Myths of the Marble
Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia
Through August 6, 2017
A double vanity appears in your left hand; a giant wineglass appears in your right. With the press of a button, both are released into a floating black orb, to be replaced by a length of gutter and a plywood crescent. Florian Meisenberg’s virtual game Of Defective Gods & Lucid Dreams (The Museum is Closed for Renovation) (2017), sources things selected randomly from an open source database of 3D objects, which hover in front of a backdrop of ancient sculptures. It’s Dada in the age of Home Depot. The space also exists as a physical installation in the gallery, framed by a large blue carpet, like a distorted tennis court, with airy shaped paintings suspended from the ceiling. Approaching the carpet, a docent asks you to remove your shoes, put on the goggles, and hold a controller in each hand. With that, stuff starts appearing in the digital hands held stiffly in front of you. It seems uncouth to refer to an artwork as fun, but, then again, maybe the museum should be more like a rarefied arcade.
Meisenberg’s piece, like others in Myths of the Marble, posits virtual reality as both an imagined world and one predicated on the lived experiences of its makers. I read Of Defective Gods & Lucid Dreams as a metaphor for internet retail. We encounter most of the objects in our lives first through their digital representations, then, with the click of a button, the things themselves arrive on our doorsteps. Here, the place that stuff comes from, be it Amazon or the internet, is rendered as a pulsing black blob: a force which is generative but also ominous.
The boundaries between the real and virtual are porous, but the virtual realm still carries the capacity to create the world you’d like to inhabit. In Jacolby Satterwhite’s video work En Plein Air: Music of Objective Romance (2016 – present), animation cut with footage of the artist meld in an organism-like universe of queer play amidst churning machines, with Satterwhite’s mother’s handwritten drawings and instructions floating throughout. Satterwhite points to the fantasies that have become a regular feature of a digital landscape. If you get to hunt infinite deer and fight zombies in the Wild West, why not inhabit a starship fueled by voguing?
Another point where the IRL and virtual worlds converge is in the structural inequality running through both. Sondra Perry’s video IT’S IN THE GAME ’17 or Mirror Gag for Vitrine and Projection, 2017, lyrically suggests that it is possible to read virtual objects as much as tangible ones as a place where the exploitation of black and brown bodies becomes compacted into singular forms. The video centers around the artist’s twin brother, who plays basketball for the NCAA, which pays its student scholarship players nothing, even as the teams earn huge profits. Players are also not reimbursed for the use of their characters in virtual basketball. We see him walking through the Metropolitan Museum of Art, looking at African sculpture, then, over footage of him playing basketball, a voice with the gonzo cheer of a supermarket savings announcement lists the features of objects taken from indigenous communities and communities across the global south that are now in the possession of museums. The theft of these objects happened in tandem with the colonization of the people who made them. Perry suggests that this is paralleled by the exploitation of real and virtual black athletes.
Perry’s piece is both critical of the museum and also designed to be exhibited within one. The film is accompanied by video-artifacts that both parody the display of art objects and also are made to be displayed as such: on pedestals, behind glass cases. It is strange, as Brian Droitcour observed in his discussion of post-internet art, that a medium so well-primed to surpass the museum altogether so often defaults to it. The virtual world, so engrossing through those goggles, remains reliant on the IRL gallery attendant to prevent you from walking into an IRL wall.
LEAH GALLANT is an artist and writer based in Philadelphia.