New York

View of “Sondra Perry,” 2016. Foreground: Graft and Ash for a Three Monitor Workstation, 2016. Couch: Historic Jamestowne: Share in the Discovery and Take Several Seats, 2016. Background: Resident Evil, 2016. Photo: Jason Mandella.

View of “Sondra Perry,” 2016. Foreground: Graft and Ash for a Three Monitor Workstation, 2016. Couch: Historic Jamestowne: Share in the Discovery and Take Several Seats, 2016. Background: Resident Evil, 2016. Photo: Jason Mandella.

Sondra Perry

View of “Sondra Perry,” 2016. Foreground: Graft and Ash for a Three Monitor Workstation, 2016. Couch: Historic Jamestowne: Share in the Discovery and Take Several Seats, 2016. Background: Resident Evil, 2016. Photo: Jason Mandella.

Data, and its attendant devices, ostensibly exist to help us live “better”: Eat cleaner, work harder, exercise more. But who has the ability to “be good” in the first place, and at what cost? Saturated in postproduction blue, Sondra Perry’s first institutional solo exhibition, which was organized by Lumi Tan and titled “Resident Evil,” foregrounded the following paradox: While the law circumscribes the banal, everyday motions of black Americans as evil, law enforcement’s fatal policing has itself become banal, commonplace. As Perry’s montaged videos and interactive, found object installations revealed, consumer technologies both aid and surveil us, while also setting the limit conditions of the human. In the video netherrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr 1.0.3 (all works 2016), installed prior to the main gallery, Microsoft’s “Restart”/“Fatal exception” screen—the so-called blue screen of death—dissolves into JPEGs of smiling black women, among them Rekia Boyd, Yvette Smith, and Shelly Frey. The images of these women, all casualties of police, fill the screen and then float away into tabs, as though “minimized” by the viewer. Computational failure here elides the lethal malfunctioning of literal “servers” sworn to protect.

Resident Evil, Perry’s pièce de résistance in the central gallery, includes several parts: a video monitor sitting atop a living-room credenza, and a large-scale projection of a pulsating, salmon-colored membrane that fills an entire wall. A second work, comprising a plastic-covered couch propped up on cinder blocks, faced this tableau. The arrangement was a domestic scene in dialogue with Rodney McMillian’s “post-consumer” home furnishings, or Kara Walker’s ode to ingenious, insurgent inhabitation in her 2014 exhibition “Ruffneck Constructivists.” We were invited to take residence inside virtual skin (the artist’s own), an analogue to a mesmerizing techscape both embodied and parasitic.

As the video portion of Resident Evil makes clear, lived experience intertwines with images that administer default, white-supremacist constructions of “evil.” Perry shot first-person footage of her quiet, nighttime New Jersey suburb, accompanied by the foreboding sound track from the 1979 film Alien. She then cut in audio of traffic stops; the sound from an interview with Ramsey Orta, who filmed the police killing of Eric Garner in Staten Island; and citizen smartphone video of demonstrations in Baltimore following the death of Freddie Gray, which she sets adjacent to Geraldo Rivera’s Fox News broadcast of the same scene. Against a familiar blue background, scrolling text recounts Perry’s own childhood memories of police aggression. With these juxtapositions, the artist reminds her audience that the slasher film and horror genres frequently contain encoded racist subtexts, while everyday life for black folks is akin to a horror film. Any site, regardless of its presumed safety, could be grounds for danger. Yet evil is also sought and claimed for its refusal of the permissible and the “good.” Earlier in the video, Eartha Kitt sings “I Want to Be Evil” on the TV in Perry’s living room; later on, in the doubled Baltimore protest recordings, the activist Kwame Rose proclaims the right to raise his voice.

Perry produced her undulating skin-sea using the free, open-source rendering software Blender, employing effects such as “ocean generator with waves” and “soft-body dynamics.” She used the technique again for Wet and Wavy Looks—Typhon Coming on for a Three Monitor Workstation, in which purple waves surge across three screens hitched to a rowing machine weighted in a basin of hair gel. (This work, like the piece Graft and Ash for a Three Monitor Workstation, fuses screens with exercise machines to make a productivity “workstation,” a sly critique of wellness marketing amid ongoing precarity. Why have equal status under the law when you can pursue the virtues of a standing desk?) Against a sound track of New Age wind chimes, the waves gradually morph into a detail of the fiery seas in J. M. W. Turner’s Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying, Typhoon Coming On), 1840. Turner’s painting memorializes the unspeakable horror of a captain throwing sick and dying Africans from the slave ship Zong to collect insurance on humanity as “lost” cargo. Perry pries open the work’s aesthetic melancholy, insisting we engage with what modernism has refused or domesticated—namely, the portrayal of an atrocity sanctioned by the capitalist state. She suggests that the mechanisms, technological or otherwise, that define evil for us must be creatively dismantled from within: warped and glitched by residents most vulnerable to its attack.

Abbe Schriber