Yautja is the imaginary scientific name for the Predator species in the eponymous 1987 film. Predator’s spin offs and cult classic status have given rise to a community of devotees that continue to circulate via fan fiction and Wiki entries. As Los Angeles-based artist Jeff Baij accumulated digital Yautja material, he began fabricating an acrylic replica of the original Predator mask, used by the Yautja as a visual tracking tool, respirator, and audio/video recorder. In his exhibition, ‘Yautja Moms’, Baij expanded this project to construct the imaginary domicile of the Predator’s mother in the main room of Interstate Project’s Bushwick space. The mixed-media environment was anchored by two replicas of the translucent masks, hung in what amounts to a sort of motherly shrine to an erstwhile son, albeit one that ‘kills for pleasure’ and ‘hunts for sport’, as the film’s famous tagline goes. Baij filled the space with Home Shopping Network kitsch and dollar store supplies. A smoke machine re-created the Predator’s invisibility cloak and wall-mounted lasers demonstrate its hunting technology.
‘Yautja Moms’ was only the second time in his otherwise internet-based career in which Baij has created and exhibited work in a gallery space. His first exhibition was an installation involving the Predator mask included in the recently closed group show ‘Too Soon’ at Perry Rubenstein Gallery, Los Angeles, whose theme was LA-based artists investigating ‘global cyber industries and network technologies.’
Baij cut his teeth in the adolescent internet, a dial-up subculture in which he and friends emulated then-pioneering net art fixtures such as Jodi.org and superbad.com. Animated gifs, jpeg illustrations, txt files and browser-based works hosted on his website evidence this development through the late ‘golden age’ of net art. Recently, Baij’s blog has featured looped snippets of the Predator film as gifs that are washed out in psychedelic colour schemes. Predator is an instructive symbol for an internet-based artist’s incursion into the gallery space, where Baij turned not to discrete objects but to an immersive format. Visitors interacted with lasers, candles and rainforest-scented smoke that invoked the subject’s phantom ceremonial presence. Light, too, is an important part of ‘Yautja Moms’, where the only sources of it were candles and lasers. The fact that most of the audience will not have seen the film in quite some time is part of the mystique. Why now? How might Yautja ephemera insert themselves back into physical circulation? Baij has no idea either.
In her essay ‘Too Much World: Is the Internet Dead?’ (2013) Hito Steyerl wonders what happens when the internet starts to move offline. Steyerl speculates about images as they ‘spread through and beyond networks.’ ‘Yautja Moms’ was just such a fantasy. Baij thematized the loose consortium of DIY fanboys in an immersive, spectacularized exhibition, evocative of the insomniac netherworlds of early digital file sharing. Yet ‘Yautja Moms’ did not simply translate digital fan fiction into the exhibition space. By reconstituting the subject in a physical space, the Yautja symbols cease to be the lifeblood of a fan network. Using inexpensive materials, ‘Yautja Moms’ reframed the online Predator community as a sort of period room with physical objects loosely based on symbols originally sourced as digital files. Maybe this is how Steyerl’s internet dies?
Network culture places a premium on cult symbols, nostalgia and pop curiosities. Baij’s recent Predator animated gifs, shown online, attest to his longtime engagement with digital technology’s cheap, co-opted and iterative display strategies, and his exhibition to how they can become historicized.