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In the early days of the internet, fluency was self-determined. Intimacy blossomed between keystrokes. Without body language, a typed-out affectation negated grammar. “Netspeak,” writes Laur M. Jackson, “transmitted the real feels.” 1 Flatness and communication by code were vehicles in Broken Language at Shulamit Nazarian, a group exhibition textured with humor and pathos. Interconnectivity between traditional modes of art-making (textiles, still lifes, abstract paintings) and technology confronts the limits and implications of modern communication by exposing the glitches, gaps, and mash-ups in the space between what is said and what is understood.
From outside the gallery window on La Brea you could see Wendy White’s glossy black Dibond raincloud, No Pressure (2016). With three perfect black droplets, the work suspends from a rainbow-hued ratchet strap; cute, and moody, even ominous. Her paintings hang in the next room, echoing the hazy washes of Ed Ruscha. Crisp brand logos from ski apparel companies are affixed onto her airy backgrounds. On the wall near Gyro/Spirit and Leave-in (both 2016), iconographic rainbows appeared in black vinyl, placed a little higher than a would-be didactic panel. The effect was discontinuous and though it recalled the artist’s nearby black raincloud, any deeper association aside from personal branding seemed blank and incoherent. Erratic patterning like this throughout the exhibition pointed to the way visual repetition in advertising and technology is used to rewire the brain and affect human desire.
Josh Faught’s work explores the aesthetics of lo-fi customization and recontextualizes a relationship between technology and physical labor. Hung on the wall and littered with found objects, Attachments (2016), is a large weaving that appears monochromatic from a distance. Moving closer revealed a world of detail: fastened kitschy metal pins printed with slogans such as “Look Out World,” a pair of plastic stock sunglasses hooked into a loose section of weft, and a laminated advertisement for a chiropractor clipped with a giant clothespin. A series of words are ironed on in pale scrapbooking letters down the center of the weaving and read like the tweets of a sputtering bot.
Similarly, Missed Modifier (2017) is a screenshot-turned-wall-fabric featuring a stock image of a disgruntled woman dressed business casual with her hand resting on a black computer mouse. The text “Terrifying Typo?,” in black bold sans-serif, floats above the image, which is stacked above its duplicate; the second image contains slapdash red circles around inconsequential objects in the woman’s office. The dissonance between material and subject matter is evocative in that it’s disorienting, a feeling one might get from having too many browser tabs open.
Takeshi Murata’s work is post-nostalgic, a memento mori to the death of subcultural internet trends. Vaporwave, for example— the chill visual cyberculture that combines ancient Greek and Roman aesthetics with that of the early net—is a specific aesthetic reference; this micro-trend, like others, is easily subsumed by mainstream culture. Murata’s prints glisten, sensually, with desire mismanaged by technology. Cyborg (2011) reads like an interior design stock image from a well-lit dystopian future—both chromatic and austere, with amorphous shapes polished in a CGI-engineered sheen. It’s the stuff of movie magic. Artifice is convincing when it’s done well, imagine longing for a mirage. Trembling with a kinetic energy that thrills, Murata’s still life prints are deeply uncanny and unnerving.
To be relatable, an artwork might allow the audience to play protagonist, or offer blanks to fill in like a Mad Lib. Greg Ito was ostensibly the lone artist in Broken Language who guided the act of looking; the other artists used icons and references that felt more coded and singular. Ito’s work appeals because of its clean lines and flat, graphic simplicity. He borrows from everyday pictorials like public safety pamphlets and children’s books, repainting them into new stories. The result is nebulous; his paintings read like storyboards for a graphic novel that’s missing half its pages. Manga-inspired neo-Surrealist details engage false cognition; the effect feels like déjà vu. Here, Ito taps into a universal current of anxiety: compositions are precise and finite, but their messaging is unresolved.
If the internet were a place, it’d be a room full of noise, or a dinner scene from a Robert Altman film: scraps of conversation and ambient sounds peak and curve because they’re recorded at the same volume. You can hear everything all at once—anxiety is crowd-sourced, a low static hum everyone speaks over. Broken Language followed a similar premise while allowing each voice to speak at length, though rarely uninterrupted. It was simultaneously clean and kitschy, noisy but melodic, sporadic but even-handed. Online, successive imagery implies meaning without guaranteeing it, but made physical in a gallery, meaning loops infinite whether you recognize it or not. You can just Google the rest.
Originally published in Carla Issue 9