Currently on at Marlborough Contemporary’s newest location in London, artist Antoine Catala’s new work brings together both new and existing works to form a kinetic installation, exploring emojis and text messages and the effects of new communication technologies on society. Catala, whose work is invested in the intriguing cultural effects and aesthetic possibilities of the new language and modes of meaning that have emerged from widespread digital communication technologies, here orchestrates an ever-evolving, uniquely arranged body of works that change and move in the same way that language itself seems to online.
As the press release states, text messages allow the user to communicate as quickly as we speak, splitting language into a plurality of simultaneous exchanges capable of bridging geographical distance and fitting around our modern, fragmented lives. For this show, and perhaps throughout much of his work in general, Catala explores how this minimal version of interpersonal communication can lead to misunderstanding, and in a time lapse between messages, discomfort can easily grow. This is where emojis come in – symbols to diffuse tension and state the intended “mood” of the message as a substitution of vocal intonation. Hence the exhibition’s mantra: Everything is OKAY.
Spread throughout the gallery are a series of gradually inflating and deflating objects, pieces covered with or referencing various emoji characters and symbols as a way of posing them within the context of a life lived around them. These elements, occasionally swelling and receding as if breathing with a sense of suspended life, gives the show something of the feel of a haunted house, driven by a loop of videos and songs as a dramatic milieu unfolding through multiple acts. At the center of the show is Flat Sitcom, a pair of vertical monitors resembling smartphone screens, on which the text messages of two separate characters slowly scroll across the screen, revealing a series of disturbing or emotionally-charged episodes. Rather than just depicting the event as it plays out, Catala explores the emotional weight of pregnant silence, withheld communication, the anxiety of the unanswered text.
This narrative manages to transform the gallery space into domestic setting of its own, as the conversation of these imagined main characters occasionally animates the elements around them. A lingering considering of the show gradually uncovers a tight relationship between the “biological” and the digital, moments of suspense or tension serving as the triggers for the objects around these messages to begin their movements. In this sense, one could consider the text thread as something of a modern libretto or script, sending the varied technological agents and parts of the world around it into action. As Catala seems to understand, the increasingly AI-driven nature of modern technological communication and media networks becomes ever-more intertwined with the internal landscape of its users, responding and moving in relation to the emotions and feelings of its users. The question, however, is just what these feedback loops might do to the user in turn.
Catala’s work is on view through October 13th.
— D. Creahan
Antoine Catala: Everything is Okay: Season 2 [Exhibition Page]