New York

Trisha Baga, Peacock, 2011, video installation with mixed media, 14 minutes. From “Hasta Mañana.”

Trisha Baga, Peacock, 2011, video installation with mixed media, 14 minutes. From “Hasta Mañana.”

“Hasta Mañana”

Trisha Baga, Peacock, 2011, video installation with mixed media, 14 minutes. From “Hasta Mañana.”

“Hasta Mañana,” ABBA’s 1974 Swedish hit, barely cracked the charts overseas. But the sappy tune’s tale of a summer fling that never fully blossomed—and the attendant pain of losing, pleasure of forgetting, and indifference one needs to move on—remains universal. Though the organizers of “Hasta Mañana,” a group show at Greene Naftali, may not have had this song in mind, the doleful dirge is nonetheless a fitting anthem for the contemplative yet spirited exhibition. Employing current modes of art production and an up-to-the-moment perspective, the five artists on view use the past to inspire soulful, empathic takes on digital technologies. A sense of handcraftedness upends technophilic idioms, revealing a sensitivity to what once was.

Ken Okiishi, not one to shy away from anachronistic practices, communes with one of his idols in his photographic series David Wojnarowicz in New York, 1999–2001. Taken on a cheap digital camera, each pixelated image depicts Okiishi holding a cutout of Wojnarowicz’s solemn visage in front of a quotidian millennial backdrop: a sterile Times Square subway entrance, Okiishi’s college bedroom, or the imposing health club that replaced Wojnarowicz’s former stomping grounds on the Chelsea piers. (The project rehashes Wojnarowicz’s iconic “Rimbaud in New York” series [1978–79], for which the artist posed in a mask fashioned after the face of that famous poet.) The sentimental works offer Okiishi’s youthful laments for a faded New York that has only grown more distant. But what does the past have to say to the present? “Cheer up,” according to Ei Arakawa, whose United Brothers, a collaborative group that includes himself, Das Institut, and his brother, Tomoo Arakawa, contributes BLACKY Blocked Radiants Sunbathed, 2011. The slideshow documents the artist’s return to his brother’s tanning salon, Blacky, in the Fukushima region of Japan in the wake of the nearby nuclear crisis. Lying inside hulking tanning beds, Blacky’s tangerine-tinted regulars pose alongside the artist’s adolescent paintings as images of soothing abstractions by Das Institut are projected onto their bodies. Arakawa’s therapeutic performance protests the nihilism induced by global catastrophe with familial retrospection and an ample dose of humor.

The exhibition delves into the past of our computer-mediated present via methods that once drew attention to themselves, but for many artists today are almost second nature. Offerings by Scott Lyall and Helen Marten explore the ephemeral side of technology with the digital machination du jour: ink-jet-printed wall adhesives (recently adopted for youthful effect by established figures, such as Cindy Sherman and Louise Lawler). Marten’s vector drawing Some Civic Shades (Highball Hi Rise), 2011, mingles retro Mac icons with an assortment of clip-art graphics, ranging from an image of the Parthenon to a cartoon of a bread baker. Meanwhile, Lyall contributes large, pale, nearly monochrome gradient stickers that feel like shy cousins of Cory Arcangel’s plucky Photoshop abstractions.

Two recent videos by the clever, young, brassy video artist Trisha Baga carry the exhibition. Peacock, 2011, weaves a fantastical narrative of immigration and discovery, juxtaposing footage of young people wielding machetes in the artist’s native Florida, the sorrowful audiobook introduction of The Joy Luck Club, and stills of Baga frolicking around New York’s Liberty Island. Like Alex Bag before her, Baga performs on-screen, though the character she’s portraying may be none other than herself, whether she’s smiling and waving stupidly in disguise or distorting Big Spender with her slouching voice. Baga’s videos juggle equal measures of charming playfulness (exemplified by a smattering of googly eyes popping on-screen and off within seconds), and earnestness so pervasive it’s disarming. Though pop-cultural pastiche is nothing new, Baga’s unprepossessingly handsome aesthetic and homespun candor imbue her work with an enduring honesty that rises above the din of the ADHD-addled art of today. This is how one updates the present with the past.

Beau Rutland