New Identities: 3 Artists Exploring What It Means to Live In A Digitally Connected But Politically Divided World

3 current shows in London — by Arthur Jafa, Laure Prouvost and Yuri Pattison — are exploring modern identity in radical new ways.

Arthur Jafa, still from “Love is the Message, The Message is Death”, 2016. Courtesy: The Artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise (New York / Rome)

We are all communicating everywhere and at once. Much like the automobile brought about the compression of geographical distance, the mobile phone has brought about the compression of time. But how are notions of time and space shifting in a highly digitised and networked world? For many artists, lived experience still remains at the heart of inspiration and self expression. The works of three artists currently on show in London attempt to bridge the gap between the personal and the global by using personal, local experiences to shed a light on global issues.

Arthur Jafa, Love is the Message, the Message is Death, 2016. Installation view at Store Studios, London, co-presented by the Serpentine Galleries and The Vinyl Factory. Image courtesy of the artist and Gavin Brown’s enterprise, New York/ Rome. Photo: Hugo Glendinning

Arthur Jafa

Arthur Jafa’s “Love is the Message, the Message is Death” (2016) is on show at the Serpentine Pavilion, located on the roof of Store Studios on the Strand. “Love is the Message…” explores African-American identity through the lens of contemporary and historical moving image and sound. Set to Kanye West’s track “Ultralight Beam”, the 7 minute work builds on the trope of the music video, collaging moments which have contributed to the public perception of Black identity in contemporary America. Interwoven between footage from Youtube videos shot on mobile phones are scenes from the LA riots, movie clips of Black actors from early American cinema, scenes from religious Gospel worship, media coverage of protests and sporting events, and an unsettling array of police assault footage. The work is a moving representation of solidarity, support, love, pain, hope, anger and frustration, communicated through a masterly montage of sound and video. “Love is the Message, the Message is Death” takes the viewer on a emotional journey of what it means to Black in America, in both personal and public contexts.

Laure Prouvost, “Lick in the Past”, 2016. Image: Lisson Gallery.

Laure Prouvost

Laure Prouvost’s video and installation, “Lick in the Past” (2016) is part of the Lisson Gallery group show Everything at Once, located downstairs in the same building as Jaffa’s work. Prouvost’s work implicates LA’s car culture in the process of global warming. The slick and seductive video centres around a group of youths who poetically express their desires by sharing scenarios from real and imagined interpersonal relationships. Prouvost’s work is a collage of Californian beach scenes, sensual close-ups of squids and shots of putrid liquids, all set to the backdrop of LA’s pink hazy brilliance. As is the case with so many cinematic representations of LA, here it’s iridescence looms like a beautiful but toxic metaphor. It made me think: perhaps it’s not just LA, but Californian culture more broadly, which is simultaneously toxic (literally) and also somehow seductive. Silicon Valley idealism is propelling world wide social change, but does its love of Ayn Rand’s individualism and market competition really suit as a catch-all for the diversity of global cultures? In Prouvost’s work we see a intelligent, beautiful and slow moving catastrophe — an examination of youthful desire which also acts as a haunting glimpse into our future.

Yuri Pattison, “context, collapse” installation view. Image: Courtesy of the artist and mother’s tankstation, Dublin | London

Yuri Pattison

From environmental crisis to technological obsession, Yuri Pattison’s computationally informed solo exhibition “context, collapse” inaugurates mother’s tankstation into the London gallery scene. Pattison’s show combines sculptural and video elements into an installation inspired by bureaucracy. The venue — a former office building — feels like a natural habitat for the work. Live data feeds scroll on monitors, crunching and intermixing global narratives of planned and simulated daily experience. At various points throughout the exhibition, the computational infrastructure controlling the exhibition is revealed. Pattison is attempting to uncover the hidden infrastructure that goes into automating our daily lives, otherwise neatly tucked under floors and within the walls of our public and private spaces. “context, collapse”, flattens place and time into the stuff of technology — the wires and modems which underpin our technological experience. The world of “context, collapse” is borderless, and defined by the relentless motion of data which exposes the tedium of daily life.

The voices of these artists are a strong articulation of what it means to live, work and exist in our highly networked digital society. What binds them together is the strength and clarity of their individual voices in speaking about the peculiarity of daily life, while echoing globally relevant concerns. Issues of identity, environmental degradation and technological automation are all vital aspects of contemporary discourse. The world feels like it’s in a hyper vigilant state, more connected than ever, increasingly diversifying but nonetheless lying in the shadow of political divides and impending climate disaster. The critique of these systematic forces of oppression is some of the most important and relevant work that artists can do today.

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