CYBERCY | Confronting the decomposition of self in the post-internet age

Written by Drew Austin |  


(Denver CO)

Large pink beanbag chair loungers and two classic gallery benches are provided for the viewer to get comfortable as they watch the film by Alli Coates and Signe Pierce titled American Reflexxx in the back gallery of Gallery of Contemporary Art in downtown Colorado Springs. This set up, as well as the gallery attendant’s invitation to ‘take a seat’, prepares the viewer for something that will be quite relaxing, potentially humorous, and almost exactly the opposite of what is shown.

Without giving too much away and taking the joy (and horror) out of watching this short film for yourself, it begins with a manipulated version of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” as we watch Pierce, dressed in a tight blue dress and a reflective mask, move provocatively against a palm tree. This scene is quickly interrupted by Coates’ gorgeous use of editing, a shirtless man asking, “Will you do me in that later?”, and a by passer quickly chiming in to say, “That’s a man sir.” This short opening sequence sets the tone beautifully for the rest of the film which blatantly speaks to the viewer about transphobia, mob mentality, and violence in society, a perfect fit for our current political climate, though the film was created not in the present, but in 2013. Pierce also has a sculptural form within the space, but it is easy to overlook because of the film’s immense presence. You can view the film on the American Reflexxx site, but I highly encourage viewing the work in person at the gallery.

As you move through the gallery you come to the middle space which has been completely modified to house W3FI: Colorado Springs, a site-specific installation by Denver-based artists Christopher Coleman and Laleh Mehran. They continue their exploration of the balance between your ‘IRL’ self and their coined ‘S3LF’ which can be viewed as the digital counterpart of yourself. The installation is comprised of 3D printed topography of Colorado Springs’ surrounding mountains set on a table with built in time-lapse animation showing digital growth and development within the city. Abstracted but set next to descriptors, this small tabletop animation is just one corner of the massive art piece which incorporates softly lit cubes on the floor, cut vinyl wall illustrations, real-time Twitter feed projections, and a small device to capture your image and add it to the wall of bubbles containing images of faces from the opening reception.     

Interactivity and the highly stimulating nature of so much technology jammed into one space make it difficult to understand the installation’s themes at first glance, but viewing the work without the influence of other people (i.e. not at the opening) the viewer can really take in all of the nuances of the work. This is a highly complex work of art that is refined in a way that is accessible and challenging as the viewer begins to see that the artists are exploring the connection between self and S3LF. Coleman and Mehran speak about the small difference, if any at all, between these two entities, now in a culture where everything is documented, shared, and commented upon. This aspect of the work is what makes it so relevant and challenging to me as both an artist and as a twenty one year old who engages with social media on a daily basis. The fact that I took a photo of the exhibit, edited that image, then posted it on Instagram later that night with my own commentary is seemingly exactly what W3FI is all about. My S3LF was totally alright with posting my location, my thoughts, and my vision online for everyone to see and freely comment on, though in the real world, I most likely would not have said the exact thing I did on Instagram to the faces of the artists. My comment to them at the opening reception would have been something along the lines of, “The work is gorgeous”, which is a split second thought that I would have blurted out rather than a curated thought that is spread through the veil of a screen, much like this very article you are all reading right now and can comment on freely. 

The connectivity of W3FI flows nicely into Finishing School’s performance and installation Psychic Barber that was created in collaboration with New York artist Yucef Merhi which is in the very front of the gallery and is paired with a short video of previous performances as well as several framed, nicely designed posters behind the massive walled off barber’s chair. This performance, which I sadly was not able to attend, is one that is full of emotion and reminds me much of Marina Abromavic’s The Artist is Present in that the artist, here being performers Gina Kelly and Andye Murphy, is engaging in a one-on-one emotional experience that only they are allowed to be a part of. Each performance consists of a thirty minute block in which the barber takes a psychic reading of the participant and responds by cutting their hair to visually express the reading.

Having worked closely with a few members of Finishing School and performing for them in past projects, I am very interested and excited about the type of work they are creating and sharing with the world right now. Their installations, performances, and interactive experiences are extremely relevant, intelligent, and challenging for viewers, while still being incredibly fun and immersive for anyone viewing the work. As an onlooker of the performance artifacts for this exhibit, I have a hard time connecting everything Finishing School is attempting to show in context with the rest of Cybercy. The piece by itself is a beautiful look at emotion and connectivity with a nice touch of humor, but does it really help us to explore the post-internet human matrix as the title of the exhibition suggests? I don’t think so. Psychic readings and cutting hair are extremely analog actions that have been around for centuries before the internet was even thought of, and installing these same actions within a contemporary glass case and adding a neon sign isn’t enough for this piece to fit in with the rest of the work in the show. For me, this is the only instance in which the show falls flat and I question curators Caitlin Goebel and Daisy McGowan’s decisions. This isn’t to say that Psychic Barber is the reason you shouldn’t go see this exhibition, only that you should take a few more minutes than usual to question your relationship to this piece as it relates to the rest of the exhibition and make up your own mind about it, and who knows, my opinions could completely change after seeing the performance rather than just the artifact and video. A repeat performance can be viewed at GOCA’s Brilliant celebration fundraiser they will be hosting on Saturday, June 24th. 

This exhibition is one of my top shows from 2017 so far and is definitely worth the drive if you are not local to Colorado Springs. Stimulating visuals are paired nicely with thought provoking interactivity and this is a knockout show for the curatorial direction I am excited to see from Goebel moving forward in her career.

Cybercy: Exploring the Post-Internet Human Matrix is on view at Gallery of Contemporary Art Colorado Springs (Downtown) until June 24th.

Drew Austin is a Denver-based artist finishing his BFA at Rocky Mountain College of Art + Design. More of his work can be found at his website

*Opinions expressed by Odessa Contributors are their own.