In an age dominated by digital technology, The Body Electric explores themes of the real and virtual, the organic and artificial, moving from the physical world to the screen and back again. Looking across the past 50 years, the exhibition presents works by an intergenerational and international group of artists who have seized upon the screen as a place to rethink the body and identity, with a particular emphasis on questions of gender, sexuality, class, and race.
Video cameras record private moments and public spectacles, photographs capture alternate personas, and digital avatars simulate human behavior. Together, they reveal ways that technology changes our collective understanding of the body, everyday life, and sense of self. From the inviting and familiar to the provocative and unsettling, the works in the exhibition move nimbly from the material world to the space of the screen and back again.
The exhibition begins with a pioneering generation of artists active in the mid-1960s—Shigeko Kubota, Charlotte Moorman, Nam June Paik, and Wolf Vostell—for whom the television was both the subject and object of their expanded practices spanning performance, sculpture, and the moving image. Reimagined for the exhibition, a newly created installation by Joan Jonas conflates the physical world and its representation, while footage of performances by the Wooster Group offers a frenetic meditation on the all-pervasive presence of technology and the fusion of body and screen.
Works by Sanja Iveković, Howardena Pindell, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Cindy Sherman, and Amalia Ulman chart a history of artists turning the lens of the camera onto their own bodies, creating personal spaces of performance, whether via the 1960s Portapak camera or today’s selfie. Disembodied beings and digital avatars populate contributions by Laurie Anderson, Ed Atkins, Pierre Huyghe, and Sidsel Meineche Hansen, while sculptures by Robert Gober and Anicka Yi as well as an immersive installation by Trisha Baga explore the slippery ambiguity of materials poised between the digital and analog, the real and rendered.
For Lynn Hershman Leeson, Sondra Perry, and Martine Syms, the lens of the camera creates a space to rethink the representation of sociopolitical identities and to question the structures that govern our understanding of race and gender. The presentation concludes with works by Josh Kline, Carolyn Lazard, Candice Lin and Patrick Staff, and Marianna Simnett that reflect on the malleability of the body, speaking to themes of care, surgical intervention, and chemical and biological processes imperceptible to the human eye.
The exhibition continues in the Main Lobby with Zach Blas’s Icosahedron (2019), an artificially intelligent crystal ball.
Contains mature content. Note: Strobe effects and flashing lights are in use in the exhibition.
Curators: Pavel Pyś, curator, Visual Arts; with Jadine Collingwood, curatorial fellow, Visual Arts
Walker Art Center, Minneapolis: March 30–July 21, 2019
Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco: September 6, 2019–January 26, 2020