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Young digital artists anxious about technology

Catalyst for the show was curious-looking sculpture tucked away at Los Angeles County Museum of Art

Frank Rose | NYT 


at Sotheby’s? The auction house is better known for selling canvases by Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat for $100 million-plus than for showing what many collectors still regard as ephemera.

Yet the in New York, normally used for exhibitions of contemporary art, is currently the site of a show featuring mostly young artists who rely on digital and who are not exactly household names. Surprisingly, most of the works on view take physical form. More significant, they also betray a broad generational anxiety about the technological future and the role of humans in it.

The catalyst for the show was a curious-looking sculpture tucked away in the Art + Lab at the
A sleek, black plinth with a black screen in front and a record player perched incongruously on top, it was designed as a prototype for a 21st-century memorial. When David Goodman, the Sotheby’s executive in charge of marketing and digital development, saw it a couple of months ago, its screen was displaying the social media posts of a 25-year-old Miami bicycle enthusiast who had been killed in a roadside hit-and-run. A vinyl record played synthesised chimes, their tone determined by a computer analysis of the emotions those posts expressed — a major key if they were positive ones, a minor key if negative.

“I was pretty blown away by the piece,” Goodman recalled recently in his office at Sotheby’s headquarters in New York. “It also made me sad. I can’t.”
“Let me put it this way: It struck an emotional chord.”

The sculpture, “Monument I,” had been created for a show about the Hereafter Institute, a fictional organisation that now lives only online. It purports to arrange a digital afterlife for its “clients” — preserving their online presence and, through virtual reality, even the memory of their physical existence. 

On its website, the institute greets visitors with such deadpan sales pitches as, “What will death mean when our digital souls outlive our physical bodies?”

In fact, sculpture and institute alike were the work of Gabriel Barcia-Colombo, a 35-year-old New York artist and teacher at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program. Working with a grant from Lacma, Barcia-Colombo invented the institute as a way of exploring the rituals of death in the digital age.

©2017 The New York Times News Service

First Published: Wed, July 26 2017. 02:15 IST