22.05 - 03.07.2021
‘Not Angels or Algorithms, Only Human Error’ is a three part group show featuring twelve video pieces, curated by Lindsey Raymond. The themes in each section unfold like a dialogue: the initial works address systems built of human ‘errors’ and injustice, the subsequent attempt to subvert this through cynical humour or queer ‘failure’ and the final pieces offer affirmations of familial, cultural, religious or spiritual connections.
I walk up the ramp of WHATIFTHEWORLD expecting (given the scale of the show) walls of moving images, but instead find a room of minimalist sculptures. At the front desk I am pointed to the viewing room, behind a black curtain. The screen starts up, showing the gallery’s desktop; the cursor opens a video file.
I am disappointed it’s Cameron Platter and Ben Johnson’s Solid Waste – a lurid, internet collage which I had already skipped through online. I wonder if anyone apart from the artist, the curators and, now, myself will have watched the full length of the video. It’s the kind of piece that benefits from sporadic viewership: spectators coming in and out of the gallery, lingering a few minutes and wandering on. Here, I don’t have the luxury of a cursor. I watch the cloud from an explosion, a woman in a bikini, and neon Flings whirl around. Given the show’s hazy focus on power and the Internet, I had not anticipated this set up: instead of four videos screening in different areas simultaneously, each video follows the next, meaning the viewer would have to sit there for forty-five minutes to see them all.
At home, watching Tabita Rezaire’s Deep down Tidal, I did not feel the same compulsion to skip, but rather to rewatch, attempting to follow all the threads. The essay-style narrative plays out over 3D animation of water to create a sporadic discourse of text, video, sound and digital collage. Rezaire highlights the retracing of the transatlantic slave trade routes in the deep-sea infrastructure that supports the Internet. Colonial exclusion and exploitation are mirrored in the unequal distribution of Internet access and profit. At the end, water is called upon as a source of cleansing and healing.
The spiritual trajectory of critical theory is also suggested by Dineo Seshee Bopape’s is i am sky, a piece reflecting on landlessness and dispossession in what the artist describes as a ‘cosmic ceremony’. The artist’s face, turned to the sky, is infused with their surroundings, then with strange patterns like those of a weather-map or outer-space. The immersiveness, however, is distinctly digital: I feel the screen-ness of the screen.
The man leaning on the front desk looks up to meet my inquiring gaze. I ask if the videos are for sale.
“Some are, some aren’t. Cameron Platter’s are actually very popular, we sell a few of those.”
I don’t ask if Warrick Sony’s works are for sale, but assume they are not. Sony is renowned for his political music-making, but it feels opportunistic to have footage of Gukurahundi and Marikana massacres showing in a gallery. In Gukurahundi, Sony overlays found footage of violence with, to quote the catalogue, “a meditative Mbira soundtrack”. In Most of You Will be Listening we hear the voice of the national police commissioner over a pixelated sunset, pylon lines and an unidentified body on the ground.
“And then, is it like an NFT?”
“No, we haven’t gone that route. We give the buyer a flash stick in a nice box and they get a certificate of ownership.”
Athi Patra Ruga’s piece continues the artist’s elaborate self-referential world building. Transforming their performance into another marketable object, the piece shows behind-the-scenes footage from a photoshoot for the Injibaba series. The artist is shown, covered in the suit of Afros, being styled before walking through the mud to the sheep pen. The sheep, terrified, climb over each other to get away from the ominous foreigner, a complicated evocation of the racism Ruga is concerned with. Throughout, Ruga maintains a playfulness: “It’s pissing, ” Ruga shouts. The incongruous display of pink high heel boots in the agrarian landscape ends with the artist washing the shoes in a drinking trough.
“Of course, you do have people who are looking to add videos to their collection, or just like them. We have a customer who has converted his whole house into a series of screens and projectors – that’s his preferred art.”
Dynasty Handbag’s Fascist Dictatorship Make Up Tutorial plays out Jack Halberstam’s notion of queer ‘failure’ – failure as a critique and rejection of (hetero)normativity. Handbag applies black eyes and clownish lipstick as she speaks to the camera. Her voice and expressions are child-like and absurd. The piece engenders an empathic embarrassment: the actions feel outside the realm of expectation, leaning too far in for irony. There is a sense of catharsis, an intimacy, in witnessing this loss of control and transgression of ‘acceptable’ behaviour.
“We’ve got the commercial stuff to keep things going, so the viewing room allows us to do something more… radical. I think we might do one every winter”
Angel Ho’s music video Garden of Diva also reflects a failure to perform the designated binaries. We have cut out images of diamonds, tigers, roses. A disco ball is animated to pulse with the music. The artist’s floating head bounces around the screen, their eyes lined with spider webs, mouthing the words. These works show the possibility of queerness as a fugitive space which we can keep creating.
In contrast to this, the final pieces are slower, more placid. Lungiswa Gqunta’s Gathering shows two pairs of hands shaking out a white sheet between them. The clip is repeated over and over until the familiar motion of the silent billowing fabric feels like a ritual.
Lakin Ogunbanwo’s Ojo-Aiku (*Sunday) is similarly quiet. While the opening scene is foreboding – when the father summons his son, we feel the boy’s reluctance in the face of his father’s avid religiosity – we see their pilgrimage through Lagos lead to an unassuming affirmation of love.
Spanning more than a decade, these works are really only linked by their medium. Art videos generally rely on the exclusivity of the gallery space – if that were the case here, I imagine the exhibition would go largely unseen. In the show’s discourse around the Internet, we see an awareness of the realm of which it must necessarily be part. The works are (mostly) available online, which drops them into this turbulent abstract expanse. It is also a realm shaped by the wants and needs of the viewer: the freedom to rewind, skip, pause. As COVID has quickened the move towards this interface, galleries have had to oblige, attempting to straddle the physical and virtual. In many ways, ‘Not Angels or Algorithms…’ feels caught in the ambiguity between the online world and the ‘real’ one.