The red pill or the green? This world or the other? Kalashnikovv Gallery‘s January Project month showcased an exhibition which added to the multi-century long list of questions revolving around existence and reality. This time around the questioning of the world and the duality of of life came from the perspective of artists utilising online-based art as their primary mode of creativity.
‘POSTDIGITAL’ was the result of an online residency programme (called Floating Reverie) aimed at artists working in the digital realm. Initiated by curator and programmer Carly Whitaker in 2014, it has hosted over twenty artists and three collectives so far. The works live in the digital world, which erases some of the difficulties facing artists seeking to collaborate, find new audiences or interact with foreign experiences.
The works at Kalashnikovv showcased eight participating artists from the US, New Zealand, the UK, and South Africa. The task for these artists was to inhabit the physical space of the gallery, re-presenting works that live in the virtual world and re-imagining them in tangible form. The creations on show all shared a freedom of living within the safety of cyberspace: an expanse which is detached from many of the challenges that plague art that lives in the real world. In many ways this freed the artist from restrictions which normally would hinder the artistic process such as finding a space to show works, the expense of creating tangible works and the challenges of communication with specific, located audiences.
With the works on show skirting the realms of the virtual and the real, they bring up questions around exclusivity and access. For most Africans the prospect of accessing a reliable internet connection to both engage with the works by these artists continues to be a very real challenge. The conundrum presented here is this: do we as artists on the African continent allow this to hinder our growth until the costs of data does eventually fall, or do we take solace in the fact that there are a few of us out there, like the three South African artists on show flying the digital flag for us? I think the answer to this may lie in this exhibition’s presentation. Having an exhibition of works that were created online and then presented to audiences offline possibly provides an answer to this. The Kalashnikovv’s curator MJ Turpin explains that ‘The works have been made more accessible to the audience in the manner in which they’ve been presented here… you don’t need data to walk through my door.’
The works themselves, which hover conceptually somewhere between the utopian, sanitised and faux reality of the Internet and the gritty, sometimes dystopic complexities of offline existence. Although they have been created to live on the Internet as the name of this exhibition suggests, they ask questions of both the perceived non-reality of cyberspace as well as of the harsh realities of the real world.
Alicia Mersy’s video installation Xenia is a whimsical, ironic infomercial for an anti-deportation serum. This fictional serum takes its name from the Ancient Greek concept for hospitality, generosity and courtesy shown to those who are far from home. This video is a reaction to recent deportation laws of asylum seekers in Israel; allowing Israel to transfer some 10,000 Rwandan asylum seekers in return for $5,000 per capita.
Brangelina by the creative duo of writer and artist Samuel Jackson (Australia), and artist Hannah Hallam Emes (New Zealand), is social commentary with a magnifying glass focused on the dysfunction of celebrity culture. Taking the death of Brangelina as it’s starting point, the symbiotic celebrity pairing of Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie are presented to embody white imperialist, hetero capitalist spectacle that is the fabricated techno body of celebrity power. This concept of capitalist accumulation and the feeding on a desire for perfection is presented to us as a fusion of live action, animation, monologues and text. Recontextualising this cycle of viral life after death by liking their co-existence to that of the interdependent relationship between fungal rot and the growth of mushrooms.
The collaboration between Miranda Moss and Oliver Walkhoff demonstrated a lightness of touch with The Citrus Saga PT 1 (stolen fruits are the sweetest). Their work tracks a South African-grown orange bought in Europe, making a return journey home. This is in reality a story of fruitless absurdity in that this seedless bare clone has no natural home. The Citrus Saga PT 1 reminds us of the web of connectivity between unnamed people and organisations which keep many parts of life on this planet moving. This map of newspaper clippings, printed digital orange memes and other bits of wall-mounted information of this orange’s journey reminds us of South Africa’s colonial history, but also recalls the lingering aspects of that history’s effects.
The international group of artists and artworks who made up this exhibition presented works which not only ask questions of their chosen mode of creation but also interrogated the implications of our continued reliance and fascination with cyber space and new media. All of which remind us of that pesky little red or green pill existentialist question.