Phenomenology of Hope
through September 30
By Shana Nys Dambrot
The choice of the word “phenomenology” in this exhibition’s title is especially salient, because its physical form — or rather the lack thereof — is central to not only its experience, but to the context of its topic. Exploring the many meanings of “hope” across an array of interdisciplinary works, the meta-narrative is that of an exhibition presented entirely in the virtual space as the necessary result of a global crisis that has largely shuttered our real-life art spaces along with the rest of our lives. In the face of plague and other kinds of apocalypse, what role does hope play in our collective and individual psyches? In ways direct, esoteric, evocative, visceral, and talismanic, the works in the show seek answers on their own individual terms.
Curated by artists Eli Joteva, Khang Nguyen, Kio Griffith, whose own work is included alongside that of more than 40 artists, the presentation encompasses virtual presentations of paintings and other objects that exist in the world, video pieces that exist equally in IRL and digital spaces, and digitally native work specifically executed for a VR platform. In creating an infrastructure that allowed visitors to inhabit mic’d up avatars and have real-time social interaction as they moved through the installation during the opening, gallery visitors were forced to be ever-conscious of the quality of the interface experience — which in itself represents a gesture of hopeful adaptation and in its way, resilience. And if all this brave new world stuff is too much for you, there’s a 2D slideroom version that comes augmented with artists’ statements responding to the topic of hope and what it means to them in the context of their practice, and also plays all the videos, with sound. The videos are all gorgeous, frequently quite strange, and occasionally unsettling — as well as satisfying since viewing video on a digital screen gets you as close as possible to the artist’s intentions for the work, aside from scale, the new mediated normal notwithstanding.
Aside from the experiential mindfulness of Supercollider’s uncanny gallery valley, the works itself offer an unruly but effective compendium of perspectives on hopefulness, touching on moments large and small, dark and illuminated, private and abstract, literary and documentarian, emotional and conceptual, with cerebral theory, cultural critique, romanticism, futurism and the outright inscrutable. Instances of recycled, discarded materials salvaged and elevated; experiments with Artificial Intelligence and the aesthetic power of pure math; fractal, visionary patterns speaking to the hidden patterns of a holistic universe; paintings that seek to concretize the shifting cognitive states of the multiverse through the hand of the artist; achievements at sublime scale and with proliferate micro-detail; figures in ritual and roles of ordinary life in what is now the before times; and finally, fervently, so many objects of storytelling and undeniable beauty that in the end, holding tight to one’s sense of hopefulness seems like a reasonable position, in spite of everything.