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The nine works on view in the ICA LA’s current exhibition, The Inconstant World, share a common thread: through their own careful formal strategies, each draws the viewer’s attention to the otherwise unremarkable or invisible, confronting the limitations of representation in especially timely ways. In an era of necessary concern around global surveillance, as it manifests both in the policing of Black people and through the unrelenting data collection of clickbait capitalism, these works offer an elegant form of resistance, redeploying abstraction as a tool for subverting surveillance and reclaiming agency over our images—and in turn, our identities.
Surveillance technologies cannot capture what cannot be identified or fully seen. The works in The Inconstant World explore what it looks and feels like to evade such capture. In Sandra Mujinga’s three-channel, greyscale video installation, Disruptive Pattern (2018), an abstracted, transparent figure flickers, as if dancing to an unheard beat amidst screensaver-like digital pools of shifting shapes. Moving between fluctuating degrees of opacity, the dancing figure (distinguishable only by the slippery forms of a sweatshirt and hat on its see-through body) resists classification by the camera, thereby defying surveillance and “capture” via the viewer’s gaze, occupying an alternative visual space that is neither here nor there.
Other works propose similar alternatives to the immediately recognizable image, urging us to pause and take a second, deeper look, and challenging the cultural expectation for a relentless feed of visual content. In Liz Deschenes’ FPS (45) (2018), 45 photograms mounted as vertical panels are installed at even intervals spanning the corner of one room. The photograms, silvery and indeterminate, bear no distinct imagery—their long, rectangular planes drawing attention instead to the spatial and temporal experience reflected, both literally and imaginatively, in their sleek but “empty” surfaces. While the distinctions between each panel are not apparent at first glance, upon closer inspection one notices that none are identical—each panel will react differently to the gallery environment over the course of the exhibition, marking them with the variable and distinct effects of space and time.
David Horvitz’s work, Nostalgia (18,600) (2019–2021), is also an experiment in the erasure of content, a resistance to the late-capitalist impetus toward the performance of identities via social media (each of us producing, and thus becoming, our own content). In this work, 18,600 of the artist’s personal digital photographs, taken between 2019 and 2021, are projected for a minute each and deleted at the end of the day. Over the course of the exhibition, all 18,600 images will be deleted. By effacing all traces of these images and their corresponding data from the cloud, Horvitz defies the typical cycle of digital image circulation. If our collective contributions to algorithmic platforms like Instagram have turned AI into the de facto site of endless archival memory, Nostalgia pushes against this archival automatism, restoring the role to our own individual capacity for memory. The images’ erasure also ensures their protection from both the overt and covert ways that AI mines, tracks, and capitalizes on our images as sources of profitable data, turning us into involuntary victims of algorithmic manipulation and bias.
The works in The Inconstant World are not intended for easy consumption. They demand more time, more attentiveness, and more reflection than we may be used to in our age of clickbait, hashtags, and seconds-long video clips. The experiences that they offer, though slow to reveal themselves, are worthy of this labor. By resisting visibility and defying easy legibility, they inhabit a fluid world beyond the reach of AI’s infinite memory, making room for an alternate kind of representation—one negotiated by the artist on their own terms. In a cultural moment in which our images no longer belong to us, The Inconstant World proposes a visual strategy of refusal. In this alternate visual realm, we are the authors and overseers of our own images, or indeed, non-images—we decide how we are seen, who sees us, and who doesn’t.
The Inconstant World runs from March 6–May 30, 2021 at ICA LA (1717 E. 7th St., Los Angeles, CA 90021).