Fawn Rogers, I Love You And That Makes Me God (2017). Screen grab. Courtesy the artist.

Fawn Rogers, I Love You And That Makes Me God (2017). Screen grab. Courtesy the artist.

Empathy Through Technology: Re-examining Vulnerability

Young Projects/Los Angeles

The ​ ​provocation​ ​of​ ​vulnerability​ ​has​ ​long​ ​been​ ​a​ ​mainstay​ ​of​ ​impactful​ ​art.​ ​Video​ ​and​ ​film media,​ ​given​ ​their​ ​reliance​ ​on​ ​the​ ​staging​ ​of​ ​exposure​ ​and​ ​emotional​ ​confrontation,​ ​are​ ​no exception.​ ​An​ ​exhibition​ ​at​ ​Young​ ​Projects​ ​in​ ​Los​ ​Angeles​ ​curated​ ​by​ ​NextArt​ ​explores​ ​these very​ ​themes,​ ​looking​ ​at​ ​the​ ​ways​ ​in​ ​which​ ​technology​ ​can​ ​interpolate​ ​human​ ​vulnerability​ ​and probe​ ​the​ ​complex​ ​interstitial​ ​spaces​ ​of​ ​mediated​ ​human​ ​encounters.​ “V​​ulnerability:​ ​The​ ​Space Between”​​ ​features​ ​both​ ​contemporary​ ​and​ ​historical​ ​works​ ​that​ ​paradoxically​ ​re-sensitize​ ​affect through​ ​facsimile,​ ​performance,​ ​surveillance,​ ​virtual​ ​reality,​ ​film,​ ​and​ ​installation.​ ​In​ ​an​ ​era​ ​of increasing​ ​detachment​ ​and​ ​impoverished​ ​cultural​ ​empathy,​ ​the​ ​exhibition​ ​reminds​ ​us​ ​of​ ​the fragility​ ​and​ ​pain​ ​of​ ​the​ ​human​ ​condition​ ​and​ ​the​ ​healing​ ​and​ ​redemptive​ ​potential​ ​of​ ​its acknowledgment.

Kate Hollenbach phonelovesyoutoo 2016 31 days of cellphone recordings Courtesy the artist Empathy Through Technology: Re examining Vulnerability

Kate Hollenbach, phonelovesyoutoo (31 days of cellphone recordings) (2016). Courtesy the artist.

The​ ​exhibition​ ​opens​ ​with​ ​a​ ​series​ ​of​ ​recent​ ​and​ ​historical​ ​performance-based​ ​works​ ​from​ ​the 1970s​ ​on,​ ​including​ ​works​ ​by​ ​Marina​ ​Abramovic,​ ​Bas​ ​Jan​ ​Ader,​ ​Chris​ ​Burden,​ ​Sophie​ ​Calle, Valie​ ​Export,​ ​Regina​ ​José​ ​Galindo,​ ​and​ ​Yoko​ ​Ono,​ ​among​ ​others.​ One of the earliest incarnations of video was as documentation of the more ephemeral medium of performance.​Both​ ​monologic and​ ​interactive​ ​examples​ ​set​ ​the​ ​stage​ ​for​ ​this​ ​exploration​ ​of​ ​corporeal​ ​and​ ​emotional vulnerability.​ ​In​ ​​Blind​ ​Spot​ ​(Punto​ ​Ciego​),​ ​a​ ​performance​ ​piece​ ​by​ ​Galindo​ ​from​ ​2010,​ ​the​ ​artist stands​ ​naked​ ​on​ ​a​ ​pedestal​ ​in​ ​a​ ​gallery​ ​and​ ​allows​ ​blind​ ​tourists,​ ​unprepared​ ​for​ ​the​ ​nature​ ​of their​ ​encounter,​ ​to​ ​touch​ ​and​ ​explore​ ​her​ ​body​ ​unhindered​ ​by​ ​resistance​ ​or​ ​self-protection. This​ ​physical​ ​act​ ​of​ ​touch,​ ​innocent​ ​in​ ​its​ ​unknowingness​ ​and​ ​yet​ ​explicitly​ ​dangerous​ ​in​ ​its lack​ ​of​ ​prophylactic​ ​barrier​ ​speaks​ ​volumes​ ​to​ ​the​ ​simultaneous​ ​freedom​ ​and​ ​bondage​ ​of contact.

Similarly,​ ​the legendary and often imitated performance​ ​by​ ​Yoko​ ​Ono​,​ ​​Cut​ ​Piece​​ ​(1964),​ ​shows​ ​the​ ​artist​ ​sitting​ ​on​ ​a​ ​stage in​ ​”her​ ​best​ ​suit”​ ​with​ ​a​ ​pair​ ​of​ ​scissors​ ​ominously​ ​set​ ​in​ ​front​ ​of​ ​her.​ ​The​ ​audience​ ​is​ ​told​ ​they may​ ​approach​ ​and​ ​cut​ ​a​ ​small​ ​piece​ ​of​ ​the​ ​fabric​ ​clothing​ ​her,​ ​taking​ ​it​ ​with​ ​them.​ ​The imminence​ ​of​ ​potential​ ​danger​ ​is​ ​apparent,​ ​but​ ​the​ ​supremely​ ​vulnerable​ ​act​ ​of​ ​submitting​ ​to the​ ​will​ ​of​ ​the​ ​other​ ​and​ ​trusting​ ​in​ ​their​ ​adherence​ ​to​ ​an​ ​unspoken​ ​social​ ​contract​ ​of​ ​mutual care​ ​is​ ​palpable.

VVVR by Plus Four 2017 Empathy Through Technology: Re examining Vulnerability

VVVR by Plus Four (2017), a Virtual Reality Experience for two people. Courtesy of the artist and Young Projects.

Other​ ​works​ ​in​ ​the​ ​exhibition,​ ​such​ ​as​ ​​Coming​ ​Out​ ​Simulator​​ ​(2014)​ ​by​ ​Nicky​ ​Case,​ ​attempt​ ​to create​ ​a​ ​facsimile​ ​of​ ​self-disclosure​ ​and​ ​confession.​ ​As​ ​a​ ​kind​ ​of​ ​interactive​ ​game,​ ​the​ ​viewer​ ​is given​ ​the​ ​chance​ ​to​ ​navigate​ ​a​ ​moment​ ​in​ ​the​ ​artist’s​ ​personal​ ​history,​ ​simulating​ ​the conversation​ ​in​ ​which​ ​he​ ​comes​ ​out​ ​to​ ​his​ ​mother​ ​as​ ​gay.​ ​This​ ​personal​ ​revelation​ ​captures​ ​a feeling​ ​of​ ​communicative​ ​despair​ ​in​ ​which​ ​self-exposure​ ​becomes​ ​painful​ ​and​ ​negating because​ ​of​ ​the​ ​hurtful​ ​reaction​ ​elicited​ ​by​ ​the​ ​other.

VVVR 017 Plus4 Screen grab YoungProjects web Empathy Through Technology: Re examining Vulnerability

VVVR by Plus Four (2017), a Virtual Reality Experience for two people. Screen grab. Courtesy of the artist and Young Projects.

Another​ ​piece​ ​in​ ​the​ ​show,​ ​​VVVR​ (2017) ​by​ ​Plus​ ​Four​​ ​(Ray​ ​McClure​ ​and​ ​Casey​ ​McGonagle),​ ​offers​ ​a positive​ ​counterpoint​ ​to​ ​communicative​ ​risk,​ ​as​ ​an​ ​interactive​ ​virtual​ ​reality​ ​in​ ​which​ ​two​ ​must participate​ ​and​ ​”connect”​ ​virtually​ ​by​ ​donning​ ​Oculus​ ​headsets​ ​and​ ​finding​ ​common​ ​ground​ ​in an​ ​immaterial​ ​context.​ ​Their​ ​voices​ ​and​ ​emissions​ ​activate​ ​the​ ​exchange​ ​within​ ​a​ ​virtual​ ​void, becoming​ ​ecstatic​ ​visualizations​ ​of​ ​speech​ ​and​ ​sound​ ​within​ ​a​ ​vaguely​ ​utopian,​ ​though tenantless,​ ​space.

If The Walls Had Eyes Luxloop 2014 install Empathy Through Technology: Re examining Vulnerability

Luxloop, If The Walls Had Eyes (2014), an interactive projection, installation view. Courtesy the artists.

Other​ ​works​ ​in​ ​the​ ​exhibition​ ​flirt​ ​with​ ​themes​ ​of​ ​surveillance​ ​and​ ​omniscience​ ​such​ ​as​ I​​f​ ​The Walls​ ​Had​ ​Eyes​​ ​(2014)​ ​by​ ​Luxloop​ ​(Ivaylo​ ​Getov​ ​&​ ​Mandy​ ​Mandelstein),​ ​a​ ​digital​ ​installation​ ​of blinking​ ​human​ ​eyes​ ​that​ ​watch​ ​and​ ​follow​ ​the​ ​movements​ ​of​ ​the​ ​viewer​ ​as​ ​they​ ​move​ ​within the​ ​range​ ​of​ ​their​ ​”gaze,”​ ​and​ ​Lauren​ ​(2016)​ ​by​ ​Lauren​ ​McCarthy​ ​an​ ​”Alexa”​ ​like​ ​device capable​ ​of​ ​human​ ​empathy​ ​who​ ​surveils​ ​the​ ​home​ ​of​ ​participants​ ​while​ ​intuiting​ ​their​ ​needs with​ ​an​ ​anticipatory​ ​thoughtfulness.

Lauren McCarthy Lauren 2017 web grab. Empathy Through Technology: Re examining Vulnerability

Lauren McCarthy, Lauren (2017), web-grab. Performance, interactive website and installation. Courtesy the artist.

Among​ ​the​ ​works​ ​in​ ​the​ ​exhibition,​ ​​I​ ​Love​ ​You​ ​And​ ​That​ ​Makes​ ​Me​ ​God​​ ​(2017)​ ​by​ ​Fawn​ ​Rogers resonates​ ​deeply,​ ​tapping​ ​into​ ​something​ ​darker​ ​and​ ​far​ ​more​ ​unsettling​ ​in​ ​the​ ​vein​ ​of​ ​a confessional.​ ​This​ ​immersive​ ​installation​ ​requires​ ​that​ ​the​ ​viewer​ ​enter​ ​a​ ​secluded,​ ​darkened space​ ​at​ ​the​ ​back​ ​of​ ​the​ ​gallery.​ ​Cornered​ ​by​ ​two​ ​screens​ ​in​ ​which​ ​nearly​ ​60​ ​individuals​ ​are video-taped​ ​repeating​ ​a​ ​phrase​ ​that​ ​simultaneously​ ​feels​ ​like​ ​admission,​ ​threat,​ ​and​ ​mantra, we​ ​are​ ​left​ ​feeling​ ​vulnerable​ ​ourselves,​ ​accosted​ ​at​ ​times,​ ​and​ ​seduced​ ​at​ ​others.​ ​As​ ​each subject​ ​repeats​ ​”I​ ​love​ ​you​ ​and​ ​that​ ​makes​ ​me​ ​god”​ ​with​ ​varying​ ​degrees​ ​of​ ​honesty,​ ​artifice, disingenuousness,​ ​sympathy,​ ​and​ ​even​ ​aggression,​ ​the​ ​full​ ​spectrum​ ​of​ ​human​ ​vulnerability seems​ ​to​ ​unfold​ ​before​ ​our​ ​eyes,​ ​both​ i​n​ ​the​ ​delivery​ ​and​ ​in​ ​our​ ​receipt​ ​of​ ​its​ ​offering.

Touch 2013 Mandy Mandelstein Empathy Through Technology: Re examining Vulnerability

Mandy Mandelstein, Touch (2013), an interactive installation for two people. Courtesy the artist.

True​ ​vulnerability​ ​is​ ​an​ ​admission.​ ​Whether​ ​it​ ​be​ ​the​ ​need​ ​for​ ​love,​ ​the​ ​search​ ​for​ ​meaning,​ ​the acknowledged​ ​imperfection​ ​of​ ​self,​ ​the​ ​persistent​ ​feeling​ ​of​ ​worthlessness,​ ​or​ ​the​ ​fear​ ​of​ ​loss,​ ​it is​ ​all​ ​in​ ​one​ ​way​ ​or​ ​another​ ​dependent​ ​on​ ​the​ ​existence,​ ​recognition,​ ​approval,​ ​or​ ​disavowal​ ​of the​ ​other.​ ​Rogers​ ​captures​ ​the​ ​problematic​ ​coexistence​ ​of​ ​these​ ​impulses​ ​in​ ​her​ ​piece,​ ​not​ ​to mention​ ​the​ ​flawed​ ​social​ ​contract​ ​of​ ​reciprocity​ ​that​ ​is​ ​to​ ​hold​ ​everything​ ​in​ ​place—but often fails​ ​to​ ​protect​ ​or​ ​return.​ ​”I​ ​love​ ​you​ ​and​ ​that​ ​makes​ ​me​ ​god”​—the​ ​phrase​ ​itself​ ​is​ ​repellant​ ​in its​ ​threat​ ​of​ ​subjugation,​ ​but​ ​inexplicably​ ​coercive​ ​in​ ​its​ ​implied​ ​promise​ ​of​ ​affection.

Much​ ​in​ ​the​ ​same​ ​way​ ​that​ ​Abramovic’s​ ​viewers​ ​would​ ​burst​ ​into​ ​tears​ ​when​ ​confronted​ ​with empty​ ​stillness,​ ​so​ ​too​ ​are​ ​Rogers’​ ​viewers​ ​overwhelmed​ ​by​ ​the​ ​rhetorical​ ​offering​ ​of​ ​love​ ​and its​ ​fractious​ ​condition​ ​of​ ​power.​ ​Standing​ ​alone​ ​with​ ​this​ ​loaded​ ​installation,​ ​undeniably​ ​staged to​ ​feel​ ​confrontational​ ​and​ ​imperative,​ ​something​ ​pathological​ ​is​ ​happening​ ​in​ ​our​ ​moment​ ​of repeated​ ​exposure.​ ​Each​ ​subject’s​ ​delivery,​ ​as​ ​captured​ ​by​ ​Rogers,​ ​is​ ​different,​ ​and​ ​thus​ ​each individual’s​ ​experience​ ​of​ ​the​ ​mantra​ ​is​ ​singular,​ ​making​ ​the​ ​potential​ ​for​ ​mixed​ ​meaning​ ​and ambivalent​ ​reception​ ​endless.​ ​Love​ ​and​ ​our​ ​need​ ​for​ ​it​ ​become​ ​something​ ​potentially redemptive,​ ​harmful,​ ​extravagant,​ ​and​ ​conditional,​ ​as​ ​variegated​ ​as​ ​the​ ​word​ ​itself​ ​is​ ​reductive.

“Vulnerability: ​The​ ​Space​ ​in​ ​Between”​​ ​offers​ ​a​ ​disarming​ ​experience​ ​of​ ​admission​ ​and disclosure. Alone​ ​in​ ​the​ ​darkened​ ​gallery​ ​space,​ ​surrounded​ ​by​ ​technologically​ ​mediated​ ​experiences,​ ​we are​ ​brought​ ​strangely​ ​closer​ ​to​ ​an​ ​empathic​ ​encounter​ ​than​ ​were​ ​we​ ​out​ ​in​ the ​realm​ ​of​ ​the​ ​real.

“Vulnerability: ​The​ ​Space​ ​in​ ​Between,” October 5 – December 29, 2017 at ​​Young Projects Gallery, 8687 Melrose Ave. #B230, West Hollywood CA 90069. www.youngprojectsgallery.com