Analog | Digital marks Beacon Gallery’s (SoWa district, 524 Harrison Ave) 2019 annual Juried Show, showcasing artists from every corner of the country working in a refreshing mix of old and new media. The show explores our transition from the analog to digital age, both collectively and personally: how it has affected art-making, art’s value and purpose, our everyday lives, what we think about, what we look forward to, and what we fear. What has been lost, and what has been found in this transition? And in the pronouncement of the “obsolete,” which values and practices have timelessly prevailed?
Lydia See’s mixed media installation, An Apocryphal Cloud of Somewheres and Sometimes, was awarded first place in Beacon’s juried competition. It was also the first thing I noticed when I set foot in the gallery, and hopelessly intrigued by its scale, dazzling translucency, and the brilliant shadows it casts on its surroundings. I found myself squinting at its tiny microfilm images, trying to see what exactly this one, itty-bitty page from an anonymous magazine was once trying to communicate to its reader. But shrunk to “insignificant” size, removed from its original context and incorporated into the infinite pattern that is See’s “cloud,” its purpose becomes purely visual and contemplative. Its individuality has been undermined by a collective mass of information, which is made overwhelmingly inaccessible to the viewer. Yet at the same time, each microfilm segment and its content is preserved via the artist’s “archival” process; they are painstakingly stitched together with a uniform thread pattern to counteract their fragility (both materially and temporally). An Apocryphal Cloud is an analog visualization of the transmission of information in our digital age across space and time. It speaks to the constant impulse and unfortunate necessity to both feed and discard the bombardment of information we face every day in our contemporary all-access age. Despite its visual splendor, See’s piece appears to interpret this age as more of a curse than a blessing.
The highlight of my visit to Analog|Digital was experiencing Christine Chin’s Hunter Gatherer: Gather and Disperse Quilt. As a large-scale fibers and video installation, one immediately feels the analog/digital clash (see it in action here). Harkening to as far back as the Paleolithic age (as analog as it gets), Hunter Gatherer addresses the woman’s automatic role in society as it was originally defined by her biological make-up: both as mother (this being the piece’s focus), and as object (as history would have it). At the piece’s center, circularly-quilted forms draw the viewer into a small video screen overlaid with a target symbol, upon which a woman steps in and out of frame and squirts her breast milk at the camera (viewer). This act feels like the artist’s way of confronting these objectifications of womens’ bodies and the assumptions surrounding the construction of “femininity,” both in the context of the art world and in age-old stereotypes, by means of “militarizing” her own body via its most nurturing capacity. One detail I really appreciate about Hunter Gatherer is it’s non-reliance on vaginal forms or imagery; such forms have practically defined an entire genre of “feminist” art that is both too mainstream and too self-objectifying to be noteworthy anymore (i.e., I’m more than my vagina…). But maybe I’m reading too far into this and the artist’s omittance is only because the piece doesn’t deal explicitly with vaginal birth. Rather, it explores the extended experience of motherhood, and all its joys and anxieties, and how the analog/digital transition has influenced the act of parenting.
The 3D forms in Hunter Gatherer are refreshingly abstract, although unquestionably “womby;” delightfully fleshy and rippling with a sense of inner life. Many of these forms appropriately resemble a post-birth, shrunken womb, which create the sense of airy-hollowness about the piece. The medium of quilting has inseparable ties with family and tradition: it is a material that is handmade, used to tell stories and store memories, and often passed down through a family’s generations– participating in all-analog and irreplaceable rituals. Contrastingly, the piece uses iPads to display it’s complimentary video components. In light of modern parenting, this detail immediately struck me; too often do I see a child handed an electronic device instead of being engaged by a parent.
Chin’s video elements also possess a quality akin to surveillance footage (black and white, posterized and grainy effect, sped up and still). This factor calls upon the digital resources we have nowadays to maximize the protection our children; baby monitors, parental controls, and apps like “Find My Friends” to keep track of one’s whereabouts. Embodied in Hunter Gatherer is the profound stress (and joy) of being a parent in our modern world, and knowing when to step in and step off; what should we and shouldn’t we be protecting our kids from? Which things should we let them face themselves, and when is it the right time? The lower-left hand video appears to address these questions: filmed from the POV of two children driving a toy car, it illustrates the child having to navigate the flailing ride that is the path to maturation, and the camera’s lurking presence communicating the parent’s desire to be there to guide them every step of the way. The upper-right hand video charts an action as familiar as putting a child in a car seat, tenderly embodying the same, innate urge to nurture and protect. These are two intensely human traits and responsibilities which we will never be able to digitally replicate or substitute.
Andrew Au’s lithograph-silkscreen prints, COILO and COI-7, explore a universal human curiosity, no different from analog times than in our digital age: making contact with extraterrestrial life. The prints’ imagery is partially inspired by the first radio transmissions that were sent into space for this purpose. Au specifically references the Arecibo Message, which was sent only once in 1974 to “globular star cluster M13,” carrying basic information about humanity & earth in hopes of being received and deciphered by intelligent life. Particularly in COI-7, Au’s methodical linework, mapping of points and levels, and “connecting the dots” illustrate a foreign, almost mathematical language– one which we can only interpret as random chaos, since these measurements or messages defy our own understanding of logic. My impression was that I am witnessing a visual translation of an untranslatable alien verbiage, demonstrating the timeless (and perhaps forbidden) barrier between us and them which prevails even in our most technological age. There is a profound effect to be seen in both prints: the lines in a formerly 2D plane begin to erect 3D structures, transforming their formalistic foundations into depictions of perplexing creatures. They look similar to living beings of earth (a fish and an octopus), but are distorted by their technological build or additional appendages. Au draws these creatures freely, then scans them, and modifies them again and again both digitally and by hand (cuts and pastes, prints again and again). This process produces imagery that is referential to both the old polygraph machines and modern barcodes, defying a temporal destination and creating its own, “alien” sense of time and space.
Beacon Gallery’s Analog|Digital is not only a must-see exhibition but a fantastic site to procure the most unique and current artworks in the Boston area– what’s more, many pieces fall into the affordable $150-$350 range. I was fortunate enough to have a dialogue with Christine O’Donnell, Beacon’s owner, juror (1 out of 3), and lead curator, about her massive passion for supporting artists and activating art spaces. In her personal curatorial vision, “content is king.” She values art that has a relevant message and makes you think– not necessarily for the sake of wall decoration or “blue-chip investments,” which is what I think sets O’Donnell’s space apart from your typical gallery’s outlook. Her kinds of buyers are true patrons of the arts, in it for the visceral experience of a work and to promote the talent behind it. I appreciate how Analog|Digital displays both emerging and established artists on an equal level, and accepted them on a “blind” basis: CV’s, resumes, etc. are not a factor of consideration, only the quality of their work. The artists’ own statements accompany their work rather than artificial labels, and feature scannable QR codes which bring you directly to the artists’ website. That’s one good thing for art and artists in this digital realm of ours: it’s never been easier to put your work out there. Art and our understanding of it may be constantly evolving, but the value of its makers will never diminish.