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For her site-specific exhibition Future Shock, Sam Vernon breathes total disruption into MiM Gallery. Vernon’s first solo exhibition in Los Angeles borrows its title from the 1970 international bestseller by futurists Alvin Toffler and Adelaide Farrell, which defined “future shock” most simply as “too much change in too short a period of time.” It described the overwhelming acceleration of technological advancement as beyond what individuals and society could possibly bear and asserted that social change (a symptom of future shock) has a way of leaving people disconnected, stressed, disoriented, and suffering. But Vernon’s show, with its overwhelming range of imagery, almost immediately departs from the referenced text, turning an alarmist phrase on its head and making future shock something to aspire to.
The daring way that Vernon leans into disorientation, avoiding the orderliness typically suggested by stark gallery walls, suggests that urgent cacophony is a good thing. She is self-assured in her disregard for the presupposed distinctions between mediums: grayscale prints fold into dark collages painted over with rough brushstrokes of pastel yellows and pinks—with the occasional bold red or blue. A filmy banner hangs overhead, featuring a partial newspaper headline that reads: “…[pr]otest tied differing souls for one goal.” Various imagery and news media swirl about the space: photos collaged directly on the wall spill down onto the concrete floor in a deliberate heap. The majority of the images feature Black people and range from a portrait of former President Barack Obama to clippings from old issues of Jet magazine, with many of the images sourced from Vernon’s personal archive. The found elements in Vernon’s works prompt feelings of reflection about the present cultural confrontation with racism and arouse a propulsive energy that (literally) bounces off the walls. The dark collages in particular—with stacked imagery fossilized within heavy layers of paint —require unwitting concentration: while there’s a natural human desire to look for the familiar, the exercise feels tantamount to searching for a needle in the proverbial haystack. Similarly, the miscellany of found photos arranged across a long wall in the shape of a serrated, mountainous region evoke a heightened sense of chaos with their ambiguous haze of black and white. Through mining the specific, Vernon leaves us swirling in the nebulous.
The sensory overload of Vernon’s work simulates the current period of turbulence we’re experiencing, in which it feels like we’re living through a historic news cycle every day. Rather than lingering on a desire to control, Vernon presents visceral agitation as a powerful tool for proving existence amid the rising tide of social change.
In her recently published book, Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto, Legacy Russell writes that the digital sphere has become just as oppressive and disposed towards binaries as real life. Russell believes that there’s still potential to occupy the frenetic digital realm and break down hegemonic constructions by using technological flaws as a strategy for disruption and ultimately, liberation. Like Russell, Vernon is participating (alongside others like Juliana Huxtable, Mandy Harris Williams, etc.) in a larger, cross-discipline shift in rethinking how information overload and systemic failings can be reoriented to champion accessibility. Vernon’s work engages in liberatory ideas by acknowledging the potential that lies within disorder. She plays maestro to a symphony of discord, where different art forms clang against each other and conjure a new context for which this potential can be appreciated—one that begins to embolden the crucial narratives that inhabit the chaos. By leaning into the chaos, we might bypass the shock in order to embrace a rapidly changing world.
Sam Vernon: Future Shock runs from January 23–March 27, 2021 at MiM Gallery (4654 W. Washington Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90016).