Los Angeles

Liz Magic Laser, In Real Life, 2019, five-channel HD video, color, sound, 112 minutes.

Liz Magic Laser, In Real Life, 2019, five-channel HD video, color, sound, 112 minutes.

Liz Magic Laser

Various Small Fires

Liz Magic Laser’s best work examines how politics, technology, psychology, and media are used to manage and calibrate human impulses and motivations. Consisting of two recent projects produced for European institutions, In Real Life, 2019, and Handle/Poignée, 2018, this show demonstrated the centrality of analysis and passé pseudoscientific aesthetics (think infographics and cyberpunks, modernism and New Age) to Laser’s practice. Perhaps the latter interest accounted for the vague belatedness that haunted both works, whose investments in semiotic experimentation and technological mediation—“progress”—necessitated comparisons to a “before.”

Handle/Poignée, for example—a performance and video first developed for the Centre Pompidou in Paris—might be described as a utopian examination of authoritative personality types through therapeutic choreography. Within a color-coded stage set shaped like a Venn diagram, “Movement Consultants” dressed in multicolored bodysuits physically interpret four personalities outlined in George Lakoff’s 1996 book Moral Politics: How Liberals and Conservatives Think. Their motions describe the energies each personality invests in home, work, and politics and convey the shifts in authority or dissent that might take place for them therein. With its many reference points—shamanic dance, corporate consulting, parenting styles, relations between present-day world leaders, and personality tests administered to Centre Pompidou visitors, to name a few—the work nevertheless retains an awkward nostalgia for progressive tropes of the prior century (think Martha Graham, Carl Jung, Maria Montessori, et al.).

In Real Life, on the other hand, more precisely locates the economic forces that shape our twenty-first-century reality. Commissioned by the Foundation for Art and Creative Technology, a Liverpool nonprofit, the five-channel video installation follows five freelance workers from around the globe as they attempt to improve their work/life habits. Each consults with a life coach and a spiritual adviser through a regimented, tech-oriented program designed by Laser, a “30 Day Biohack Challenge” that makes use of health apps, wearable devices, daily goals, and new diets. The self-improvement plan for Zahid, a twenty-three-year-old designer from Pakistan, involves trying circadian-rhythm glasses, occasionally skipping his daily call to prayer to meet deadlines, and performing tasks to manage his energy during Ramadan. Not long into the 112-minute video, it is revealed that these five people—a scriptwriter, a voice-over artist, a whiteboard animator, a social-media-content writer, and a graphic designer—are professionals in the very techniques required to produce the artwork itself. That is, they were hired by Laser for their production skills and became both the subjects of the video and the keys to its completion.

More documentary than reality-TV show, this fascinating study of the globalized gig economy is differentiated as “art” through its ambitions of institutional critique. That is, the work points to the means and conditions of its own production and circulation. It recalls some of the best media-oriented Conceptual works of the past decade or so—Christopher Williams’s real-time cooking show Supplement, 2003; Hito Steyerl’s clever ode to surveillance, How Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File, 2013; and Harun Farocki’s investigation of gamer space, Parallel I–IV, 2012–14. Laser’s recent work shows there is still much to be extrapolated from our all-too-human attempts to quantify life in late capitalism—and, yes, even from those efforts to organize life in the twentieth century.