By Natalie McKeever Goldman
Body Practices opened at UC San Diego’s Calit2 Gallery this Wednesday, November 5th. The show includes artworks by Ursula Damm, Electronic Disturbance Theater/b.a.n.g. lab, Desirée Holman, Tara Knight, Alex McClean, Bryce Clayton Newell, and Victoria Vesna. Many pieces grapple with questions of the body’s physical relevance in today’s technologically dominated culture.
The exhibition, with predominantly video and digital works, puts forth ideas of the body as more than corporal experience. The pieces explore the body’s connection to the environment, how technology shapes the body, and the creation of virtual bodies capable of evoking emotional reactions.
Live Coding by Alex McClean reminds viewers that technology is created by a body. The video of code being written is accompanied by a soundtrack produced by the code itself. The body’s actions of editing and deleting code affects the audio in real-time, creating an immediate sensory relationship between the code and the body as viewers listen to musical changes and discover the correlation between text and audio.
Prints from the net.art project Bodies INCorporated are exhibited by Victoria Vesna. The mystical bodies rendered three-dimensionally were created by members of the net.art’s online community, which started in 1996 and is still active today. The bodies are covered in unique skins chosen on the website. Textures include lava and black rubber. On the website the skins are described in relationship to how the textures will add to the identity of the body. Bronze is a “corporate element”, cloudy a “communicator element” and so on.
The figures emerging from a black background have a spectral quality. It is interesting to think of the caliber of the embodied experience for users who built these avatars in the early days of the Internet. When compared to later evolutions of characters created online where one can move about in virtual bodies and interact with others through them as in Second Life, The Sims, or World of Warcraft,, the experience is less visceral when interacting with a static image. I’m curious about the creators’s levels of attachment to their Bodies INC avatars. Was it possible to form a significant surrogate identity through these bodies? Some of the written descriptions that accompany Bodies in the showplace section of the website hint that the appeal was in the idea of an alter ego. The project still endures close to twenty years after its inception, making Bodies a testament to the power of the Internet as a place to cultivate alternative identities.
Other pieces include Electronic Disturbance Theater/b.a.n.g. lab’s Transborder Immigrant Tool, and an accompanying documentary film about the project by Bryce Clayton Newell. A complicated legal history follows this project, whose creators were investigated by the F.B.I. The Tool is an adapted cell phone with custom software that maps efforts of several grassroots programs that leave water caches for migrants on the Tinaja Trail. A GPS guides migrants to water in an attempt to prevent the many deaths that occur along the trail due to dehydration. The project considers the migrant’s body beyond basic survival needs. Collaborators on the project worked with cognitive scientists to understand the effects of heat and dehydration on the brain, and the software includes poetry to provide mental sustenance for users.
The works have a complicated understanding of material and virtual manifestations of the body, and the growing importance of the “data body” in relation to the physical body. The exhibition is curated by Trish Stone, and is open through January 9th, 2015. The gallery is located on the UC San Diego campus in Atkinson Hall.