Review /

Chatbots, Tongues, Denial, & Various Other Abstractions Bortolami / New York

A handful of fish oil pills nest on a natural loofah sponge in an illuminated niche. Glycerin soap, stainless steel rings and a bevy of objects lustrous and matte inhabit neighboring wall recesses, each part of Anicka Yi’s musings on alienation at Bortolami Gallery’s “Chatbots, Tongues, Denial, & Various Other Abstractions.” Yi’s works consider the notion of an object’s “denial,” which manifests most compellingly in its “refusal to accept its eventual deterioration.” Yi explores the concept of an object’s deterioration/death via cryogenic philosophy, in which an object (or subject) continues to live after its natural death if memories are preserved. These works are thus abstract gestures that oscillate between — and play with our understandings of — the eternal and the ephemeral.

Melanie Gilligan preserves a baseball trophy, an analog alarm clock, a vase and other mundane objects in lenticular prints (all 2014) that provide illusions of animation and depth reminiscent of video technology. In four short multichannel videos called 4 x Exchange / Abstraction (2013), Gilligan employs these objects as props or still images in overlapping fragmented narratives. The repetition fetishizes these forms. In each video, objects and characters interact in banal scenarios that resemble corporate advertising or public service announcements: women converse by a hotel elevator, cars zoom by on a highway, etc. For Gilligan, these scenes represent various ways that material exchange abstracts life. Pixelated datamoshes, flickering screens and other glitchy effects further abstract, disrupting both the narratives and the ways viewers experience the technology.

Technology enhances the visual experience in Ian Cheng’s Baby feat. Ikaria (2013), in which three animated chatbots (artificial intelligence programs) converse in monotone voices in real time as a live feed animation of floating gray cubes, lines and other suspended debris swirl around on a screen. Typically used to chat with humans (e.g. to discuss commercial products, sext, etc.), Cheng’s chatbots communicate exclusively with one another. Audiences passively witness technologies interacting with other technologies. Carissa Rodriguez’s large tongue photographs draws the viewer back to the corporeal (It’s Symptomatic/What Would Edith Say, all 2014). Rodriguez commissioned her Chinatown acupuncturist to diagnose images of young artists’ tongues, addressing human interaction with images rather than IRL subjects. She presents the acupuncturist’s mark ups on the photographs, such as “red tip / papules = fire toxin in lungs” or “liver blood deficiency = fatigue, depression.” The image of the body becomes an abstract language the acupuncturist reads.

“Chatbots, Tongues, Denial, & Various Other Abstractions” addresses the varied, often convoluted ways that society interacts with and comprehends the vocabulary of images and objects. Each work puts forth its own language. Though seemingly dissonant, the artists share commonalities in use of technology and focus. Locating the cross sections — deterioration and fetishization, time and memory, communication and disconnection in art — allows viewers to reflect on the pieces.

by Simone Krug