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Dreamlands, at New York’s Whitney Museum, explores artistic meditations on the influence of technology on current society.  The exhibition is one of immersive cinema from 1905-2016, and it reconstructs and repurposes projection, film, a screen, darkness and narrative linearity to reference the capabilities of technology in a reflexive manner.  This exhibit probes the possibilities of art and the artist to establish and blur boundaries between the real and the virtual.


The nearly total immersion in technology that we all experience daily raises questions of the boundaries between artifice and reality, between natural and technological worlds, and all of these interact with our sense of self.  Are our experiences, in the age of technology, really are own?  Are we using technology? Or is technology using us?  Whatever our own answer to these questions may be, Dreamlands shows that art created by the very technology it comments on can make us simultaneously feel a combination of sublime wonder and horror.  The cumulative effects of technology on our lives at large notwithstanding, there can be no doubt that emerging technology gives the artist new tools and possibilities to offer poignant visions on the modern world.

Bruce Conner’s CROSSROADS, pairs footage of a July 1946 atomic bomb test with a haunting electronic score by Patrick Gleeson and Terry Riley.  The footage and soundtrack in conjunction with each other allow the viewer to reflect on what a moment in history that a witness described as “hanging in eternity.”  

Alex Israel’s work pays homage to CinemaScope, a movie format that was designed in the 1950s to great a panorama with Stereo Sound to captivate and immerse viewers to a greater extent than was possible through other television formats.  His work, which manages to feel just as natural as it does artificial, is positioned adjacent to a real view of New York City’s skyline.

Ian Cheng’s Baby feat Ikaria is a live work consisting of three virtual chatbots communication in an endless loop with each other.  The chatbots were created to service online consumer interest, replace a sexual partner, and assist in text support.  The interaction of these chatbots follows no linear, logical narrative and is completely randomized.

Easternsports is a collaboration between Alex Da Corte, Jayson Musson, and Devonte Hynes, and it shows skits recorded at half speed subtitled with introspective, contemplative text.  This work is entirely immersive, as it combines color, light, scent, music, spoken word, and video, and feels almost like a stage play designed for our modern age.

Computer scientist and artist Terence Broad built an artificial neural network he called an autoencoder and showed it Blade Runner, the famous film on the nexus between artificial intelligence, human consciousness, and future.  He trained the autoencoder to remember, reconstruct and record each unique frame in the movie, and he shows the subsequent result.

Perhaps the cure for the solipsistic nature of the technologically driven 21st century lies in great art like that shown at Dreamlands, as it can help us step back from our lives and appreciate the independent existence of nature, other people, and the world around us at large.  Art can give us a new perspective on a sense of being that lies outside of the confines of ourselves

text: Aaron Gray

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