Brad Troemel’s ant farms are donating money to charity

"LIVE/WORK" by Brad Troemel at Tomorrow in New York.
“LIVE/WORK” by Brad Troemel at Tomorrow, New York. Courtesy of Tomorrow

For the previous 5+ years, the practice of post-internet artist Brad Troemel has largely remained online. For all intents and purposes, this makes sense, as post-internet art is a vein of contemporary discourse that is preeminently concerned with online culture and its all encompassing co-existence with the everyday. As Gene McHugh noted, art is “…responding to an existential condition…when the Internet is less a novelty and more a banality”. We no longer go online, we simply are online, and it is within this contemporary shift that post-internet artists (most often having grown up online themselves) often make use of networked platforms to highlight a preoccupation with productivity, communication and a shifting globalised image ecology.

Throughout his practice, the New York based artist has developed an adept ability to zone in on these fundamental paradigms shifts through theory-based texts and internet focused projects. From his 2008 co-founding with Lauren Christiansen of The Jogging, a bare bones Tumblr that posts an ongoing stream of memetic (often altered) stock image-esque photos, to his 2012 launch of a personal Etsy store that sells similarly bizarre consumer goods, Troemel critiques via participation.

"LIVE/WORK" by Brad Troemel at Tomorrow in New York.
“LIVE/WORK” by Brad Troemel at Tomorrow in New York. Courtesy of Tomorrow

For his latest exhibition at Tomorrow gallery, Troemel works offline to create a sweeping metaphorical manifestation of our contemporary techno-social conditions. Speaking broadly, networked culture is a result (or cause of) post-Fordism, the social and economic result of our technologic advancement. Post-Fordism has produced, among other things, a blurring between life, labour and entertainment. To reference this, the artist has installed a series of mid-size acrylic cases, one after the next, hung perpendicularly to the wall. Titled “LIVE/WORK”, these shiny, translucent plastic objects glow with a variety of candy-coloured hues, but are actually each small colonies of infertile female harvester worker ants, the small bugs chewing their way through a nutrient-laden gel to create randomised tunnels. These are ant farms. The pet store microcosm of the home/factory divide.

However, these ants are highly unproductive, or rather not optimally productive. Years of evolution has yielded zero cooperation amongst the species, who are performing their thankless task completely independent of each other. As such, Troemel assumes the position of technological mastermind asking, “If the ants have forsaken efficiency, then what incentive structures can I create to provide for maximum productivity?”. Meanwhile, each differently-hued farm correlates to a corresponding selection of three not-for-profit logo colour schemes. In sprite of their inefficient labour, the ants are in fact competing for a divine greater good: the colony to move the largest amount of plasma from the tunnels to the surface will have the profits of the exhibition donated to the three charities of their unwilling choice. As each piece is named accordingly, Troemel has pitted “Wikipedia/Stem Cell Network/PBS” against “Greenpeace/Drug Policy Alliance/ACLU” and others. 

"LIVE/WORK" by Brad Troemel at Tomorrow in New York.
“LIVE/WORK” by Brad Troemel at Tomorrowin New York. Courtesy of Tomorrow

For an artist with an astute fascination and investment in “the system”, “LIVE/WORK” becomes a way to objectively observe and control said system – or at least a version of it. Both the concerted maximisation, the shiny docile happy colours and the farcical piety on the installation begs the question of our own self-awareness within the contemporary moment.

Text by Devon Caranicas

“LIVE/WORK” is showing at Tomorrow, New York until 9 November 2014. 

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