Collapsed Fieldby John Cappetta
RUBBER FACTORY | MAY 26 – JULY 1
Antonia Kuo’s work in Collapsed Field ruptures the notion that the digital plane is an affectless mirror through which we can access our social spheres as divorced from the material and physical influences of real life. Our pixel-based reality is born of the same chemical and physical interactions as our IRL reality and the microscopic and molecular scale that Kuo enlarges in her works (both metaphorically and literally) connects the digital to a universal origin. That is to say that we’re all stardust, and so are smartphones.
The centerpiece is a sculpture in which steel rebar scaffolding supports three tiers of UV-printed tiles that form an analog for the flow of smelted metal in a foundry. (All of the works are untitled, 2018). The tiles bear micrographs—images made with a microscope—of molten metal, exposing its crystalline structures and the resulting eddies and currents that form in the sludge. The tiles recall pixelated information, positioning the sculpture as a meta-referential physical model of a digital model of a physical process, but its syncopated structure communicates imperfectly. The singular “flow” of tiles is separated into three distinct and incomplete portions—as if the stream of information was disrupted at certain intervals. On the other hand, these disruptions may signal the precise point at which movements of information stall or stutter, and where our expectations of a machine’s tireless functionality are unsettled.
The slumped glass pieces on the wall incorporate the three major physical components of technological devices: steel, urethane (a stand-in for plastic as well as a component in silicon-wafer transport), and glass. The slumped glass is sculptural—belying the primitive forces needed to form the touchscreens that we’re trained to see as not there—and lays on a bed of urethane in a steel frame. This layering exposes the shared foundational molecular interactions of our online and physical universes. What happens if we understand our Instagram rapports to be products of the relationship between glass, urethane, and metal rather than of interpersonal relations manifested in an alternate social sphere? Do the material particulars of our devices explain the difference between online relationships and IRL relationships—the relative inversion of intimacy between you and a childhood friend and you and an Internet friend on Instagram? Maybe not, but Kuo’s work celebrates the literal materialism of the digital sphere.
The cracks in the glass, like the glitch in the steel sculpture, point at a fundamental inability to capture totality, to perfect the transmission of information. Each slumped glass piece forms part of an incomplete picture, whatever it is that’s left out nags the viewer. A pixel seems to be a complete set of information that, in concert, makes a whole. But can it really be perfect? Might it appear less well defined in close examination? There's an uneasy aliveness to the slumped glass, the material reminding us that it too is of the earth, that given the correct circumstances, it too self-animates.
Herein lies the question which links Kuo’s work with the conceptual cyborg—can we differentiate any human-derived circumstance from the natural? Kuo’s forms are constructed from the materials that gird cyberspace; they read immediately as being of and about the digital. The passing viewer might assume to feel a coldness, even a stasis from the pieces. But that stasis more closely resembles the static at either end of a VHS tape, the rendering of ever-present background radiation and signals by a device without human guidance—in other words, how a TV makes sense of entropy. The cracks that fracture the glass panes are the human errors that we compulsively try to purge from our devices—HAL’s flaw from 2001:A Space Odyssey—it’s like Kuo is letting the nature out. And when we dissolve the boundary between natural and artificial, the demarcation of bodies changes too, extending through handheld appendages into cyberspace or through wall-mounted analogs in physical space to where and whenever the residue of our self ends up.
JOHN CAPPETTA is a production assistant and contributor at The Brooklyn Rail. Their writing has also appeared in Civil Eats and Hakai Magazine.