, intelligent and timely - we highly recommend Electronic Superhighway.
|What||Electronic Superhighway review, Whitechapel Gallery|
|Where||Whitechapel Gallery, 72-78 Whitechapel High Street, London, E1 7QX | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Aldgate East (underground)|
29 Jan 16 – 15 May 16, Tuesday – Sunday, 11am – 6pm; Thursdays, 11am – 9pm
|Price||£13.50 (including Gift Aid donation) £11.95 (without Gift Aid|
|Website||Click here for more information|