New work by Barber, Sheida Soleimani, Cassie Tompkins, and Lauren Valley
Curated by Elizabeth Lalley
Through photography, collage, video, and textile, the four artists in Short Circuit respond to the circulation of imagery and information within digital mass media, as they disrupt, reject, or dissect contemporary modes of image production and consumption. Employing strikingly different visual languages and critical sensibilities, these artists are united by an attempt to redirect digital currents towards a material grounding, rooted in the messiness of human output. At moments wry and dissonant, each work in the exhibition draws out issues of identity, subjectivity, and politics embedded in globalized media.
Created from mash-ups of Instagram screenshots, Barber’s collaged prints expose the influence of algorithms on the imagery in our social media feeds. Fused side-by-side, the screenshots show how particular contents, signifiers, and shapes morph from one image to the next: digital equations that analyze our virtual identities and suggest if we like that, we might like this. Overlaying his own marks on each image, Barber adopts a critical distance, exposing how virtual computations are tailored to each human subject.
Layers of symbolism and recombined imagery can likewise be found in the work of Sheida Soleimani, whose practice melds sculpture, collage, and photography to expose socio-political currents in Iran, often sourcing material from popular press, media trends, and the dark web. In the artist’s newest body of work, “Medium of Exchange,” staged tableaus explore the tangled dynamics of power, corruption, and violence that play out between leaders of oil-rich OPEC (Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries) nations and the West. In the work on view in Short Circuit, a female body is masked by the face of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman—Time Magazine’s “Person of the Year” in 2017—as the letters of “Time” drip ominously with oil: a gesture to the petroleum industry’s male-dominated systems.
Adopting the alter ego of “Junie Genius” for her YouTube channel, Lauren Valley riffs on the archetype of the “mad scientist”—typically male and white— as she invents robotic devices to aid her with various dilemmas, which are often outlandish or wryly existential (a robot to wipe your tears, for instance). The devices are frequently unsuccessful, however, as each video contains a degree of structured chaos and an aesthetic of failure. Unlike the polished finish of typical “maker” videos, Valley’s series balances rough, lo-fi elements with considered cuts. Expertly weaving together art, robotics, and satire, “Junie Genius” is, among many things, a humorous display of counter-technology and an embrace of creative possibility.
Cassie Tompkins deliberately departs from the digital realm and turns to analog methods for her vividly colorful, hand-printed textiles. The colors and shapes of quotidian life—increasingly steeped in the digital worlds behind our screens—take on a shifting, ambiguous nature within Tompkins’ textiles. Improvised and organic, each piece of cloth presents tactility and the relational nature of color (unmediated by a device) as means of revising the sensory overload of virtual space.
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