Stepping into "The Web," your sense of perspective, time and reality falters. Blue knitting, the color of construction tarpaulin, stretches across a framework of oversized plywood iPad cut-outs, exposed cables and glowing monitors. Hi-def flat screen Samsungs hang besides stacks of Panasonic cathode-ray televisions in cardboard boxes. A knitting machine whirs while crude mechanical sculptures spin this way and that. Grubby hands hold oversized cut-outs of iPads, balancing the elegant hardware on hairy knees, pants bunched at the ankles.
Cameras and images inundate you from every angle. Only after a moment of two, you recognize an image flashing across a screen – it’s the person who stood next to you earlier or your own face or a photo from your camera. Occasionally, an atonal chord or a knocking sound cuts through the space.
Suspended––literally––amidst this chaos is the Global Village Idiot, The Web’s protagonist, a bearded wild-haired man with dirty fingernails. He lies in a hammock, swiping on his iPad through images taken by viewers, video-chatting live on a laptop with the viewer and, hidden behind the main installation, jerking off while taking a call on his iPhone. There he is again, standing guard at the center of the Prison sculpture and, once again, conducting a skeletal orchestra playing in the shack on the gallery’s second landing.
Marisa Office video-chatting with the Global Village Idiot. Photo: Marisa Office
Artist Jon Kessler explained that "The Web" began on a New York City subway, where he noticed the people around him were completely immersed in their mobile phones. Based on Kessler’s initial proposal––a sketch of a skeleton conducting a three-piece orchestra playing the c-chord signaling the start-up of a Mac computer––the Amsterdam-based Métamatic Research Initiative commissioned what would become a two year “research and development” exploration into how handheld devices affect how we relate to each other.
What emerged is understandably complex, an ambiguous work that signifies the potential, the loss and the disorientation created by technology. Standing at the digital divide is the Global Village Idiot, a recurring character in Kessler’s work that he has called a self-portrait had he made a few different choices in life. One can hardly avoid The Web’s implicit critique of Apple, both in terms of its corporate practices––netting in the show represents the suicide nets placed around dormitories at the Foxconn factories where Apple products are made––as well as the ubiquity of the company’s technology, aesthetic and advertising in today’s society.
The global village idiot. Photo: Marisa Office
Nevertheless, "The Web" exists because of modern technology; the installation’s screens and monitors display not only images taken of viewers as they walk through the gallery, but images taken by viewers as well. Users are able to contribute to this work, a true integration of life and art, by downloading an app designed by Kessler for "The Web." And, adding another layer of life-art integration, Kessler recently sold the app, which currently works only in conjunction with the installation, for $2.5 million.
- Swiss Institute Contemporary Art – Jon Kessler "The Web" – Until April 28, 2013 – Wednesday – Sunday: 12 – 6 PM [Admission: free]
Article by Marisa Office