After the opening of Movement Materials and What Can We Do, Andrew Norman Wilson‘s solo show at Prairie Productions, several of the conceptual and physical territories explored in the short run show have continued to resonate past its closing last week. The premise of the show operated as a consolidation of previous online projects and videos into a more tangible manifestation organized as a gesture to bring these topics away from their digital origins. In doing so, previous works like Scan Ops and Workers Leaving the Googleplex gain more weight in introducing a physical element to discuss the so-called dramas of digital production through illustrating their history and cultural lineage.
The show consists of multiple installations of various “viewing stations” and “mediation environments” that mimic other previous work, but are designed more specifically to be “ideal spaces” for the listening and contemplation of a lecture-performance that Wilson performed during the opening. The space serves as a transitional site akin to other familiar topics in Wilson’s oeuvre – the airport, the commuter spa, the temporary architecture of a corporate office life style, etc. There are also new works featured in this show that delicately explore the nuances of digital labor and the potential for this type of unskilled-labor to be greatly – and disturbingly – taken for granted amongst cyberspace users, surfers, and specifically scholars. To a certain degree, the academy itself is implicated in this process of unintentional (or at least unconscious) sidelining of digital laborers, a tricky territory given the self-implication that Wilson imposes in previous work. In avoiding the tired game of “who is to blame” that typically occurs in art work that hovers around social practice, Wilson fractures and rearticulates the rhetorical motifs of the corporate world in order to use their inherent – and again, unconscious – poetics to evaluate and critique an international corporate engine.
More specifically, the lecture performed during the opening floats between essay film – a genre familiar to Wilson who has cited the recently deceased Chris Marker as one of his primary influences – and musings on the phenomenological linkages between himself as artist-laborer and the digital-workers represented in his work. These conjectures also reflect on the nature of the technology that binds us together as users, viewers, operators, and laborers (whether conscious or not). The danger here comes with an all-too-easy transcendental approach to how the “internet connects us together in ways never imagined possible.” However, Wilson adapts that cliché to assist in how alienating the infrastructure of the web is to its end users. Through our connections (both as art audience members and as digital consumers), we can start to witness a dangerous tendency within digital media to usurp and obliterate its predecessor for the sake of a (broken) mythic, and often politically corrupt, progress.
Through guiding our vision with our listening to Wilson’s lecture, audiences are made to reconsider what we mean by immaterial, since the labor, the handiwork, and the infrastructure of the web necessitate physical properties and units; this includes a spectrum of physicality that span from the electricity that flows through fiber-optic cabling as well as the fingertips that hold down photographed pages for GoogleBooks. Wilson repeatedly reminds us that the immateriality of the web is a precarious assumption on the part of digital practitioners and consumers. The effectiveness of this warning is enhanced when positioned amidst a visual landscape where such ignorance has run rampant, where even clearly physical objects like yoga mats, inflatable exercise balls, and ergonomic office furniture could be viewed as immaterial.
Wilson debuted a work-in-progress video piece titled Free which seemed to present uncertainty and precariousness across personal, professional, and civil dimensions. For one section – ‘The School,’ Wilson hired a corporate video team to shoot scenes in which a Korean student from Benito Juarez high-school uncertainly reads text from motivational posters around his school. For another section – which Wilson dubs ‘The Corporation’ – former Google contract laborers (like those represented in Googleplex) present their hobbies around silicon valley – trance DJing, Ninja-performance, and go-ped racing to name a few. The participants spoke about the future as if it were the present, summoning up a rhetoric of futurity akin to utopian discourse. Each section seemed to contain elements that could fit in other categories, and this was acknowledged by an opening PowerPoint-generated animation of ten different exploding tables of contents. A gesture that perhaps means to literally tear apart the vernaculars that typically divide these sectors of Western Culture.
As an artist that has had his fair share of working in the IT industry, Wilson has unique insights into the inner workings of the giants in that economy, and through partial self-exploitation, he is able to address a somewhat diaristic redemption of his involvement and active participation with this act of labor marginality. Wilson remains refreshing in his self-awareness not only as a voice and actor within this world, but also more importantly in his physical demeanor while performing. Through his unapologetic groomed behavior, it’s easy to imagine his as a corporate lackey, or even as an a spokeperson/protegee of Elon Musk. As the blurring of the lines between self-promotion and artist as brand become more obfuscated and abstracted, Wilson appears totally conscientious of his towing the line, and seems to have more recently decided to work within the rhetoric of corporate infrastructure, than to tip-toe around it. In some ways, this show brings to the fore this willingness, and although some of that is pronounced more readily in previous works, the translation of that energy into more expansive and less “branded” territories– ala the new video Free – shows a burgeoning maturity on the part of the artist.