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We have always allowed our amassed objects to define us. What does it mean when these tangible extensions—as with albums, photographs, etc.—of self are supplanted by the digital? In Haim Steinbach’s exhibition, appear to use, at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery—his first solo show in Los Angeles in over a decade—the artist seems to be adapting to this digital shift. Since the 1970s, Steinbach has assembled readymades on shelves, his work relying on the relational meaning between the objects he presents. In this exhibition, the shelves are still the artist’s primary mode of expression, with works such as Untitled (siri, kong, antenna) (2019) incorporating, for the first time, smart speakers alongside the usual analog toys and household objects. At first, appear to use seems to nonchalantly treat technology as one more collectible with which we can bond. But, ultimately, it goes so far as to actually show the ways that new technologies can affect our relationship to objects and the world around us: from our attention spans to the self-reflexive narcissism revealed by our object acquisition choices.
At the opening of the exhibition, guests constantly commanded the smart speakers to play songs; within a five minute span, I overheard snippets of songs by Chumbawamba, Bob Dylan, and Ariana Grande, none played in their entirety. Further, this digitally encouraged attention deficit—how far we’ve come since being limited to our own record collections or having to rewind cassette tapes—is happening within the context of the artist’s architectural interventions: galvanized steel studs are exposed throughout the gallery. Speaking in terms of Steinbach’s oeuvre, these walls put people in the gallery space on a type of human-sized shelf wherein individuals must be considered in relation to the objects within their context. In comparison to previous bodies of work, the relational connections in appear to use seem appropriately complex (even ironically nihilistic). By building walls to contextualize the individual as part of the show and allowing for their contributions (via smart speaker commands), Steinbach foregoes the purely tangible and embraces chaos—of meaning as multiplicity, of human nature, and of the particular vanity that internet culture has encouraged. Works in the exhibition that are otherwise tech-less shelves are also subject to being recast by Amazon Alexa’s presence—their meaning splintering alongside each Google search. Since information has become more of an exchange than a flow from source to receiver (smart speaker as opposed to radio) our own tastes and preferences dictate what we consume more than ever before. As with the multitude of songs elicited from Untitled (duck, owl, alexa, kong), the relativity in appear to use asserts that the viewer is likely to see or hear themselves, in this context, regardless of what is placed in front of them.
Haim Steinbach: appear to use runs from March 16–May 18, 2019 at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery (1010 N. Highland Ave., Los Angeles 90038).