REVIEW: Shana Moulton confronts consumerism and technology in “Picture Puzzle Pattern Door” on view at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
By Joe Ferguson
In 2008 Microsoft published the results of a study on a new medical phenomenon--cyberchondria. The condition is defined as the “unfounded escalation of concerns about common symptomatology based on review of search results and literature online.” My first encounter with the condition was in the mid-90s when a patient presented to my office about a hundred printed pages on his self-diagnosed condition. After an examination I determined he didn’t have the condition he had researched--he was someone simply looking for answers as to why he was hurting.
Information technology makes looking for answers easier than ever, but it comes at a price. We are beset on all sides with gadgets or apps that promise, with a purchase, to make our lives better. It can be frustrating when the promise fails, and that often leads us to another, usually more expensive, purchase. In Picture Puzzle Pattern Door artist Shana Moulton confronts the idea that consumer culture can provide a cure-all for our physical ills.
For her exhibition at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, Moulton combines New Age imagery and commercially-available gadgets as examples of technology’s and consumerism’s promise of healing and well-being.
In MindPlace ThoughtStream, Moulton presents herself as someone suffering with irritable bowel syndrome. Her treatment consists of a heating pad, biofeedback, autonomous sensory meridian response (ASMR) recordings, and a dance routine to a yogurt commercial.
In MentalWave SitPlace, Moulton invites viewers to sit on a couch and put on the MindPlace Thoughtstream Biofeedback System to monitor their subconscious responses to sound and surrounding stimuli.
Linking the two pieces held in separate gallery areas is a faux doctor’s office waiting room, containing collages and sculptures that suggest our attempts to cure our ills with cheap gadgets and self-help guides.
Moulton’s exhibit presents not a 21st-century example of how technology has self-empowered the individual to pursue better healthcare options, but rather the belief that health and well-being can be obtained through purchases and compensatory measures. For example, in MentalWave SitPlace, participants are encouraged to employ an inexpensive biofeedback device to reduce stress rather than remove the stress-inducing activities. Her clever use of New Age imagery provokes a sense of 20th-century nostalgia, further driving home the notion that these ideas have been with us for some time, and failed, for just as long, at their promises.
Science may not have all the answers, but the answers it does have offer evidence, not empty promises. Those who suffer need solutions that are reliable and those solutions often require responsible, professional guidance and long-term commitment. Moulton forces us to question our beliefs in the simple and easy promises offered by consumption and commercial gadgetry, and re-contextualizes the discussion to the art domain where new ideas can be considered.
Picture Pattern Puzzle Door is part of YBCA’s Control: Technology in Culture series and is on view through August 2, 2015.
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts
701 Mission Street
San Francisco, CA 94103