Belief in Fantasy

The myth of the multiverse compacts states of reality and fiction, resulting in an uncanny clash of precarity and potentiality. This compression is reflected by the internet’s virtual spaces. In this exhibition, a quest for the Eternal Expanse is forged through the exploration of multiple universes within a swirling star field—an online twilight zone. Layers of cyberspace form the backbone of this exhibition, while a pointed focus on the critical side of fantasy and escapism guide an inquiry to infinity, and beyond.


RIP Geocities (2011) and Screen Flicker (2012) by Faith Holland constructs a series of visual representations of the internet, expertly culled from a variety of Hollywood movies. A tunnel-like vortex of bright light and digital patterns visualize the internet, or what it could be like to crawl inside of an internet cable. Holland positions these visual tropes as a wry commentary on the fantasy associated with network theory. The internet was once heralded as a utopian dream, yet has now come to be occupied by ruthless surveillance and waning net neutrality. Can the multiverse only exist within the contexts of romanticism? Holland reveals the optimism-turned-fetishism of early net aesthetics through her focus on the cinematic edifice of virtual networks.

Faith Holland, Screen Flicker, 2012

Faith Holland, RIP Geocities, 2012

The internet is a crucial point of departure for this exhibition. It unites sequences of the multiverse within browsers to be explored on laptops, tablets, and smartphones. Reality and fiction coalesce within the screen. Katie Torn engages this dichotomy through her work with selfie image filters. Technology popularized by social media allow front-facing smartphone cameras the ability to disguise and enhance facial features, and in turn, produce altered versions of the self. Filters encourage users to escape their recognizable bodies and occupy illusory forms, layered on top of their real appearance. But, as Torn demonstrates in On the Beach (2017), spending too much time within this illusion can lead to dysmorphia. A discombobulated, Barbie-like figure confronts the viewer. Her body parts are almost recognizable, yet are overcome with plastic waste. The rainbow fluid streaming from the figure’s mouth is both macabre and kitsch. The accompanying poem, Low-Tide (1921) by Edna St. Vincent Millay, cautions that the great beyond, represented by the metaphor of the sea, is not always a safe place to dream. The metaphor of the sea parallels that of the internet, “Faint and perilous, far from shore, No place to dream, but a place to die…” Low-Tide warns of the serious consequences resulting from escapist tendencies. This statement guides the exhibition’s perilous exploration of the Eternal Expanse.

 

Katie Torn, On the Beach, 2017

So, what are the consequences of believing in fantasy? Can escapist actions shield us from precarity? The impression of the multiverse has been explored in many forms of entertainment and popular culture through themes of outer space. Tropes of black holes and doors leading to parallel realities—as seen in the seminal series, The Twilight Zone, or the millennial favorite, Rick and Morty—are often employed as a call for escapism. These impulses are an attractive option for a post-truth, Trump-inflicted society. However, the option to disengage does not always invoke a negative impact. Elisabeth Molin’s Phantom Feeling (2018) presents text, video, and audio. A cigarette halted in a slow burn begs the viewer to witness time’s passage. The nuance of Molin’s imagery presents a juxtaposition to the following hallucinogenic text. Incoherent mumblings cascade over both works. The interplay between banal, lived experiences and dreams is constantly confused, weaving together two universes that come close to parallel, yet divert with subtlety. The sensory escapism constructed by Molin encourages a poetic disposition. She invites reality to develop into fantasy through indulgence in a daydream, or rumination in a quotidian moment.

Elisabeth Molin, Phantom Feeling, 2018

Miyo van Stenis, Bitches Be Like, 2017

BBLv2 (Bitches be Like) (2017) by Miyo van Stenis halts old mobile phones—Blackberries and Razors of the early 2000s—in a pink-hued free fall. Their aged materials and dated appearance evokes time travel, teenage years, and virtual space. Dan’s Universe #1: Rocks (2016), the complimentary piece by van Stenis, is an elevator-music fueled environment that invites us to pause and enjoy. This work offers the viewer an opportunity to stare into a multicolored asteroid belt and just “be.” Both works present a neo-meditation for the technology addicted. Instead of turning the focus inward, van Stenis provides situational, screen-based fantasies for the wistful, ever-scrolling viewer. 

Between potentiality and reality lies precarity—a topic addressed by Nicholas Sassoon in Index (2017) and Avenue (2017). The works act as an homage to artist-run spaces that were once brick and mortar institutions in Sassoon’s home of Vancouver, Canada before they were forced to shut down. The artist creates scrolling narratives of each space, inviting the viewer to uncover each setting. Undulating moiré patterns generate an ambient environment against the background of a starfield. A quiet sense of abandonment occupies each location, as if the inhabitants left their computers for a moment, with screensavers still rippling back and forth. Sassoon’s works recreate a parallel universe of artistic space without the pressure and precarity of limited IRL resources, allowing the multiverse to act as a tool of cultural memory.

Nicholas Sassoon, Index, 2017

Emilie Gervais exposes the structure of the internet itself. Pragmatix (2018) is a digital installation composed of converged and flattening planes, a visual maze frozen in time. When paired with the poem Lil’ Matix (2013),  two visualizations of the internet are expressed, presenting a harmony with Holland’s works. Lil’ Matix takes the material of the internet in its purest form, exposing code-like patterns as bone without flesh. The work is poetic and hypnotic, soliciting patience and endless scrolling. An undulating rhythm of seemingly frantic, broken code challenges the viewer to encounter the piece in its entirety.

Emilie Gervais, Lil' Matix, 2013

Aaron Bjork explores the materiality of reflection through an evolved Google image search in Chrome (2017). A plethora of silver-coated images featuring knee-high, pleather boots, glistening manicures, mirrors, car parts, fish, and grill plated teeth form a fantastical wunderkammer-cum-image index. Bjork’s presentation mimics the function of the browser, reflecting the mirror-like qualities of chrome as a material and internet browser. The artist emphasizes the reflection and selfie-inducing quality of this substance in an effort to intimate internet surveillance. Chrome proves to be the perfect name for a browser made by the world’s largest tech company, as it conceals the pervasive mining of personal data by reflecting back the user’s own identity. Mirroring, an exercise used by activists that involves creating identical copies of data, is the perfect match for the thinly veiled commerce of user data collection. Bjork uses this material, and its many forms of expression, to reveal a sharper critique of online activity. From search browser to embodied tool of investigation, material and meaning converge. Bjork’s explains his accompanying piece, Chrome Klein Worms, as “a symbolic gift to replenish the images I harvested from chrome fanatics across the world.” He further explains that klein worms provide a visualization of the internet’s form, as visualized by Claude Posot and Paul Ryan in 1971 (illustrations of this work first appeared in Cybernetic Guerilla Warfare,” in Radical Software 1:3).  Bjork pays tribute to this shape and history with colorful, chrome-plated jpg sculptures. The presentation of these works provokes two different internet visualizations: the internet's potential, and its reality.

 

Aaron Bjork, Chrome, 2017

As evinced by the works within the exhibition, the internet is a more than sufficient route to enter into alternate universes. Visualizations of its systems alone provide for continuous encounters with other universes. Within its structure, fantasy and peril coexist. Theses seven artistic dreamscapes, imagined interiors, and spaced-out landscapes- present an earnest inquiry into the Eternal Expanse.