Critics’ Picks

Jac Leirner, button, 2020, infinite loop, website screenshot.

Jac Leirner, button, 2020, infinite loop, website screenshot.

São Paulo

Jac Leirner

aarea
São Paulo
April 13–May 24, 2020

Jac Leirner is the consummate accumulator. For decades, the artist has assembled sculptures that gather currency, cigarette packs, shopping bags, business cards, airplane tickets, and more into dense, puckish installations at once corporeal and cerebral. Leirner’s button, 2020, her first work made for the internet, draws on a vast collection of images taken on her cell phone while watching movies and television subtitled in Portuguese. After photographing the frames, the artist arranges them into various subsets—usually based on an element mentioned in the closed captioning—and then fragments the images to obscure their context. The selection used in button features dialogue with numbers and includes over one thousand images.

In button, Leirner’s database of images is revealed two at a time, unfolding almost like a slide projection, powered by an algorithm that produces new juxtapositions. For an artist whose work is rooted in gestures of object-montage, there appears to be some joy in automating the process. As you ease into the metronomic rhythm of Leirner’s work, its deployment of numbers becomes increasingly engrossing. As dollar amounts, percentages, phone numbers, and requests for more time shuffled on my screen, I began to wonder whether it might be possible to describe the world without numbers at all. After a while, this sense of poetic potential gave way to digit-driven claustrophobia. This finally recalls Leirner’s legendary works made of cruzeiros, then-recently devalued Brazilian currency, like Todos os Cem (All the One Hundreds), 1998, a snakelike form of worthless hundred-cruzeiro bills. As much as numbers can describe everything, they can also be worth nothing.

This is aarea’s thirtieth commission. They have worked mostly with artists who, like Leirner, have never produced art online. As institutions of all stripes scramble to engage with the web as an exhibition venue, it is important to remember the platforms like aarea that have made new online work possible, too often operating with scant support and recognition.