In 1998, artist Julia Scher installed her work Wonderland in New York. Immersing the galley in a theatrical pink and purple light, Scher’s Wonderland is a multimedia environment where visitors are welcomed by the sound of the artist’s authoritative yet soothing voice: ‘Attention. There are live cameras here in Wonderland, recording you… Warning. Your size may change, here in Wonderland. Thank you for coming!’ This hint at the concepts of surveillance, of the reproduction of reality, and of the deconstruction of space and time feel particularly resonant in a new century, and underscore the cutting-edge nature of Scher’s work.
Scher’s work comes on the heels of a recent revival in interest around her work, and a performance of one of her ongoing works, ‘Security by Julia’ at Frieze this year. The Security By Julia series, which began in 1988, uses public space to question the invasion of personal freedom within the public realm, using the tools of the electronic age to critically engage it, specifically a recurring use of security cameras. Here, her reprised work follows a similar logic, provoking questions on the state, its presence in everyday life, and ways of living beside, or outside of it.
At the center of the space are two semi-circular child-sized desks arrayed with complex technical equipment and cabling, vintage computer monitors with live surveillance footage, various ephemera—such as bags of White Rabbit Creamy Candy—and Scher’s signature pink guard caps. Alluding to prior works and dense multi-media narratives, the artist’s selections of objects form a central nervous system of sorts, a series of narrative elements conspiring in their reproduction and reframing of the reality of the gallery space. Referencing both psychedelics and classic literature, as well as her own work, Scher’s pieces here invite a meditation on youth and media. On the walls, complementing the central assemblage of technological apparatuses, large-scale prints depict children, among them American actress and director Lena Dunham aged 10, dressed in the same pink uniforms and caps that are neatly folded on the desks.
Posed here, the artist’s work mirrors the subversions of role-play and power, yet the inclusion of these same images are notable in turn for their place in the gallery today. It’s worth considering that the millennial models used for this piece have now grown into a place of power in the world. Dunham in particular is now a vastly successful writer and filmmaker in her own right. Scher’s work, presented in its new state, is perhaps an even more potent reflection at this point, not only suggesting the distended sense of reality caused by the exercise of state power, but perhaps more notably, the surreal nature of a new generation taking up these weapons, and eventually growing into their own place of power in the world.
The show closes February 9th.
— D. Creahan
Julia Scher: Wonderland [Exhibition Site]