New York

Andrea Bowers

Sara Meltzer Gallery

Andrea Bowers’s art wears its influences on its sleeve. References to Minimalist dance and sculpture abound in the Los Angeles–based artist’s third New York solo exhibition: Robert Morris, Yvonne Rainer, and Simone Forti were all touchstones here, though Donald Judd seemed the true guiding spirit. Indeed, in a grid of source material Bowers framed as part of the show, a quotation by Judd looms large: “Form is a wobbly word to use because form and content is a false division derived from another false division, thought and feeling.” Following this logic, Bowers has made the investigation of “false divisions” the subject of her art, though she updates Judd’s terms for the contemporary situation. In previous works—specifically videos and drawings of crowds at sporting events—Bowers explored the divisions between individual and collective identity by focusing on the contingencies of difference. This exhibition continued her investigation of the society of spectacle by tackling the ever eroding boundary between the physical and the virtual.

An arcade game called Virtual Arena is the point of departure for Bowers’s most recent project. In the game, the movements of (human) players are translated by a full-body motion sensor into a “virtual arena” where their digital alter egos fight against fictional characters. Bowers filmed individual players from the side, with the resulting videos showing them silhouetted against the sensor array’s blue neon, kicking and punching unseen opponents. She then incorporated this footage into her sculpture. For example, in the exhibition’s centerpiece, Box with Dance of Its Own Making, 2002, four monitors are set into Judd-like metal tubes that hang from the ceiling. Looking into the tubes to watch the players physically exert themselves in response to the ebb and flow of digital combat is at once humorous and haunting. On the one hand, the silhouettes look as if they were clumsily following the choreography of Rainer or Morris (Bowers’s title explicitly nods to a similarly titled work by the latter); at the same time, their flailing offers a dystopic preview of our collective future physical isolation. After all, in the future, what use would it be to have real fights (or loves, for that matter), if you could just hit restart when things got messy?

Virtual Arena and other such cultural artifacts raise these questions by virtue of their own internal logic, but Bowers’s explicitly drawn connection to Minimalism gives them a critical edge here. If Minimalist sculpture and dance attempted to increase consciousness of the viewer’s physical (and ideological) surroundings through a phenomenological literalism, Bowers shows that the terms have changed significantly since the ’60s. In a world where the physical and the virtual have begun to dovetail, the very concepts of phenomenology, literalism, and consciousness are thrown into question. While Bowers ultimately offers no alternative terms, she does underscore the pressing need to address these timely issues. A three-channel video (shown beside Bowers’s beautiful photorealistic drawings) demonstrated the extent to which the artist wrestles with these issues personally. Two videos featuring Bowers fighting an imaginary opponent in front of a Dan Flavin light piece (surreptitiously shot at Judd’s Chinati Foundation in Marfa, Texas) flank footage of her playing Virtual Arena. By mere juxtaposition, Bowers connects the idea of virtual combat with cultural production. The notion that an artistic heritage is an imaginary cast to be battled makes for a touching picture of an artist fighting through her own anxiety of influence. How Bowers transforms those incorporeal things (like the weight of history) into concrete objects (like sculpture) could stand as a metaphor for how, in the coming years, we all will have to negotiate the virtual and the physical more generally. On both counts, it will be interesting to see who wins the fight.

Jordan Kantor