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.
Artists in the exhibition: Laurie Anderson, Ed Atkins, Trisha Baga, Zach Blas, James Byrne, Peter Campus, Petra Cortright, Andrea Crespo, Zackary Drucker, Rhys Ernst, VALIE EXPORT, Simone Forti, Robert Gober, Aneta Grzeszykowska, K8 Hardy, Lynn Hershman Leeson, Pierre Huyghe, Juliana Huxtable, Sanja Iveković, Joan Jonas, Josh Kline, Shigeko Kubota, Carolyn Lazard, Candice Lin & Patrick Staff, Sidsel Meineche Hansen, Helen Marten, Charlotte Moorman, Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Bruce Nauman, Nam June Paik, Letícia Parente, Sondra Perry, Howardena Pindell, Ulrike Rosenbach, Cindy Sherman, Lorna Simpson, Marianna Simnett, Martine Syms, Ryan Trecartin, Amalia Ulman, Wolf Vostell, The Wooster Group, 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
The Body Electric Opening-Day Program
Saturday, March 30, 1pm & 3pm
Walker Cinema, Free
Charting the embrace and manipulation of technology by artists across generations, The Body Electric examines how screens have increasingly shifted ways we picture ourselves and understand our place in the world. Join us for an afternoon of artist talks to celebrate the opening of this new exhibition.
Artist Talk: Joan Jonas
1 pm, Free
Hear directly from video and performance art pioneer Joan Jonas as she looks back across her decades-long practice and the early work Funnel (1974). With exhibition curator Pavel Pyś.
Joan Jonas (b. 1936, New York) is a pioneer of performance and video art. She works in video, installation, sculpture, and drawing, often collaborating with musicians and dancers to realize improvisational works that are equally at home in the museum gallery and on the theatrical stage. Drawing on mythic stories from various cultures, Jonas invests texts from the past with the politics of the present. She received a BA from Mount Holyoke College (1958), attended the School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston (1958–1961), and earned an MFA from Columbia University (1965). She is a professor emerita at MIT.
Artist Talk: Zach Blas and Kris Paulsen
3 pm, Free
Join Zach Blas and Kris Paulsen as they discuss Blas’s newly commissioned work, Icosahedron (2019), as well as the artist’s broader practice. An artificially intelligent crystal ball that predicts the future of prediction, the commission is inspired by Silicon Valley’s obsession with certain thinkers of the future such as Ayn Rand, Stewart Brand, Ray Kurzweil, and Michio Kaku. Coined by Blas as a meta-work to The Body Electric, Icosahedron speaks to contemporary society’s preoccupation with the future, viewed through the intersection between technology, fantasy, and science fiction.
Zach Blas is an artist, filmmaker, and writer whose practice spans technical investigation, theoretical research, conceptualism, performance, and science fiction. He is a lecturer in the Department of Visual Cultures at Goldsmiths, University of London. Blas has exhibited, lectured, and held screenings internationally, recently at the 68th Berlin International Film Festival; 2018 Creative Time Summit; MAXXI, Rome; Los Angeles County Museum of Art; Art in General, New York; Institute of Modern Art, Brisbane; Institute of Contemporary Arts Singapore; Whitechapel Gallery, London; and ZKM Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe.
Kris Paulsen is associate professor in the Department of History of Art and Film Studies Program at Ohio State University, where she teaches classes on contemporary art, new media, and curatorial practice. She is the author of Here/There: Telepresence, Touch, and Art at the Interface (MIT Press, 2017), which received the 2018 Anne Friedberg Award for Innovative Scholarship. She has published widely on topics such as net art, guerrilla video, and artificial intelligence. From 2012 to 2016 she was codirector of the Center for Ongoing Research & Projects (www.the-corp.org), an experimental art space in Columbus, Ohio.
Ed Atkins: I (can scarcely move or draw my breath)
Wednesday, April 24, 7pm
Walker Cinema $15($12 Walker Members, $8 students)
British artist Ed Atkins will “attempt an adequate recitation of American novelist Gilbert Sorrentino’s poem ‘The Morning Roundup’ (1971), with songs and histrionics throughout,” as he describes. The artist is known for computer animated videos that sit unsteadily between sentimentality and grim realism. Atkins’s Happy Birthday!! (2014), a video about mortality, dementia, love, and the digitization of our lives, is currently on view in The Body Electric.
Atkins lives and works in Berlin and Copenhagen. His solo presentations include Martin-Gropius-Bau, Berlin; MMK, Frankfurt; DHC/ART, Montreal (all 2017); Castello di Rivoli and Fondazione Sandretto Re Rebaudengo, Turin; The Kitchen, New York (all 2016); Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2015); Serpentine Gallery, London (2014); and Chisenhale Gallery, London (2012). His written works include the anthology of his own texts called A Primer for Cadavers (Fitzcarraldo Editions, 2016) as well as an extensive artist’s monograph (Skira, 2017) In early 2019, Atkins will present exhibitions at K21, Düsseldorf, and Kunsthaus Bregenz, Austria. A novel, Old Food, will be published in November 2019. Atkins is currently a guest professor at the Royal Danish Academy of Fine Arts, Copenhagen.