Jacolby Satterwhite, En Plein Air: Music of Objective Romance, 2016–, HD video, color, sound, 10 minutes. From “Myths of the Marble.”

Jacolby Satterwhite, En Plein Air: Music of Objective Romance, 2016–, HD video, color, sound, 10 minutes. From “Myths of the Marble.”

“Myths of the Marble”

Jacolby Satterwhite, En Plein Air: Music of Objective Romance, 2016–, HD video, color, sound, 10 minutes. From “Myths of the Marble.”

With fourteen works by eleven artists, the mazelike group show “Myths of the Marble” is an insistent plunge into the depths of the virtual in contemporary art. Curated by Milena Høgsberg of the Henie Onstad Kunstsenter and Alex Klein of the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia, where the exhibition is on view through August 6, it includes seven large works commissioned for the occasion. Apart from the fetishized material of Western art history, the title alludes to the nickname given to our planet inspired by the iconic 1972 NASA photograph of the earth as seen from space: the Blue Marble. It seems to hint at a close connection between distance and desire—the virtual always at the far end of possibility—that will never be completely resolved in our constantly shifting perspective on the world. From the viral to black mirrors, metaphors of our current post-reality are often exhausted by dystopian reservations or just pure media panic. No one here seems to think the hand brake is still within reach. Wherever we’re heading, the future seems to exert an irresistible, though possibly fatal, attraction.

From this contemporary viewpoint—teetering between antiquity and the space age—the materiality and tactility of our new prosthetic organs demand careful attention: Are our bodies being sidelined in spaces of new technology? Daria Martin’s 16-mm film Soft Materials, 2004, which depicts robots and performers interacting in the Artificial Intelligence Lab at the University of Zurich, could almost be a Merce Cunningham or Trisha Brown piece in its breakdown of the mechanics of the human body. The CGI worlds of Sondra Perry’s IT’S IN THE GAME ’17 or Mirror Gag for Vitrine and Projection, 2017, and Jacolby Satterwhite’s En Plein Air: Music of Objective Romance, 2016–, acutely demonstrate the emancipation of imagination from physics at opposite ends of the scale: reproduction of real-life power structures versus a baroque actualization of desire. Like the disorienting geography of Florian Meisenberg’s virtual-reality painting installation Of Defective Gods & Lucid Dreams (The Museum Is Closed for Renovation), 2017, the push and pull between unsanctioned freedom and the opacity of algorithmic rules resonate through the exhibition.

Arranged as a series of solo presentations, the exhibition at the Henie Onstad Kunstsenter comprised a sequence of immersive experiences that only thematically leaked into each other. I was puzzled at first by the inclusion of Chris Marker’s Ouvroir: The Movie, 2010, a rather clinical video tour of the museum he created in the virtual world Second Life. However, I came to see it as an apt historicizing: not so much for its outmoded graphics (so 2003) as for its rekindling of the “museum without walls” and the acknowledgment that the role of the art institution is transformed again and again by new media.

The exhibition dreams beyond the museum without walls and toward the figure of what video-game designers call the skybox: a 3-D-rendered horizon, always distant, conjuring the permanent suspension of freedom. The virtual imagination of capitalism might be similar, as implied by Cayetano Ferrer’s cunning mirror hall, Endless Columns (Chicago School), 2017, where colored lights are projected on ornamented columns that mimic the art-historical simulations of Chicago revivalist architecture. Multiplying columns disappear in all directions, accompanied by the sound of descending arpeggios, threatening to collapse promise and paranoia into a virtual trap of free-market and casino capitalism. Meanwhile, the delicate display of minerals in Ane Graff’s What Oscillates, 2017, re-fetishizes the tiny material components of our smartphones that were initially laboriously extracted from the earth. It seems to remind us that the distraction of the glazed touch screen is also a shield obscuring the reality of conditions of production, whether precarious mining jobs or underpaid assembly workers.

Like the concept of virtuality, marble can be slippery, and the exhibition title certainly risks creating its own dissociative hall of mirrors. But as neoliberalism continues to colonize the future with the figure of risk, its reverberation of metaphors might offer hints about how to reclaim the language of optimism from its captivity in Silicon Valley.

Maria Moseng