Meandering into spaces of contradiction and surrealist juxtaposition, artist Cory Arcangel has put on his curator cap for a show organized in collaboration with Art21’s Tina Kukielski, organizing an exhibition of works centered around modernity and technology, and framed equally by ideas of potential and hazard.
Emerging from two poles—the machine’s mechanistic logic on the one hand and the fetishistic objectivity of surrealism at the other—the works in ‘Difference Engine’ are an exercise in contrast. The exhibition’s title is something of that same idea of encounter as well. Drawn from Charles Babbage’s name for his invention of a calculating engine powered by a cranking handle that would be the first automated mechanical calculator, the work equally relies on the sci-fi novel of the same name by William Gibson and Bruce Sterling, a concept that allows multiple interpretations of both the title’s use and function, a perfect dialectic between utopian premises and the dystopian landscapes so often embraced by the writers.
This concept runs through a broad range of techniques and styles here, from the crumpled steel and subtle inversions of modern art history on view in the work of Carol Bove to the twisted steel vocabulary of artist Lonnie Holley, both posing subtle inflections on both history and form through vastly different frameworks. Elsewhere, artist Jayson Musson’s arrangement of a series of his iconic ball caps from his series of art videos as Hennessy Youngman across a series of shelves, a subtle reference to both the artist’s winking subversion of the field’s internalized power structures, and his ultimate inclusion within those same grounds. By contrast, Paul Thek’s lone sculpture poses the human body as a regulated object, stuck within a carefully-lined case that emphasizes a controlling force over the body, a note that one finds echoed all too well in an era of near-constant surveillance and monitoring of data, both by the government and independent companies.
Yet for all of the intriguing points the show raises regarding these ideas, the exhibition equally functions on the fascinating undercurrents of just what a future pervaded by such positive and negative forces may in fact look like (or already does). Much like the surrealist historical underpinnings that the show references, the work on view revels in both the banal and the unusual; strange body mods, charging phone batteries, and even the language of binary itself. The exhibition revels as much in the modification of the human form and vision as it does in the materials it creates, ultimately rendering a space where the world that this art transmutes is allowed to exist beside it, an act as surreal as any before it.
The show is on view through August 10th.
— D. Creahan
Difference Engine at Lisson [Exhibition Site]