In an age dominated by digital technology, The Body Electric explores themes of the real and virtual, the organic and artificial, moving from the world into the screen and back again. Looking across the past 50 years, the exhibition presents 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. The Body Electric contextualizes contemporary artists engaging today with digital technology and the influence of the Internet within a broader art historical narrative to reveal shared interests that emerge across generations, despite differing technological means.
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. Re-imagined for the exhibition, newly created installations by Joan Jonas and the Wooster Group conflate the physical world and its representation, doubling and fracturing imagery of the body on screen. Works by Sanja Iveković, Bruce Nauman, Cindy Sherman, and Paul Mpagi Sepuya 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, and Sidsel Meineche Hansen, while sculptures by Robert Gober, Anicka Yi, and a newly commissioned installation by Trisha Baga, explore the slippery ambiguity of materials poised between the digital and analog, the real and rendered. For Sondra Perry, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Dara Birnbaum, 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 exhibition concludes with works by Rhys Ernst, Josh Kline, and Marianna Simnett that reflect on the social perceptions of the normative and ‘healthy body’, while speaking to themes of care, medical treatment, and chemical and biological processes imperceptible to the human eye.
With everyday experience negotiated across a real and virtual divide, the exhibition brings together artists engaging with the body as a malleable object. For many, technology offers a means to fragment and splinter the body and explore the possibility of extending subjectivity beyond the limits of the physical self. Charting the embrace and manipulation of technology across generations, The Body Electric examines the changing ways we picture ourselves and understand our place in the world.
Artists in the exhibition:
Laurie Anderson, Ed Atkins, Trisha Baga, Sadie Benning, Dara Birnbaum, James Byrne, Peter Campus, Petra Cortright, Andrea Crespo, Zackary Drucker, Rhys Ernst, VALIE EXPORT, Simone Forti, Robert Gober, Aneta Grzeszykowska, Sidsel Meineche Hansen, K8 Hardy, Lyle Ashton Harris, Pierre Huyghe, Juliana Huxtable, Sanja Iveković, Joan Jonas, Josh Kline, Shigeko Kubota, Mark Leckey, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Candice Lin and Patrick Staff, Christian Marclay, Helen Marten, Ana Mendieta, Peter Moore, Charlotte Moorman, Bruce Nauman, Nam June Paik, Letícia Parente, Sondra Perry, Howardena Pindell, Ulrike Rosenbach, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Cindy Sherman, Marianna Simnett, Lorna Simpson, Martine Syms, Amalia Ulman, Wolf Vostell, the Wooster Group, and Anicka Yi.
The Body Electric opens Saturday, March 30, 2019 and is on view through Sunday, July 21, 2019 in the Target and Friedman Galleries.
Curators: Pavel Pyś, Curator, Visual Arts; with Jadine Collingwood, Curatorial Fellow, Visual Arts
Exhibition Tour: Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, San Francisco, September 6, 2019 – January 26, 2020