Memory comes to live through action in the present. We give life to memory through the present but when we do not give life to memory, it fades away. —J. Krishnamurti
This exhibition at Sprüth Magers, Los Angeles, introduces films and animations by Jon Rafman and Stan VanDerBeek, two artists from different generations, both exploring and working with associative imagery and their effect on the conditioned and the subconscious mind. Derived from the notion of screens and projections, their installations evolve around an immersive cinema and animation experience. The exhibition entails a multi-screen space by VanDerBeek that juxtaposes and conflates animated collages and projections from the late 1950s to 1968, and Rafman’s environments that recall virtual reality worlds and video games. The work of both artists together presents an enigmatic, surreal view of the world.
Projections loom around us as virtual simulations on screens across our everyday life; equally, they appear within us, as memory in our minds and feelings in our bodies. Manuel De Landa states on the condition of simulation that, “We need to acknowledge that we have built these layers of virtuality and that they are real, they are real virtual.” The exhibition raises questions regarding how simulated worlds change our behavior and our relationships to others and ourselves. What do we feel, here and now, in the very presence of our body, if artificial worlds enter deep into our emotions, suggesting to us what we should feel and what we should like in an unconscious, timeless present? Rafman and VanDerBeek’s installations are a reflection of the increasing omnipresence of digital information and the effects of frequent screen-exposure, at a time when animation and artificial worlds have entered deeply into our identities and our understanding of life.
Multimedia artist Jon Rafman, born more than fifty years after VanDerBeek, draws inspiration from online and video game culture, as well as from the legacy of modernism and the alienating effects associated with subcultures found deep within the Internet (the Darknet). Drawn to the implications of technology on our social and subjective conditions, Rafman mines video game reality, dark internet memes and virtual landscapes for images, text and found footage, which he collages together to produce poetic narrative films and animations. His work is a manifestation of today’s cultural period that is fueled by an ambivalence associated with technology’s seemingly infinite potential, which Rafman presents without judgment. Instead, he layers his works with nostalgic references to fantastic, romantic and Modernist literature, the history of photography, cinema, painting and classical mythology, validating our present zeitgeist through dominant tropes of the past.
In Open Heart Warrior (2016), lush virtual landscapes blend with bleak, violent imagery as a voice-over narrative moves through guided meditations and expressions of pervasive imaginations of hope and despair. For Rafman, quests for a secure identity within states of alienation are not only a solipsistic end game, but also a vehicle for personal self-discovery. The exhibition also includes Rafman’s latest Virtual Reality piece, Transdimensional Serpent (2016), a four-minute Oculus Rift experience placing viewers in a world of high imagination: they encounter a supernatural environment where an array of fantastic beings populates strange fields, warm deserts, and cold forests.
Rafman’s newest film, Poor Magic (2017), premieres here and is based on 3D crowd simulations and facial texture maps. It examines both the beautiful and irritating ways simulations currently inform and reflect our contemporary understanding of the individual and the collective. Visually compelling, ambiguous and frequently unsettling, Rafman’s media-based works are often presented amidst immersive and highly tactile sculptural installations that reference spaces of play and contemplation. They recall a decaying and petrified post-apocalyptic environment and encourage the viewer to physically enter into psychological conditions of the subconscious mind.
Stan VanDerBeek’s early compositions as an experimental filmmaker recall the spirit of the innovative Black Mountain College and Surrealist and Dadaist collages, yet with a wild, rough informality more akin to the expressionism of the 1960s Beat Generation. His visionary approach to art making was not only radical in his time, but is also increasingly reflective of a contemporary discourse around the integration of media, technology and everyday life. He engaged prolifically with everyone he encountered, including figures from the 1960s American avant-garde such as Buckminster Fuller, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Claes Oldenburg and Allan Kaprow; an international experimental film community; scientists and students; and even people watching television in their living room.
Like Rafman, VanDerBeek worked across many media and completed hundreds of animated short films and videos featuring his signature techniques of collage, drawing, text, found footage, computer graphics, live action, color and sound. He used these films alongside other projected and live performances in multi-screen moving-image environments, such as his celebrated Movie-Drome (1965), using random sequences and continuities so that no two performances were alike. Shot on 16mm, his multi-screen installation in this exhibition contains three earlier films— Astral Man (1959); Fluids (1964); and Oh! (1968)—and combines animated paintings and collage films into an organically developing form. In this and other works, VanDerBeek infiltrated the civic space of his time with profound combinations of imagery in hopes of disrupting passive media consumption.
Jon Rafman (b. 1981, Montreal) lives and works in Montreal and New York. Recent solo exhibitions include Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam (2016); Westfälischer Kunstverein, Munster (2016); Museum of Contemporary Art, Montreal (2015), and The Zabludowicz Collection, London (2015). His work has been featured in numerous international group exhibitions, including Berlin Biennial 9 and Manifesta 11 (both 2016), The Future of Memory, Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna (2015), Speculations on Anonymous Materials, Fridericianum, Kassel, Germany (2015), and the 2015 Biennale de Lyon and 2015 Moscow Biennial. In 2017, Rafman will have a solo exhibition at Centre for Contemporary Art, Tel Aviv, and numerous group exhibitions, including at MAXXI, the National Museum of 21st Century Arts, Rome.
Stan VanDerBeek (b. 1927, New York, NY, d. 1984, Columbia, MD) studied art at Black Mountain College, Asheville, NC (1949-1951) and Cooper Union, New York (1952). His work has been featured in numerous exhibitions and film festivals internationally. Recent exhibitions include Dreamlands: Immersive Cinema and Art, 1905-2016, Whitney Museum of American Art, New York (2016); Leap Before You Look: Black Mountain College 1933-1957, ICA Boston, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, and Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, OH (2015-2017); the 2013 Venice Biennale; and Stan VanDerBeek: The Culture Intercom, MIT List Visual Arts Center, Cambridge, MA, and Contemporary Arts Museum Houston (2011). His installation in this exhibition has been realized with the kind support of the Stan VanDerBeek Estate and The Box, Los Angeles.
The Los Angeles gallery is concurrently presenting an exhibition of new paintings by the Los Angeles-based artist and musician Llyn Foulkes.
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Public reception: Thursday, January 19, 2017, 6 – 8pm
Opening hours: Tuesday – Saturday, 10am – 6pm