In “Love of Technology,” 14 artists from around the world (some of them obvious choices for a tech show, most not) traced the fault lines between, as the press release put it, “users and operating systems.” Yet as the exhibition unfolded, that clear binary fell away, revealing some very innate connections between people and machines.
MOCA has not felt this contemporary in a while. The carpet in the lobby was ripped out and the front desk removed to house To Be Titled (Desk), 2013. A blueprint-strewn office, this piece by artist Ben Schumacher and architect John Keenen is a relic of the pre-digital workplace. Sharing the surrounding space were two selections from Oliver Laric’s ongoing “Versions” series (begun 2009), mainly a video project that sometimes includes sculptural components, in which the artist appropriates cultural imagery to critique notions of authenticity. Here, a 2010 video featured nearly identical movement sequences from different Disney pictures. The appearance of Christopher Robin and Mowgli may kick-start the viewer’s nostalgia, but watching them walk in the exact same manner makes us wonder if our childhood memories are programmed à la Blade Runner.
Anicka Yi’s Life Serves Up the Occasional Pink Unicorn (2013) dealt with ephemerality and halted time. Flowers fried in tempura batter and coated in epoxy were attached to a sheet of Plexiglas, which was in turn secured to the wall. Between the Plexiglas and the wall, mounted chrome dumbbells created a contrast with the delicate flowers, which were slowly rotting in their epoxy. Nearby was Luis Fernando Benedit’s White Mice Labyrinth (1972). Along with a series of drawings done around the same time, this sculpture, in which live laboratory mice are trapped in a black metal maze, was by far the earliest (and darkest) work in the show. Watching the creatures shivering in the museum’s air-conditioning, one felt experimentation—both scientific and cultural—to be quite sinister.
Dystopia is the go-to theme for man-meets-technology movies, books and group exhibitions. Here it was spectacularly covered by an untitled installation (2013), also by Schumacher and Keenen. This consisted of an actual speedboat suffocated in white shrink-wrap displayed alongside a toy-size version created with a 3-D printer. Off to the side was the captain’s chair, which had been removed from the deck of the boat. The installation, connected via black cord to the artists’ office piece in the lobby gallery, situates a disaster narrative within the cool logic of bureaucratic planning.
For a show butting up against the digital world, the lack of screens in “Love of Technology” was unexpected and refreshing. Beyond the ones used for Laric’s videos, there were just two. Morag Keil’s Marly, Ingva, Anria, Nikolus, Eliya, Margen, Axewill (2011) combines footage from a department store with the sounds of video-game gunshots, suggesting a first-person shooter who might well be the viewer. Ian Cheng’s Thousand Islands Thousand Laws (2013), an algorithmically driven projection, features tropical birds, plants and at least one weapon-bearing commando struggling against a constantly evolving game space.
For the most part, however, the exhibition was analog. Josh Smith’s 16 name paintings (2012) in a wall-size grid, for example, were as DIY as his work ever is, but, in this context, they referred clearly to ideas of replication and automation explored elsewhere in the show.
The absence of literal connections to digital modalities was welcome, but it invited a degree of skepticism. It was difficult to understand what Lena Henke’s installation of ventilation grates, industrially produced, had to do with advanced technologies. The same goes for Jason Galbut’s large acrylics. Executed with ’80s-style pastiche and panache, they’re not exactly wired. One might argue that since acrylic paint comes from a factory, these paintings qualify as technological, but this line of reasoning gets flimsy. While weakening the coherence of the theme, loose ends like these succeeded in making the exhibition more volatile, perhaps better reflecting the ever complicating divide between humans and technology.