New York

Chulayarnnon Siriphol, Golden Spiral, 2018, painted snail shells, HD video projection (color, sound, 18 minutes). Installation view.

Chulayarnnon Siriphol, Golden Spiral, 2018, painted snail shells, HD video projection (color, sound, 18 minutes). Installation view.

“How shall we dress for the occasion?”

Climate change poses many dangers, but perhaps the most insidious one is the erosion of our faith in the future, a belief regarded by some philosophers and scientists as essential to human nature and progress. If we act and moralize our actions around imagined consequences for coming generations, then what are we to do in the face of a dying earth and an uncertain tomorrow? This question lies at the heart of “How shall we dress for the occasion?” at 601Artspace. Curated by Ulya Soley, with help from Mari Spirito, the show brings together works by four artists who consider how to cope with the end of, well, everything.

The most arresting piece here, Kathryn Hamilton and Deniz Tortum’s two-channel video ARK, 2020, proposes that we have not abandoned the future, but have shifted our hopes for it to the digital sphere. ARK opens with two seemingly unrelated facts, relayed to us via voice-over: The first virtual reality headset was invented in 1968, the same year the Guam flying fox—a breed of fruit bat—died out. In the remainder of the video, the narrator works to knit the two events together, arguing that the rise of simulation technology has hastened the decline of the physical world. It is not a coincidence that the development of VR occurred alongside deforestation, the melting of polar ice, and mass species extinctions. Rather, we embrace these inventions precisely because they provide us with a convenient escape from our decaying home, opening a portal to an immaculate universe filled with any number of unspoiled earths. There is little need to fixate on the demise of our planet if we can generate and inhabit a better one in a dream realm.

While ARK shows how high-tech disruption can serve as an opiate for quelling climate anxiety, Chulayarnnon Siriphol’s Golden Spiral, 2018, considers how self-delusion enables us to ignore or rationalize existential threats. The eighteen-minute mock infomercial, screened within an installation of golden seashells, sends up our current obsession with antiaging treatments. Inspired by the beauty craze for snail mucin, an actor, outfitted as a telegenic doctor, hawks a magical mollusk gel. Milky and almost amniotic in texture, this miracle liquid has the power to shave decades off your face with just a single wash, thanks to the ruthless harvesting of a peaceful creature whose existence predates our own by many millions of years.

Extending our lives by further exploiting the ancient resources of this planet is a proposition that’s profoundly risible. Do we busy ourselves with creams, masks, and supplements because trying to attain eternal youth allows us to forget humankind’s accelerated mortality? Or, more cynically, is it that we can accept environmental destruction if there are a few short-term perks in it for us? This is the perspective suggested in Pınar Yoldas¸’s Regnum Alba (White Kingdom), 2015, a photocollage of wildlife suffering from leucism, a pollution-linked condition that causes the loss of pigmentation on virtually any part of an animal’s body, save for the eyes. Yoldas¸’s work is a dystopic imagining of a bleached-out state of biodiversity, where the world’s few remaining species appear in shades of white, beige, and tan—hues that would feel at home in a minimalist lifestyle blog. The future may be brief, but at least it will be tasteful.