Lisson Gallery supports the much-anticipated presentation of “Datumsoria“, an exhibition of Liu Xiaodong, Carsten Nicolai, and Nam June Paik. A neologism, ‘Datumsoria‘ conjugates datum and sensoria, denoting a new perceptual space immanent to the information age.
Upon entering the gallery, the audience is first greeted by a Genghis Khan of the 20th century transformed in a tongue-in-cheek fashion by Nam June Paik to amusingly pedal a bicycle rather than majestically command from horseback. Topped by a diving helmet, the prince’s torso is a patchwork made from a fuel dispenser conjoined with plastic pipe limbs. Loaded in the back of his overburdened vehicle is a pile of television cases stacked on top of each other encasing symbols, characters made of neon lights, intimating the transmission of encrypted messages through an electronic pathway. A screen that is embedded inside a hollowed-out part of the fuel-dispenser displays video images that morph from mundane objects to a pyramid of ancient glory. Created in 1993, the year when the first graphic web browser Mosaic was launched making the long-promised information superhighway a material reality, “Rehabilitation of Genghis-Khan” intuitively resonated with the coming of a new historical epoch in which the entire human experience would soon be transformed by the instantaneity and simultaneity of network immediacy, the gargantuanization of processing power and the nanonization of storage media.
Surrounding this Quixotic caricature unfolds the monumental installation “Weight of Insomnia”. Working closely with a group of technologists over a period of one and a half years, the work is Liu Xiaodong’s latest daredevil endeavor venturing into an unfamiliar zone of telematics and computer vision-engendered automation systems. Pushing boundaries of his documentary style of live painting, the artist completely reinvents himself by penetrating into the digital now. Three locations were carefully identified and equipped with video cameras: one near the iconic Bund in Shanghai where humans, cars, buses and bicycles vie with each other to cross street, another monitors the Apple Store in Beijing’s fashionable Sanlitun district where urban sophisticates rub shoulders with novices from the provinces, and a final camera watches a public plaza in the artist’s home town. At dawn or at dusk, the plaza is often enlivened by troupes of elderly people dancing to disco rhymes with a definitively folkloric twist for an aerobic drill. Three large-scale canvases, each 3 x 2.5 meters, are mounted on crude construction scaffolds. A robotically controlled paintbrush jitteringly translates the three discrete, incoming datum captured by the video cameras into contours of buildings, silhouettes of trees, outlines of vehicles, and shadows of human figures. If the canon of live painting is to arrest a fleeing second, to fixate a bygone moment for a rumination on signification, then what Liu Xiaodong’s canvases depict are a multiplicity of instants that are forever fluctuating, generating at each moment a new sediment of emotional residue, overlapped, juxtaposed, concatenated and truncated. It is as if the artist, reincarnated in a robotic consciousness, wrestles through an endless, restless insomnia to piece together an ever-evolving jigsaw of amorphous desires and anxieties, fleeting nightmares and ruptures. Liu Xiaodong thus constructs a new awareness of contemporaneity. In so doing, the artist not only re-assesses painting in the age of internet and algorithm but also makes apparent a new reality that situates itself in the materiality of media informed by data fluxes.
In contrast to the topsy-turvy fabrication of a pictorial sensibility through live-streamed data as evidenced in “Weight of Insomnia”, Carsten Nicolai’s installation “unitape” offers an examination of perception on graphic structures that resemble punch cards of the early computing era. If Liu Xiaodong’s gradual abstraction of live streaming data is the result of the additive entropy of real world uncertainty, Nicolai’s immaculate images and sounds are pure mathematical precision that illuminate an algorithmic sublime. Series of patterns and endless permutations reminiscent of code-scanning reverberate with generative sounds. Here repetition creates difference and difference engenders unison that is charged with psychic force as well as pictorial finesse. The materiality of the generative data is manifested by the very projection medium and heightened in the mirrors flanking the projection screen to both sides, extending the field of imagery in infinite depth and breadth while the sonic cadence echoes reverberatingly to create a totality of sensory immersion. “unitape” borrows its inspiration from the artist’s involvement with the history of the city of Chemnitz, once one of the most important locations of the German textile industry. Inspired by the invention of the mechanical loom by Joseph-Marie Jacquard (1752–1834) which enabled the swift production of complex patterned fabrics using the principle of automated control by punch cards, Nicolai’s “unitape” reflects on communication processes in the industrial era while at the same time addressing issues related to the socio-psychological aspects of the interaction between man and machine.
“Datumsoria” brings three highly idiosyncratic works together, shedding new light upon relations that bespeak the logic of the Real in the information age, a reality predicated on binary instructions of the generic, of the uniformity of Ones and Zeros, from whose generality comes forth of a hardening of shapes and forms. Precipitating sentient residues and invoking emotive potentials, there emerges a consciousness of technical autopoiesis that is capable of a subjectivity of another order as intuited by the media theorist Friedrich Kittler: “The arts (to employ an old word for an old institution) entertain only symbolic relation with the sensory fields they take for granted. On the contrary, media relate to the materiality with – and on – which they operate in the Real itself.”
“Datumsoria” is the first edition of a series of exhibitions under the auspices of the Art & Technology @ project conceived and curated by Zhang Ga. Co-presented by Chronus Art Center, ZKM | Center for Art and Media, and the Nam June Paik Art Center, the exhibition will travel to ZKM in Karlsruhe, Germany in 2017 and other destinations.