Strange strangers are not only strange, but strangely so…
June 2017, HeK, Basel
The title of the exhibition references the writing of Timothy Morton. Morton’s term, “strange strangers” can be thought of as a point of departure for considering way embodied subjects confront the new. Inscribed in this dynamic, however, is the paradoxical fact that so much of the new is constructed, both materially and relationally, from what is already known. Morton takes the process of change itself as his subject matter, how something, or, indeed, someone, passes from the familiar into the strange or vice-versa. The process demands new investigatory principles, as it is essentially continuously defined yet only cognised at essentially arbitrary endpoints assigned by the observing subject’s previous frame of reference.
The laws of thermodynamics do not admit the creation or destruction of new matter, and, thus, the capacity to identify or even comprehend where “true” originality or alterity lies is supremely difficult. The non-living amino acids that are the building blocks of life necessarily preceded the existence of self-replicating “live” organisms, and, nature’s tendency to conservation mandates that such pre-living materials and structures are, literally, written into the DNA of all that lives and breathes. This paradox characterises the mysterious qualities of organisms like viruses; they meet definitions of ‘living’ and ‘non-living’ organisms at non-traditional points in their lifecycles.
Such unstable definitions extend to the digital world. The computer virus, and its primary vectors bots and spam, are ineradicable parts of the internet and the virtual reality it underwrites. Beyond this, the “virtual” qualities of digital reality are also evolving. The physical exertion and material resource expenditure necessitated in maintaining the internet and the servers on which it is housed are belied by the apparent immateriality of digital objects, the objecthood of which is itself a problematic and paradoxical concept. Interface design recapitulates the process; where, at one point, a material fetishisation characterised aspects of digital interface structuring, echoing the ideas of Marshall McLuhan, consider, for example, the blunt, woodenness of the iPad bookshelf, presently interface is increasingly based around gestural or performative aspects of human behaviour and refinements of digitally generated symbolic schemes, e.g. Badrillaudian evolutions of internet buttons referencing earlier digital buttons as non-material touchstones. Mapping the inflection points of such shifts from one set of referential origin points to others is the primary concern of this project.
Housing the exhibition entirely in a material environment, the iPad, creates a discrete geography that in many ways surpasses the intimacy between viewer and artwork in material spaces. Indeed, the project seeks to transcend the artwork/viewer dichotomy as well as the material/conceptual divide. Those who attend the exhibition not only bring the works on display to completion through their subjective interactions with the ideas the works embody, but the physicality of the viewer, his/her gestures, becomes the means by which the artworks are fully activated as objects, incorporating iPad native functions like so-called “tilt-recognition”.
The exhibition for iPad and tablet technology, Strange Strangers, curated by Lou Cantor brings together the work of 12 artists working across a variety of media. Strange Strangers seeks to interrogate logics of arrangement, focus and display as manifested in traditional, material exhibitions. The digital formatting of the exhibition and the mechanisms of display and interaction embrace new modalities of aesthetic experience, untethering the geographical conception of the art space from its traditional appurtenances. Though, in some ways, liberating, such decoupling of historical dynamics brings with it a new set of anxieties and problematics. The exhibition’s title alludes to the, literal, otherworldly quality of the digital space; the artists included in the exhibition explore and map the contours of this space in ways which exploit its polydimensional potential as well as the limitations inscribed in the technologies of digital interface.