Critics’ Picks

Omer Fast, 5000 Feet is the Best, 2011, still from a digital video, color, sound, 30 seconds.

Omer Fast, 5000 Feet is the Best, 2011, still from a digital video, color, sound, 30 seconds.


“Smart New World”

Kunsthalle Düsseldorf
Grabbeplatz 4
April 5–August 10, 2014

“Smart New World” presents ideas that once seemed paranoid but have now become banal realities: An information society equals a surveillance society, and Big Data means data capital. Ambitious themes such as the end of privacy run the risk of being met with apathy: Edward Snowden’s revelations, widely received as mere confirmation of long-suspected realities, hardly affected our digital behavior. Yet the show manages to navigate different ethical aspects of information control, successfully avoiding an impasse of truisms.

The entrance of the Kunsthalle has been transformed into a virtual bureau of the International Necronautical Society. Visitors must sign an INS waiver stating, among other things, that the signatory’s proper name “was not and never will be proper, nor the property of any individual.” What follows is far less tongue-in-cheek: Omer Fast’s crushing dramatization 5000 Feet is the Best, 2011, looks at mediated warfare through a cinematic amalgamation of interviews with former drone operators suffering from PTSD. A three-channel video by German duo Korpys/Löffler is shot from inside an abandoned apartment building in East Berlin on the mammoth construction site of Germany’s new intelligence-agency headquarters. With a laconic tone reminiscent of the Stasi agent in the film “The Lives of Others,” a narrator states the date and time of each scene, raising questions about Germany’s difficult history with state surveillance as well as the current possibilities of hiding out off the grid.

Kenneth Goldsmith’s installation Papers from Philosophical Transactions, 2014, prints out pirated JSTOR articles on site in a tribute to the late Aaron Swartz. Not all works compel: Aleksandra Domanović’s Anhedonia, 2007, uses Getty Images to reconstruct “Annie Hall” without breaching copyright, but the heavy-handed result falls short of the film’s original drollery; Simon Denny’s hardware installations, meanwhile, simply feel trivial. Nevertheless, the show’s success arises out of a comprehensive back-and-forth between its exploration of global issues and individual behavior.