On the face of it, Emotional Supply Chains seems like a reasonably timely project; a group show of work that addresses the way identity is constructed in the digital age, going back as far as the turn of the new millennium and working up until the present day. The title of the exhibition comes from the idea that the self is “fabricated via a supply chain of objects, ideas and experiences,” according to the exhibition text, and seeks to antagonise the tension between the oft touted freedom of digital space, with its alleged multiplicity and fluidity, and the inescapably tangible and more specific realities we face in real life.
The exhibition is divided into three sections, entitled Authenticity and Artifice, The Networked Self and Origins and Renewal. Each teems with significance not only in terms of how we discuss the post-digital world, but also one in which as Boris Groys has suggested (in a recent essay for e-flux Journal #71, again cited in the exhibition text) we are all engaged in some sort of artistic activity. How then do people navigate this particular multiplicity, which appears to manifest itself in an oddly competitive way, a crowded space where everyone is screaming their own name at the top of their lungs, vying for attention and validation from others?
New Zealand artist Simon Denny’s work The Personal Effects of Kim Dotcom (2013- ) is the first work which greets the viewer, taking up a large portion of the main hall of the downstairs gallery. Referring to the ongoing legal difficulties of German-born (and currently NZ-based) founder of Megaupload and Megavideo, the installation is assembled from a collection of objects collated from a list of items seized by police during a raid on his huge mansion in Auckland in January 2012. Denny’s work here has a kind of dual significance, revealing Dotcom’s rather adolescent tastes (expensive cars, movie memorabilia etc.) that have become synonymous with his public image, as well as touching on issues of copyright and intellectual property rights in the age of the internet. Denny’s work tends to have an almost diagrammatic structure, and he’s noted as being somewhat ‘emotionally removed’ from the issues he addresses in his work. The result is that it’s one of the most easily readable works in a show that doesn’t particularly favour them.
David Raymond Conroy’s work, entitled (You (People) Are All The Same) (2016) is a newly commissioned work which takes the structural identifiers of long-form journalism (which is itself a useful commentary on attention spans in our current epoch) and podcasts to explore Conroy’s attempts to make a work based on encounters with homeless people in Las Vagas. Central here is the narrative technique as a medium; a slowly unwinding story that while no doubt for many is synonymous with online broadcasting, really harks back further to the golden days of radio. Ostensibly the piece is about making work, the notion of authenticity and the relationship with the audience, but also the way that a story is also often subsumed by the way it is told and ‘formatted.’
For me the highlight of the exhibition is Neïl Beloufa’s large scale installation in the middle gallery, Lifestyles (2013), which contains the video work People’s passion, lifestyle, beautiful wine, gigantic glass town, all surrounded by water (2011). The latter work is an almost clichéd presentation of an upper-class, gated neighbourhood, all carefully sanitised and full of equally non-threatening individuals discussing how they spend their leisure time. One fantastically on point piece of dialogue comes from what sounds like a real estate agent, talking about being able to go up the mountains to ski, then go to the beach to surf before going out on the town for dinner all in the same day (with brief, strategic naps in between). It all sounds like more activity than most people fit into an average month, both in terms of time and energy. The dialogue of course is all carefully scripted, a perfect illustration of how we construct not only ourselves but also some particular suggestion of our surroundings. Beloufa’s work here is disrupted by a series of assemblages, which cut through the video projection, dissecting the interviews into multiple panels and mirrors, and further emphasising the fragility of some of these constructed presentations, regardless of how immaculate they might appear from the outside.
In the rear gallery space, several artists reference some of the supposedly quintessential hallmark platforms of the digital age, such as Facebook, Youtube and Instagram. The rise of social media, online celebrities, and even the somewhat cliché idea of the “leaked” sex-tape have all become synonymous with the curation of the 21st century self, something explored in different ways by artists like Frances Stark, Ed Fornieles and Ann Hirsche. In this part of the exhibition, perhaps the strongest ties can be found with the exhibition Electronic Superhighway (2016-1966), currently running at Whitechapel Gallery. In that exhibition as in Emotional Supply Chains, the onset of new technologies and platforms experienced by a younger generation of artists form the basis of their conceptual considerations of the self, as well as more specific sculptural forms. Hirsch’s piece in particular is interesting in the way it subtly charts the changes within the internet itself, referencing the ubiquitous chat rooms of the late 1990s and early 2000s with the more established mediums of the present day, with their incorporation of moving image, photography and other interactive elements.
On the upstairs mezzanine, works which address notions of family, history and nationality come to fore, most strongly perhaps in David Blandy’s installation Child of the Atom (2010) and Aleksandra Domanovic’s 19:30 (2010-11). Blandy’s work explores a family myth that connects his late father’s time as a prisoner of war to the bombing of Hiroshima, in a kind of constructed set that is visually one of the most striking elements of the whole exhibition. Domanovic’s work, spread across two screens addresses the dissolution of the Federal Republic of Yugoslavia by collaging materials from television news themes and also rave parties held in the region. This work in particular addresses the way identity is increasingly a pastiche of media, curated to fit a pre-determined format like Facebook or Tumblr, speaking to the heart of the exhibition’s overall consideration of where the multiplicity ends and the frequently more corporate manipulation begins.
The show itself is unabashedly dense, due in no small to its division into three sections. At Whitechapel, the curators organised that show by exploring the contemporary works currently being produced in the lower galleries, before juxtaposing them upstairs with a selection of work that shows how some of these ideas had been gestating over a period of decades. The result was something fantastically coherent and very wide ranging. At Zabludowicz Collection the work is more recent, the installation instead emphasising thematic links between specific works that feels like it leaves gaps in the dialogue between different artists. At the same time, it’s worth noting that the work casts a broader view than the more common focus on social media or the clumsily inadequate ‘post-internet’ tag that frequently gets used when discussing works like this. Ultimately the exhibition feels like one which leaves a great deal more open-ended than it makes any attempt to reconcile, perhaps highlighting how in-flux so many of these conceptual concerns still are.
By Will Gresson