Plicnik Space Initiative


15 October 2020 - 15 October 2021

Review by Rowland Bagnall

The Plicnik Space Initiative, a new artistic venture founded by Amelie Mckee and Melle Nieling, hosts its inaugural exhibition aboard the D02.2, a fictional spacecraft of massive proportions, with a mission to explore the boundary between physical and virtual space. As museums and galleries across the globe face uncertain futures in the wake of the pandemic, the show interrogates the parameters of digital curation, inviting imaginative responses to a range of pressing questions concerning art and the environment, technology, and commerce.

The ship itself – resembling a giant pair of lungs – calls out to the interstellar greenhouses of Douglas Trumbull’s ‘Silent Running’ (1972), in which Bruce Dern attempts to safely transfer the botanical legacy of post-apocalyptic Earth to a space station off Saturn, not to mention WORKac’s recent ‘3.C.City’ (2015), a work of speculative architecture exploring the future relationship between humanity and the natural world. As such, the Plicnik exhibition takes on the uncanny resemblance of an art show from the future, gazing back though time towards the world as it is now. At the same time, however, it comes pre-packaged with a strange, in-built nostalgia, directed at a period of history when the future seemed to be chrome-bright. As Ben Lerner’s narrator puts it in ‘10:04’ (2014), surveying the dioramas in the American Museum of Natural History, “nothing in the world […] is as old as what was futuristic in the past.”

Unavoidably, the exhibition carries a pressing ecologic strain. A number of the artworks imagine the consequences of a deteriorating planet, including Tekla Gedeon’s ‘The Extended Forest’ (2020), which offers a glimpse into a future promoting environmental guardianship and participation over the consumption of natural resources. Alternatively, Jana Stolzer and Lex Rütten’s ‘Pawāaraibu’ (2020) presents a drone’s-eye view of an abandoned Earth, balancing the resilient beauty of the empty landscape against the ruins of industrial, derelict, and war-torn terrains. Marc Blazel’s ‘Under Perpetual Construction’ (2020) offers a suite of empty landscapes, too, rendered in the blocky, pixelated language of 1990s video-game graphics. There is optimism here, the optimism of an untouched, pristine wilderness and even capital-C Creation in the promise of a made to order, virtual world. But, betrayed by their outmoded graphics – Sony’s PlayStation 1 celebrated its 25th anniversary earlier this year – Blazel’s landscapes serve to highlight their own failure to supplant the environments they replicate. Instead, they exist as a kind of archive, a traversable record of human anxieties about the planet and our place in it.

Another constellation of artworks on the D02.2 interrogate the wide plains of consumerism. Jake Laffoley and Lionell Guzman’s ‘Dear Aliens’ (2020) makes a commercial pitch to the intergalactic marketplace, while Zhengzhou Huang’s ‘Pigxell’ (2020) styles itself as a furniture-trading video game – with shades of Nintendo’s ‘Animal Crossing’ (2001) – in which players exchange photographs of their own bodies for upgrades and soft furnishings. Elsewhere, Ellie Wyatt and Lucy Hutchinson’s ‘Trading Up (A Broken Arrow)’ (2020) transforms the ‘Dehumidifier’ – each of the exhibition’s artworks takes place within a unique zone of the spaceship’s interior – into an archaeological sculpture park, complete with the relics of fictional advertising and defunct Tech innovation. Laura Yuile’s ‘Anish Kapoor Fan Fiction’ (2020) reminds us, with stark humour, of the self-defeating nature of value-based consumerism, interrogating the invisible underworld of art market knock-offs. “Yes, exactly Anish Kapoor sculpture,” suggests a robotic female voice-over: “How many do you need?”

Not all of the artworks in the Plicnik space-show land. There’s an occasional tendency towards David Lynch-lite surrealism and, while there’s certainly humour in the exhibition – see Sangjin Kim’s ‘I know this steak is not real’ (2020) – it’s sometimes difficult to work out who the joke is on or for. One or two of the artworks don’t do justice to the exhibition’s quality. Paul Wiersbinski’s ‘Commitments to Deathlessness’ (2020), a single-page diagram complete with links to Wikipedia articles on J. G. Ballard and ‘The Terminator’ (1984), seems more like a page of notes towards a half-baked dissertation. In the words of the choral chanters in Chloe Langlois’s ‘Spectral Extractor Fan’ (2020), “It feels like something dramatic should happen… Maybe if we wait a bit longer… No, it seems like probably that’s it.”

Nevertheless, these blasts don’t penetrate the Plicnik shields and the exhibition holds together with the aid of its well-executed conceit, imaginative reach, and the resonant staying power of works like Ryan Kuo’s ‘Dumb Desire’ (2020), a computer program struggling against self-inflicted input commands, and MV Brown’s ‘Savage’ (2020), an intelligent repackaging of Roger Vadim’s cult film, ‘Barbarella’ (1968), which probes the nature of desire, consent, and sexuality with frantic camp absurdity. The D02.2 is scheduled to remain in orbit until well into next year. It is a curious vessel, but one which we can all salute.

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