BY Giulia Smith in Reviews | 03 JAN 14
Featured in
Issue 160

Unified Fabric

BY Giulia Smith in Reviews | 03 JAN 14

'Unified Fabric', 2013, installation view

‘Unified Fabric’, a collaboration between the London-based artist Harry Sanderson and Arcadia Missa, was the latest exhibition in the latter’s ongoing research into the economy of the digital image in its post-internet incarnations. Since opening in 2011, Arcadia Missa has established itself as a prolific gallery and publisher with a strong investment in an emerging generation of digital artists. With ‘Unified Fabric’, Sanderson, who graduated recently from Central Saint Martins, returned to the gallery for the second time.

The exhibition title was borrowed from a service offered by the American multinational Cisco Systems, which claims to sell ‘connectivity across physical, virtual and cloud environments’. The reference betrayed an ambiguous fascination with the corporate world that has become familiar in much recent art – think of the self-proclaimed ‘company’ LuckyPDF, with which Sanderson has collaborated in the past. But it also provided the context for a critique of the marketization of human connectivity online and offline. ‘United Fabric’ claimed to present an alternative network, which, though not exactly divorced from the market, is committed to exposing the invisible economy of data transmission.

The centrepiece was a DIY render farm, a super-computer that can create high- definition digital images, put together by Sanderson himself. Ordered neatly on a white plinth, the processors are logo-less black boxes; the technology’s inert minimalism belies the artist’s manual work. By extension, the piece emphasizes how HD images conceal the hands-on labour involved in the global rendering industry, where huge farms operate like factories, with workers moving pixels along a production line. In his novel Pattern Recognition (2003), William Gibson compared the process to a beauty parlour, where the staff massages the image, sharpens it, does its hair (high-res hair is notoriously difficult). By presenting a handmade farm, Sanderson hinted at the manufacturing industry that lurks behind the illusion of seamless immateriality hailed by so many fans of the digital dimension.

Six flat-screen monitors were installed around Sanderson’s processors. Each was apparently selected on the basis of its conceptual engagement with the digital image beyond its visible configuration. Perhaps ironically, though, this wasn’t always evident. In Maja Cule’s The Horizon (2013), a young woman seems to hang from the edge of the Trump Building, as in an image of post-9/11 financial vertigo; the video superimposes footage of a model lying on a table in front of a green screen with looped footage of Wall Street. Takeshi Shiomitsu’s Cleanroom Study (I keep falling and falling) (2013) is a montage of spaces hinting at restricted areas of work where the eye is denied access. Unexotica (2013) by Melika Ngombe Kolongo and Daniella Russo shows a somewhat perplexing sequence of looped low-definition stills and slow-motion footage. These artists are mostly just starting out, which perhaps accounts for the elusiveness of some of the footage they present. Clunie Reid’s The More or Less of Miley Cyrus (2013) superimposes the recent exploits of the American pop star at the MTV VMAs with details from Marcel Duchamp’s Large Glass (1915–23), with tenuous bearing on the premise of the exhibition besides the reference to the master of anti-optical teasing.

Sanderson’s own video, Detail (2013), stuck to the score with a micro-motion rendering of the artist’s body. This process amplifies imperceptible movements, making visible normally invisible dynamics like blood circulation and pulse. The effect is uncanny, suggesting a new level of surveillance of the self and others. You get the point. By showing the throbbing life of the finest hairs and tiniest light particles, Sanderson presents a microscopic metaphor for the expanded phenomenology of the digital image. The idea is that, as technology zooms in ever closer, we increasingly lose sight of the bigger picture. An untitled digital sound piece by Sanderson enveloped the exhibition, shifting according to our movements and adding another layer to the artist’s pursuit of embodied digital perception. Sanderson wrote about this project earlier this year on Mute’s website, in a persuasive essay titled ‘Human Resolution’, which laid the groundwork for this exhibition.

Hito Steyerl’s STRIKE (2010) provided the punch line for the whole show. The most prominent of the artists in ‘United Fabric’, Steyerl featured as a kind of patron saint of a younger generation likewise concerned with the socio-economic circuits of the digital image. In STRIKE, Steyerl cracks open a screen with a stake only to generate another image upon impact, as in a self-defeating attempt to boycott the ‘mere surface’ of the digital image, its optical sensuousness. This critique of the limited agency of art beyond symbolic protest and of its cyclical subsumption (to the system, to the market) says a lot about the critical parameters within which the rest of the exhibition operated. ‘United Fabric’ knowingly took on Cisco’s ethos, countering it with an alternative network situated ambiguously between corporate parody and enforced DIY survival. As the modern management motto has it: network or perish.