First impressions from the Pace Social Media opening weren’t so hot. Where exactly was the internet in this show? Seeing as how I visited in a throng of a few hundred people, I can only talk about the few individual works I saw, not the exhibition as a whole. As such, I’ll be writing a full review next week, with a note or two on the one piece that I managed to see clearly: Aram Bartholl’s “Are You Human?” [pictured above].
Drawn from “captchas”, the randomly-generated warped letters and numbers that spam machines can’t read, Bartholl built and wall-mounted metal versions, presenting them primarily as aesthetized objects in Pace Gallery. “It looks like something you would see on Etsy, only they would be in wood”, a friend casually observed at the opening last night. Neither of us were very interested in the series.
When I returned home, I searched Etsy for “captcha” and was disappointed that only a cat comic strip with the same name were brought back in search results. The turnout from Google wasn’t much better, though it did bring up Bartholl’s scrappy captcha’s on walls filled with unintelligible graffiti in what appeared to be a lower-class neighborhood. These, to my mind, were a little more compelling. In the latter case, the medium is probably less important than a context in which one form of tagging is juxtaposed with another; the signature of the street artist, coupled with that of the new media artist.
For a while I thought that there might be some social commentary being made given the poor neighborhood, though the more I thought about it the less that made sense. Bartholl’s tag is simply the visual face of program designed to sort the value of messages according to their source. I’d be surprised if the artist was trying to draw robots vs humans, privilege vs under-privilege comparisons, since they obviously don’t correlate.
Perhaps though, the commentary lies simply in the question, “Are you Human?”. I’d like to think, for instance, that there’s some criticality involved in naming a piece thusly while it sits inside Pace, one of Chelsea’s coldest corporate spaces. Still, I’m not thrilled with the results. Like most media art, I respond better to work that responds to the functionality of the medium in some way. This doesn’t.