‘Emotion + the Tech(no)body’ offers a selection of works by international artists, focussing on two central and sometimes opposing concepts, which constantly define our perception of the world: emotion and technology. Hosted at the Austrian Cultural Forum, the exhibition brings together works which evoke and unveil emotions dealing with technology as a subject or a tool. The show challenges our cultural attachment to data and the relationship of our bodies to technology, offering points of view on artistic practices that on the one hand bring these notions together, and on the other convey the tension within them. Ranging from sound art, experimental film, coding, laboratory culture, to sculpture, radio and post-internet art, ‘Emotion + the Tech(no)body’ exhibits the work of Benedict Drew, Audrey Samson, Stephen Cornford, Graham Dunning, Christine Schörkhuber, Reni Hofmüller, Ulla Rauter, Theresa Schubert, Davide Bevilacqua & Veronika Krenn and Jamie Sutcliffe.
Originally commissioned as part of a large scale installation and exhibited at Matt’s Gallery in London in 2014, Benedict Drew’s ‘Heads May Roll (radio edit)’ (2014) presents an immersive sequence of flickering scenes, pulsating lights and ear-splitting sounds. The surrounding space is rather cosy, but the row of wireless headphones and an LCD TV screen create an entrancing atmosphere that detaches you from reality. ‘Let’s imagine, for a moment, out there is gone and there is only in here,’ instructs the screen, before an attack of strobing colours, images of convulsing hands and sharp digital sounds leave you nauseous. Drew is hypnotising you, trying to make you feel totally disconnected from your body. It’s not until the word ‘exhaustion’ flashes across the screen that everything comes together. Drew seems to be acknowledging society’s progressively submissive absorption of the hidden voices of consumerism and offers a noisy escape to an alternative world. By using a barrage of colour, sound and light, he makes a simple point: that modern life, with all its unrelenting imagery, is exhausting. We probably knew that already, but the whole thing is so irrational that we’ll leave the exhibition feeling a lot more disoriented than when we walked in.
In a different vein, Stephen Cornford’s ‘Saturation Trails’ (2017) engage with new media by reconfiguring consumer electronics into expressive devices that criticise the ideologies they themselves represent. Three LCD screens display fragmented digital images. The result is achieved through the alteration of digital sensors, by exposing them to infra-red lasers and hydrofluoric acid. Cornford seeks to reveal the structure of the image through direct material interaction with the sensors, providing a new vocabulary for experimental video art. He has combined technology with science: the resulting aesthetic of fluctuating and flickering images shares a common element with experiments carried out in laboratories. At a time when technological development seems to be rising inexorably to the realisation of ever more intelligent machines, it is interesting that Cornford has chosen the digital image as the basis for its deconstruction through acid and radiation.
Ulla Rauter’s ‘Sound Drawings’ (2016) is possibly the most ambitious installation in the show. Employing a camera, UV lights and custom software, Rauter produces spectrograms, namely ‘vocal fingerprints’ of the human speech. Audio recordings of voices are projected onto the gallery walls, turning the space into an archive for voices. It almost feels like a reflection of identity ownership in the age of digital data. The voices and images projected on the walls almost convey the idea of stepping into a temple, where architecture becomes an extension of the body and soul. This work is particularly relevant against the backdrop of today’s consumer communication technology. Almost functioning like a smartphone, Rauter’s work takes something very human and personal (the voice) and encrypts it as digital representation, which if scaled to a great database, would serve as a new form of language. This work is particularly indicative of the age we live in: a time when we are all judged by digital eyes without the traits of human empathy.
This exhibition showcases art born of firm theory, original practice and creative performance; it conveys a clear message that evokes ideals of a shared discourse and collaboration. Despite the focus on bodily fragmentation caused by technology, the works in the exhibition are surprisingly physical. Technology, whether it concerns social media accounts or the fast-growing development of virtual reality, has the side effect of implicating our bodies. Far from experiencing a complete disintegration into weightless worlds, once we leave the gallery, we still continue to feel the rush triggered by notifications, status updates and overloaded inboxes.