In connection with the 2010 01SJ Biennial, the San Jose Museum of Art will present an exhibition that grapples with the technological cult of the new and questions the notion of obsolescence. Retro-Tech willfeature recent work by an international array of artists, including Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla (Puerto Rico), Katya Bonnenfant (Lyon, France), Tim Hawkinson (Los Angeles), Aleksandra Mir (Palermo, Italy), Camille Scherrer (La Tour-de-Peilz, Switzerland), Madeln (Xu Zhen) (Shanghai), and Ricardo Miranda Zúñiga (New York) as well as new commissions by San Francisco-based Rebar (Blaine Merker, John Bela, and Matthew Passmore) and Scott Kildall and Victoria Scott (also of San Francisco). Under the thematic umbrella of the 2010 01SJ Biennial, “Build Your Own World,” the artists in Retro-Tech re-purpose and reinterpret technologies of the past and often draw on craft and folk traditions. Retro-Tech explores the tension between primitive and advanced technologies and encourages a longer historical perspective on the 21st-century love of the latest and greatest technology.
Several of the artists in Retro-Tech look to traditional handcraft and folk art from diverse cultures, then add new technologies to the mix to comment on contemporary life. For example, the collaborative team of Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla (based in Puerto Rico) use the tulum, an ancient musical instrument found in the Kackar Mountains of Turkey, in their film There is More Than One Way to Skin a Sheep (2007). In it, a tulum player re-purposes his instrument to inflate a flat bicycle tire on a busy Istanbul street. In Vagamundo: A Migrant’s Tale (2002), Ricardo Miranda Zúñiga explores the plight of undocumented workers in New York through a 1980s-style video game housed inside an ice cream cart, hand built in the style of paleteros (Latino ice-cream vendors). French artist Katya Bonnenfant houses new technology in outdated cases, as if the old were inhabited by the new. For example, her “Vintage Packaging for Animation” (2009) is a series of small animations enshrined in vintage calculators and clocks.
Tim Hawkinson also reuses found materials in Aerial Mobile (1998), in which he meticulously intertwines television antennae with string and rope to construct a towering work resembling a ship-in-a bottle. Hawkinson explores vestiges of defunct technology: 19th-century ocean exploration vessels and 20th-century communication devices.
The duo of Scott Kildall and Victoria Scott (based in San Francisco) are represented by more than 20 small sculptures from their series “No Matter“ (2008), for which they built paper versions of mythical and imaginary objects created in the online virtual community Second Life. In addition, Kildall and Scott will construct a large Trojan Horse, based on one of the diminutive “imaginary” works from No Matter. Gift Horse will be constructed during a series of public workshops in the San Jose Convention Center’s South Hall, site of the 2010 01 SJ Biennial’s exhibition Out of the Garage Into the World. Participants are invited to make small paper sculptures that will fill the body of the horse, which will later be “smuggled” ceremoniously from the South Hall into the Museum to become a populist part of Retro-Tech.
In her series of collages “On the Moon” (2009), Aleksandra Mir juxtaposes religious icons like saints and angels with images of space travel. Camille Scherrer creates a magical world in Le Monde des Montagnes (2008). As the viewer turns the pages of an ordinary book, playful projected animations appear.
SJMA has commissioned Rebar to create a new public project for Retro-Tech. Rebar is an interdisciplinary design studio based in San Francisco, whose principle members are Blaine Merker, John Bela, and Matthew Passmore. For Farmcycle (2010), Rebar uses a common mechanical technology for storing kinetic energy, the flywheel, and basic bicycle parts to create this prototype of a pedal-powered alternative to the fossil-fuel driven tractor.
In connection with both the Biennial and the year-long Shanghai Celebration in San Francisco, SJMA will also present Shanghai-based artist Madeln (Xu Zhen)’s work, 8848-1.86 (2005). For this work, the artist supposedly climbed Mount Everest and cut 1.86 meters (his own height) from the top of the peak. The mockumentary, which was actually filmed on the roof of the ShangART gallery, challenges viewers to question accepted truths.
Camille Scherrer’s work appears with the support of swissnex San Francisco and the Swiss Arts Council, Pro Helvetia