Ever since the ARPANET, the first workable prototype of the Internet, was invented in the late 1960's (nothing much compared to the high-speed data we’re used to now but impressive nonetheless) we’ve been able to connect to an abstract space that tethers us to the rest of humanity. Whether you’re an enthusiastic technophile or a suspicious observer of the digital world, odds are, if you’re reading this, you’ve connected yourself to the multiplatformed, expansive and, quite frankly, baffling place we call the Internet.
And if that isn’t enough to stimulate some serious philosophical thinking, Sharjah Art Foundation’s newest exhibition is sure to get your brain processing overtime. The collection, aptly titled Art in the Age of Anxiety, brings together a diverse and global group of contemporary artists to explore the ways digital networks, as well as everyday devices and technologies, have altered our shared consciousness.
It highlights the bombardment of information, misinformation, emotion, deception and secrecy that invades online and offline life in the age of digital technology, shining a light on our very real ‘post-digital’ condition.
Senior Curator, Omar Kholeif, diagnoses the root of much recent societal change, “This is an exhibition that grew out of my own anxiety about the future. It completes over a decade’s worth of research exploring how artists explore, deconstruct and materialise the polemical issues raised by our accelerating society.”
It is a curation that interacts with the audience: “There are no easy answers here. Rather, this exhibition posits questions as experiences that physically and viscerally confront the viewer with their very own complicity in our everyday technological society. We look forward to seeing, hearing and feeling how our audiences will respond to the context that we have created with this special exhibition. This is ever more urgent in the wake of a new era that has brought forth new forms of social distancing, which has thickened the context of the digital sphere.”
Art in the Age of Anxiety features numerous leading contemporary practitioners, starting with Trevor Paglen, the artist behind Circles (2015), an epic video installation offering an atmospheric view into the surveillance state, and his renowned series of cloud images, spotlighting the hidden nature of intelligence drones.
Cao Fei presents a selection of works from RMB City (2007-ongoing), a virtual city designed in the online world of Second Life that probes the boundary between real and virtual existence.
Siebren Versteeg’s iconic 2012 work Daily Times (Performer) is reimagined with a giant screen which draws from headlines produced by the UAE-based English language newspaper The National and produces abstract paintings in response to its content.
Other highlights include a musical film by Jenna Sutela which explored consciousness, neural networks and a new Martian language and the first international presentation of Lynn Hershmann Leeson’s Shadow Stalker film which surveys predictive policing, identity theft and the dangers of data mining.
Thought the collection couldn’t get any more mind-boggling? Think again. The exhibition is designed by Todd Reisz as a physical maze of corridors and experiences that will fully immerse you in the imaginary world of ‘the internet’. Art in the Age of Anxiety is also accompanied by a major publication of the same name, containing over 400 pages of original essays, reflections and artistic interventions by some of the leading cultural figures of our time.
Postponed from the original opening date, Art in the Age of Anxiety recently launched on 26 June and is welcoming visitors until 26 September so book your tickets here and get ready for a (literal) deep dive into the internet.
Main photo: Ales Nesetril for Unsplash Installation photos: Danko Stjepanovic ourtesy of Sharjah Art Foundation