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The Venice Issue

The Digital Media Experiments of Auriea Harvey

At Museum of the Moving Image, New York, a retrospective of the artist reveals an enchantment with technology’s possibilities and a disillusionment with its uses

BY Cassie Packard in Exhibition Reviews | 07 FEB 24

The first museum survey devoted to Auriea Harvey – a relentlessly experimental artist who was prescient about digital media’s capacity to reshape experiences of intimacy and embodiment – is overdue but worth the wait. Chronologically charting nearly four decades of the artist’s work with emergent technologies, ‘My Veins Are the Wires, My Body Is Your Keyboard’ encompasses net art, video games and digital sculpture, contextualized with sketchbooks and ephemera. Explorations of worldbuilding lore (in games and life) and the interpenetration of the virtual and the physical constitute compelling throughlines, as pivots in media that coincide with phenomena like the rise of Web 2.0 or Gamergate suggest a shuttling between enchantment with technology’s possibilities and disillusionment with its uses.

Auriea Harvey, Freezing, an excerpt from Entropy8Zuper!'s skinonskinonskin,1999
Auriea Harvey, Freezing, 1999, still from skinonskinonskin. Courtesy: the artist

Projected at the exhibition’s mouth, Webcam Movies (2021) scales up glitchy, black and white excerpts from a live webcam broadcast of the artist at her desk (typing, resting her head, absent from her chair) that spanned 1998–99. In centring Harvey – who, as a Black woman, holds an identity that remains underrepresented in tech – the proto-livestream also highlighted the underlying presence of socially coded physical bodies in digital space. In 1999, Harvey met Belgian artist Michaël Samyn on the net art environment hell.com (1995–2009) and they began exchanging interactive ‘love letters’ in a clandestine directory they built on the server /NO/SUCH/PLACE/EXISTS/seasideMOTEL/. They aggregated these dispatches in skinonskinonskin (1999) and made them publicly available via pay-per-view inspired by porn e-commerce. Alluding to the artists’ physical separation at that time, the work is displayed on monitors in opposing cubicles.

Harvey moved to Belgium, and the couple fused their web platforms into Entropy8Zuper!, hosting collaborative projects like Wirefire (1999–2003), a real-time online performance series that aired weekly. Concerned with incipient notions of ‘liveness’ online and constructed using pre-existing material, Wirefire collaged videos, images and sound with live webcam footage and text chats; audience members were represented by dust motes. A projection of Wirefire’s stream of associative scenes – including a painting of Holofernes being bombarded by balls labelled ‘touch me’ – doesn’t provide the full experience: clicking ‘touch me’ originally triggered visual and sonic explosions.

Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn, The Endless Forest, 2006–ongoing, online game still. Courtesy: the artists
Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn (Tales of Tales), The Endless Forest​​​, 2006–ongoing, online game still. Courtesy: the artist

The pair founded the game studio Tale of Tales in 2002, well before game engines regularly featured in artists’ toolkits and digital games were culturally anointed by blockbuster exhibitions. In their first online multiplayer game, The Endless Forest (2005/2023), players’ avatars are deer wandering a woodland with no set objectives, using only body language to communicate. Writing in Gamer Theory (2007), McKenzie Wark suggests that there is no ‘outside’ to gaming in a bleakly gamified society; through gaming, we might critically reimagine the game-space we typically inhabit. I grab a controller and pronk through the trees, probing this tranquil world’s logics and limits, learning the shape of my agency within its bounds. (Prominently projected on the wall, my journey becomes an arthouse video game livestream.)

Auriea Harvey: My Veins Are the Wires, My Body Is Your Keyboard Exhibition: February 2–July 7, 2024
Auriea Harvey, ‘My Veins Are the Wires, My Body Is Your Keyboard’, 2024, exhibition view. Courtesy: Thanassi Karageorgiou/MoMI

More recently, Harvey has turned her attention to transforming mythological characters from her virtual-reality project Minorinth (2017) into sculptures. Describing her material as ‘sculpted math’, Harvey combines 3D scans – of herself, clay models and Greco-Roman statues – with digital forms she has built. She 3D-prints these amalgamations in composites of materials such as bronze and plastic before hand-finishing them. Like a myth, which often lacks a singular source and mutates with retellings, these works trouble the notion of an origin and flout completion. Fauna v1-dv1 (2018), a 3D-printed bust of a faun based on a Minorinth avatar, is presented alongside a 3D-model version that can be rotated via a gesture-activated touchscreen, and an AR version on my phone that, characteristically of such exhibitions, refuses to load. That is, until I open my phone’s browser at the end of the day – and find that the impish creature has followed me home.

Auriea Harvey's ‘My Veins Are the Wires, My Body Is Your Keyboard’ is on view at the Museum of the Moving Image, New York, until 7 July

Main image: Auriea Harvey and Michaël Samyn, Sunset, 2015, video game still. Courtesy: the artists

Cassie Packard is a writer and assistant editor of frieze based in New York.