Erika Monroe-Kane, Director of Communications
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MMoCA and ALL Reveal Details of Digital Aura
MADISON-The Madison Museum of Contemporary Art (MMoCA) is excited to announce a new partnership with Arts + Literature Laboratory (ALL). Stemming from a shared interest in fostering a dynamic local arts scene through creative collaboration, this partnership also seeks to grow audiences and increase the presentation of digital-based arts throughout the city. The inaugural joint project between MMoCA and ALL is Digital Aura, an exhibition of single-channel video works on view at MMoCA from May 20 through August 6, and at ALL from May 5 through July 29.
At MMoCA, the videos screened in the Imprint Gallery will rotate over the duration of the exhibition, with each of three artists receiving a three-week solo presentation of their work according to the following schedule: Laura Hyunjhee Kim, (Modern) Formations II (May 20–June 16); Cassils, Inextinguishable Fire (June 17–July 14); and Adrián Regnier Chávez, I. (July 15–August 6). At ALL, Sanaz Mazinani’s Threshold will be on view from May 5 through July 29.
Exhibition Opening and Bike the Art
On May 20, Digital Aura will open to the public in conjunction with ALL’s Bike the Art event, a monthly curated bicycle tour of Madison art spaces. Meet at MMoCA at 5 pm for an artist talk by Laura Kim. The tour will then ride to the Old Sugar Distillery for a presentation about ALL’s annual OFF THE WALL video art screening series before making a final stop at ALL for a discussion about Sanaz Mazinani’s artistic practice.
Curated by Simone Doing and Max Puchalsky, co-lead curators at ALL, Digital Aura responds to philosopher Walter Benjamin’s seminal essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction” (1936). The exhibition presents works by four artists who are re-inventing the meaning of Benjamin’s concept of “aura” within the context of our contemporary digital age.
For Benjamin, an artwork’s aura exists as both a feeling of presence and an attitude of artistic reverence—an “aesthetic experience” resulting from the work of art’s unique existence. As such, Benjamin argued that aura is lost when the singular authenticity of an artwork can be multiplied through reproducible media. The artists in this exhibition, however, challenge Benjamin’s concept of aura. They embrace technological developments that have introduced the possibility of infinite reproduction, and thereby demonstrate the ability of digital works to evoke a sense of ritualistic awe while simultaneously engaging in dialogues of social concern.
Through a combination of sublime imagery, ambient sound, and existential thematic material, the works in this exhibition embody a unique “digital aura” and inspire ongoing dialogues about how globalized society understands and assigns value in the digital age.
Artists and Artworks
Laura Hyunjhee Kim examines consumer technologies that are designed to ensure virtual immersion and influence human behavior. In (Modern) Formations II (2016), she takes a meditative approach to visualizing the “absurd beauty” of this type of screen-filtered life through a humorous indictment of Western cultural appropriation. Kim depicts a veiled figure, at once mystic and millennial, engaged in feigned yogic practice while maintaining a transfixed clutch on what appears to be a smartphone. The iridescent, contemporary garb reflects a trending New Age mysticism that commodifies and misappropriates indigenous practices. Clearly, there is no transcendence to be found here, as narcissistic technology worship negates any real enlightenment. As an observer of this strange ritual, spellbound by its intimate oscillations, the viewer becomes complicit, consuming a distorted representation.
Adrián Regnier Chávez transforms digital animation into encompassing visual experiences that point to the paradox of technological progress and its potential for self-destruction. In his work from 2014, simply titled I., feelings of existential awe emerge from the belittling, yet uncannily relaxing experience of nuclear apocalypse from a cosmic perspective. Narrated and subtitled in English by various android characters, and bracketed by passages in Russian, the experimental animation work calls to mind Cold War-era nuclear escalation as well as contemporary geopolitical realities. Thematic sections progress chromatically from green, to yellow, orange, and red, possibly in reference to the post 9-11 Homeland Security Advisory System’s color-coded threat levels, which indicated the likelihood and gravity of a potential terrorist attack. A final section, black, asks bleakly, “Didn’t we rejoice in hope and reason? ... Then, why can we still feel it burn?”
A microcosm of this phenomenon is embodied in Cassils’ Inextinguishable Fire (2007–15), a performance for camera in which the artist attempts a Hollywood stunt known as a full body burn. Filmed at 1000 frames-per-second and rendered in extreme slow motion, the fourteen-second burn is extended to fourteen minutes of exquisite agony. A slow, outward zoom centers on Cassils’ gaze, proof that even in reproduction, aura can survive through the fleeting expression of a human face. At once indexing the seraph, the burning cross, self-immolation, and the phoenix, Inextinguishable Fire forms an ongoing gesture towards ritualistic cycles of trauma, resistance, and renewal in the face of oppressive forces.
Sanaz Mazinani’s Threshold (2015) is an audiovisual installation that aestheticizes present-day realities of life inside a war zone. Explosion scenes appropriated from eleven Hollywood films are kaleidoscopically abstracted to reference traditional Islamic geometries. Inspired by visits to the artist’s home country of Iran, the fiery, shifting tessellations form a hypnotic meditation on the violence of war, calling attention to the ways in which the entertainment industry romanticizes such violence. The installation reminds us that images of violence, whether mediated via news bulletin or cinematic spectacle, are fragmented and incomplete pieces of a whole. There is a radical incomprehensibility to understanding trauma from positions of privileged distance—however close it may seem.
Hours at the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art are Tuesday–Thursday (noon–5 pm); Friday (noon–8 pm); Saturday (10 am–8 pm); and Sunday (noon–5 pm). The museum is closed on Mondays.
Housed in a soaring, iconic building on State Street, the Madison Museum of Contemporary Art offers free admission to exhibitions and education programs that engage visitors in modern and contemporary art. The four galleries offer changing exhibitions that feature established and emerging artists. The Rooftop Sculpture Garden provides an urban oasis with an incredible view. The award-winning Museum Store offers contemporary American craft and fine jewelry, while Fresco, the museum’s rooftop restaurant, features local, seasonal ingredients in fine American cuisine.
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