machines will watch us die: Exhibition Review

‘machines will watch us die’ at Holden Gallery.

Written by Faye Collins

Photo Credit – Patrizia Costantin

The Holden Gallery’s new exhibition machines will watch us die features the artists Cory Arcangel, Emma Charles, Martin Howse, Rosemary Lee, Rosa Menkman and Shinji Toya. The exhibition meets you with noise, movement and a multitude of screens. The vast black wall at the entrance speaks to an aesthetic curation by Patrizia Costantin, but also the void of dead technology that you are about to step into. The accompanying leaflet reads ‘In the exhibition, a feeling of nostalgia for the technological past is combined with a sense of anxiety for an unknown future. The artists share a set of concerns that relates digital decay to themes of consumerism, obsolescence, loss and failure.’

machines will watch us die explores digital technology through a temporal and decaying lens, to confront our obsessive relationship with social media. Technology evolves at a rapid pace, and this exhibition takes some time to slow down the process, presenting us with a series of outdated games consoles and computers that looked tired and weathered against our iPhones. The connection between time and technology is pushed to the forefront as technology is hacked, buried and recycled throughout this exhibition, showing the temporality of these digital devices that consume our lives. machines will watch us die combines nature with science, exploring the realities of digital decay through time and environment.

Though the internet theme is popular within art and can feel disingenuous or overdone, this exhibition is only subtly about social media and the vanity and self-investment of the internet. It focuses on the physicality of technological advancements by presenting us with the barebones of computers as in Martin Howse’s machine construction Test Execution Host and in Rosemary Lee’s buried and broken Mac Computer in Molten Media.

The most enjoyable part of the exhibition is that the themes and artworks are easily accessible. In particular, The Super Mario Movie piece by Cory Arcangel (and Paper Rad) from 2005 is a fun video projected from a Nintendo Console that makes for a light viewing to reminisce about playing video games, or darker thoughts about how quickly technology becomes obsolete. Arcangel has hacked the Super Mario game and projected it so that Mario is super-sized and faded smiling faces tap into the nostalgia of the technological yesteryear before virtual reality and smartphones reigned supreme. The polyphonic Mario-esque music that loops alongside the piece reminded me of old Nokia phones, the infamous Snake and downloading ringtones. It is funny and a welcome relief from the often confusing and ambiguous video format.

The ‘feeling of nostalgia’ and ‘sense of anxiety’ is communicated strongly through the range of medias used by the artists. The still photographs exploring time and the physicality of technology in Surfaces of Exchange by Emma Charles and the melted rock formations presented in display cases in Molten Media by Rosemary Lee exemplify this theme directly. The idea of ‘the inaccessible nature of the materiality of the Internet encapsulated in the urban landscape’ in Charles’ work is effectively addressed as we see machines that have access to and control of the internet in a way that a human alone never can. It is thoughts like these that harken strongly back to the exhibition title that machines will watch us die as machines and the Internet have a control over certain aspects of our lives that becomes morbid and, in certain parts of the exhibition, droll.

In Molten Media, Rosemary Lee has melted metal digital devices to be reimagined as fossilised remnants from the future. Three display cases present beautiful shiny objects that replicate rock formations but are made from old computer parts. A large Mac Computer from a time forgotten melts into the sand and becomes a relic. The curation of the two display cases makes them feel like they have been lifted straight from a desert or washed up ashore a sandy beach, as though a pile of bones or fossils yet to be archived. The decay of the computers and melted insides feel like a warning of what is already happening and what is to come; devastatingly slow decomposition of useless technology that haunts the surrounding nature. The exhibition literature mentions the ‘rare earth minerals and ores’ that technology is made of, and here Lee connects the waste created by technological advancement to the fossils and minerals they will become and were made from.

Similarly, Shinji Toya’s work 3 years and 6 months of digital decay (7 April 2016 – 7 October 2019) is a precisely dated work that tracks the decay of a CD-ROM’s designated lifetime. The physical process of decay is displayed for us and is a beautiful pixelated video that entrances and hypnotises.

Both Martin Howse’s piece Test Execution Host (2016-2018) and Rosa Menkman’s work To Smell and Taste Black Matter (2009) manipulate media and technology to create artwork that reveal failures and raw digital processes. To Smell and Taste Black Matter is a ‘Skype recording of a song by Extraboy’ that has been digitally compressed until it is almost unrecognisable except for the occasional Skype log in tune. The warping of sound and visuals on a TV screen connects well to Howse’s broken but functional Turing Machine that leaks and splatters photo processing dyes in conjunction with local rocks.

The Holden Gallery has created a free publication alongside the exhibition, with interviews and a short story that you can get from the invigilator when you visit.

machines will watch us die is showing until the 11th May 2018 at Holden Gallery.

Faye Collins is our first Guest Blogger at Cotton On MCR. She recently graduated University of Manchester after reading American Studies. She currently works as a waitress and volunteer at HOME and the Holden Gallery. If you wish to contact Faye for any writing/creative projects, please get in touch and we will pass on her details.

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