The title Apocalyptic Screensavers is a playful riff on the famous phrase coined by critic Harold Rosenberg in his 1952 essay “The American Action Painters”, in which he used the derisive epithet “apocalyptic wallpaper” to describe works which were so abstract as to become purely decorative... and therefore meaningless. Indeed, the term “wallpaper” has long served as a put-down when directed at works of art, and is but one front on the long-standing debate between art and design over issues like craft, ornamentation, and high-brow vs. low-brow — but these tensions now serve as vital points of inspiration and productive argument for many artists working today. In particular, artists engaged in the field of media and digital art grapple with this tension even more deeply, perhaps, as the productions of daily life become ever more reliant upon design and driven by technology. The phenomena of the desktop computer ‘screensaver’ — a kind of algorithmic wallpaper for digital screens, a function once purposeful but now obsolete — is used in this context to embrace the allure of the decorative, the unabashed joy of the painterly process, and the phantasmagorical and hypnotic sensory atmospheres of the screen-based environments which we now inhabit.
Like the Action Painters, the artists in this exhibition find unique ways to work within the distinctive, formal and often chance-driven properties of their medium: the video signal, the special effect, the motion graphic, the flow of electronic information. Like a screensaver, the works churn away with no beginning or end, resisting cinematic tropes of narrative time and space, of visual relationships to reality. Autonomously generating their own power, they produce their own forms and meanings — an after effect without a before. But, beyond the mere ornamental surface affects being deployed, the viewer is granted a glimpse into the computational energies that allow us to visualize the rhythms and deep patterns of nature and biology and consciousness; to touch upon the synaesthesic ‘visual music’ of Kandinsky, the spiritual procession of the “world of forms” as Mondrian described, or the purely chromatic “formulas for all the whirling forces” that so compelled Paul Klee.
Or perhaps, more humbly, screensavers simply allow us a small glimpse into the slumbering inner life of the inanimate objects and machines which now act as our constant servants and companions and portals to the world-at-large — hinting at the possibility of artificial intelligence, of the animistic natures and personalities we imagine the appliances and totems in our lives to possess.