Published December 20, 2017, in Degree Critical.
Hung on the white gallery wall on eye level, Fragments is one of the first things to see upon entering Pace Gallery’s 24th Street location exhibit On the Body. It is a horizontal mirror made up of almost 200 smaller, identical square mirrors. As you approach this seemingly inanimate object, you feel like it looks back at you, and you wouldn’t be wrong. Moving back and forth to understand the structure, you begin to notice the small mirrors face and follow you, tracking your movements in front of the piece. They turn, with subtle robotic noises, distort your image into wave-like configurations. Your reflected face becomes impossible to see with your own eyes—the mirrors are the ones that see, much like the self-satisfied doors from The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy—“all the doors in this spaceship have a cheerful and sunny disposition. It is their pleasure to open for you, and their satisfaction to close again with the knowledge of a job well done.”1
On the Body, the 2016 exhibition of Random International that included their latest work (all works 2016), arises from the question of how human and non-human entities interact, particularly how these mechanical creations relate to the visual image, information, and the question of whether can robots really see. Our physical presence as human beings and the decisions and designs made by robotics give the work a certain anthropomorphic quality, and our perception of machines can be obscured with their seemingly organic behavior.
Random International, best known for their world-renowned Rain Room (2015), is founded in 2005 by former Royal College of Art students Hannes Koch and Florian Ortkrass, as a collaborative studio producing works within the scope of contemporary arts. Their works deal with post-digital age experimental art and is directly bound up with audience participation; just like their famous Rain Room that lets you walk under the rain without getting wet, and their latest experimental work exhibited within On the Body, including Fragments and Self and Other where you can stand in front of dark tinted layers of glass, and see your-other-self in them—a light, fluttery, ephemeral self-reflection.
Blur Mirror works almost with the same principle: it blurs the face of the viewer “by the vibration of the individual mirror tiles that make up the looking glass, in response to the viewer’s bodily presence,”2 disguising and censoring our self-image in real time. The lack of self-image feels oddly familiar: the post-digital age is upon us, and we are living in the age of having to select the “I’m not a robot” option to enter some websites or send emails. We are way past Orwell and closer than ever to Asimov—the optical experience of Blur Mirror prompts us to ponder the aspects of our very own futuristic times, and our digitalized environments.
On the Body is full of questions, like the ones Fifteen Points—which is a fascinating robotic structure that has 15 mechanical arms with points of light on them, and they move in such a way that these dots of light create the form of a walking human being—asks: How do we act or interact in the age of machines? We know that the future is here and now, but how do we feel about it? Our instincts tell us to stay away and survive a potential futuristic dystopia, but our mind and heart say something else. That here inside the gallery we are alike, and we are connected.
On the Body is filled with sentiment. Random International presents, or even proposes, an emotional dialogue between man and machine from a most unexpected angle: while we are looking at ourselves, like a digitally updated version of Alice’s looking glass—are we, still, all mad here?
1. Douglas Adams, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy (New York: Harmony Books, 1997).
2. For Blur Mirror, Random International: http://random-international.com/work/blur-mirror/
Random International: On the Bodywas on view at Pace Gallery between September 23, 2016–October 22, 2016.