For decades, artists have worked on physical and digital canvases, especially in public installations, where a virtual component can give traditional works a futuristic thrill. The current hubbub over NFTs – digital works of art for which proof of ownership can be purchased, assigning currently undetermined rights to the buyer – makes the Serpentine Gallery’s New Fiction exhibition particularly topical, however. The show (free admission) features physical and digital works by Kaws, aka Brooklyn-based artist Brian Donnelly, the digital works viewed through a third-party augmented reality app downloaded to a smartphone.
Visitors must calibrate the app upon arrival; point your phone’s camera at a QR code outside the gallery and the stage fills with towering, brightly painted figures, including an emaciated Cookie Monster-like figure who sits with dangling legs, from the plinth above the entrance. Inside, you have to calibrate the application again, how far you wander through the rooms, figuratively rubbing shoulders with virtual “visitors” who are also part of the installation. It’s a strange feeling to see virtual characters looking at physical works of art (usually these days it’s us, the corporeal, constantly looking at the digital), and the feeling of confusion is compounded by the fact that the exhibition presents real bronzes painted in bright colors. statues.
Donnelly’s work is perfectly suited to the moment in its aesthetic and subject matter as well. Its cartoonish characters have the feel of post-apocalyptic Disney classics, cuddly yet heavy-duty, with Xs for eyes. On the canvas, these characters seem lost in maze built from the debris of modern civilization: broken steel beams, fragments of tires. It looks like Armageddon, but painted in the fashionable neon colors of ’90s sporty Lycra. species: our saturated state of constant entertainment (usually administered through digital channels) at odds with our fears about the state of the physical world and our complicity in its decline.
It’s also fitting that this show was made in conjunction with Epic Games, creators of fortnite, arguably the dominant digital playground for young people. Epic was responsible for last year’s superlative Kid A Mnesia digital exhibit, released on PlayStation, Mac and Window to coincide with the 21st anniversary of the release of Radiohead’s landmark records, which managed to provide gamers with a compelling experience. and highly memorable by blending the traditional gallery experience with flourishes that would have been impossible outside of a virtual context.
New Fiction, which was also rendered in fortnite allowing players from anywhere in the world to “visit” is a more conservative effort, perhaps due to the fact that it also had to work in person. It is nonetheless a largely successful experiment in this rapidly evolving mix of physical and digital. Some argue that the old distinctions between the real and the virtual no longer make sense (anyone who’s experienced pileup online and felt like they’ve been physically assaulted will agree). New Fiction shows that it is possible, in an artistic context, to ignore these old distinctions. Again, put the phone in your pocket and, in reality, you won’t miss much.