Critics’ Picks

View of “Trigger Warning,” 2019.

View of “Trigger Warning,” 2019.

Portland, ME

Diana Cherbuliez

Grant Wahlquist Gallery
30 City Center 2nd Floor
August 23–September 28, 2019

Fourteen hairless naked dolls sit on the gallery floor, each holding two mint-size black rectangles. One, in the corner, seems to be texting on both “screens” simultaneously; another two photograph their faces and anuses at the same time; and a group of four gathers at the gallery owner’s desk, spread-eagled, supine, blissed-out with their smartphones (a fifteenth doll is posed on a chair at the desk). They are sexless and produced in an array of skin tones. This work is called Their selves 1–15, 2019.

On the wall are three pairs of boxing gloves. Swatches of blue, gray, and white vinyl have been stitched onto the black fabric. Their thumbs are extended. They represent Facebook’s “Like” icon. Each pair is called Concussion, 2019.

There’s nothing subtle in Diana Cherbuliez’s “Trigger Warning,” and we’re being asked to ask an obvious question: Why should we crave art that unfurls its message in whispers or crabbed script when the figures of our contemporary moment prefer to shout? Maybe the brash demands the brash; maybe we’ve maxed out on nuance and uncertainty; maybe we’re done with hidden meaning. Who needs the cozy pleasure of discovering ideas that are buried right where we choose to dig?

A number of works in the show reveal glitches in Google Maps. One is composed of screenshots of street views outside the Ghost Ship in Oakland that were taken the night it burned down. The internet traffic distorted the buildings and sky into abstractions that look like glacial debris. Another thematizes surveillance and the siege of the earth by corporate tech: Street view images depict a person on the remote hills of alpine Switzerland, her face unsuccessfully effaced by Google’s privacy blur.

It’s all very timely, necessary, and interesting. But as the facts are scrambled, imitated, and exaggerated, we’re reminded again and again (and again) that technology is ruining us, unsubtly.