disSentience, Curated by Lian Loke
The Generative Freeway Project, Matthew Sleeth
Tin Sheds Gallery, 11 June – 19 July
What with several ISEA shows in which overt or covert surveillance has featured; plus this week’s revelations of mass internet surveillance (brought into especially sharp focus by Julian Assange’s ISEA keynote) – a good old alien invasion is, to be honest, almost a comforting thought. Not that an abandoned dinner table loomed over by a cloud of laser-cut figures like four-legged landing modules necessarily spells ‘alien’. But the cloned, floating pack of articulated cut-outs seems not only to be watching, but swarming. And those whose meal they’ve interrupted have presumably got out of there fast.
This first room of disSentience, titled Interrupted, smells strongly of the old pizza, stale wine and mangled pasta remnants that grace a trestle table from which neat trapezoidal sections have been sawed and snapped off. Stools are scattered around; there are smears of food on the walls and floor. It’s classic sci-fi, but those strange chunks out of the table set up an uncanny echo of the hovering figures above. They shift the landscape to one in which the assumed intruder may actually have been there all along – present before the table was laid out, and right there in it. So that the messily human meal (proteins, fats, carbs and water, just like us) is framed by the clean-cut plywood and metal, hinting at a complex dystopian household that might once upon a time have been symbiotic.
In the second room, Sleep Economy, a life-sized Henry-Moorish figure twists and reclines in a web of wires of various colours and thicknesses. They hold her captive in a loose mesh, twisting overhead into a trunk-like mega-cable which then branches out to be secured along the walls on either side. If this is sleep, it’s a sleep mediated by the network – though the figure’s mid-20th century form almost suggests she’s oblivious or impervious to whatever era she’s ended up in. Like Interrupted, Sleep Economy is a scene in which the human presence is ambiguously contained from above and below – though here, the ambiguity lies in a human presence rather than absence: it’s not clear whether she is captive or cocooned, consumed or nourished by the wires all around.
Hidden in a nook by the gallery’s street-side window is scienceFUTURE: The Cloudlife of X. The unanswered questions of the previous two works pale into insignificance as we enter a world of pure fantasy: a ‘green field’ so green that it’s the visitor who in effect creates the work.
A small stool: on one side, a blackboard and chalk, on the other, a large computer screen on a plinth in which is set a big red button. Written instructions tell you to press the red button. You watch a previous visitor on the monitor as they imagine the life of X, a woman born in 2045. Listening to the end of their fragment of story, you are asked to now contribute the next fragment – the blackboard is there in case you want to illustrate as you speak. The instructions suggest that you bear in mind your own work or concerns as you imagine X’s story.
All thought of alien invasions evaporates as I press the red button and watch a previous participant, who gives me no hard information, speaking only of what X feels: about expresion, exploration, expansion, a world in which things are infinitely open to her. The smell of pizza fades and I take my place in the chain of imaginings, slipping from dystopian mealtime to utopian dreaming – albeit somewhat self-consciously, confronted by my own image at life-size on the screen.
Also at Tin Sheds Gallery are Transpotage, by Spanish architectural duo SelgasCano, and The Generative Freeway Project by Matthew Sleeth. Both are, in a sense, durational works: one technologically driven, the other biological. In Sleeth’s work 3D printers work constantly to produce new segments of ‘freeway’ which gradually form a scape that seems part-toyland, but is eerily abstracted by the featureless off-white of the printed pieces. Transpotage, on the other hand, grows by the light of the sun; hundreds of seeds of varying kinds sprouting in translucent medium in petri dishes, which in turn are housed in enormous dish-like, perspex structures. The living and light-hungry quality of Transpotage and the electronically generated freeway play off neatly: the tendrils of freeway curling and meandering; the clusters of petri dishes creating an ordered, architectural display.