OVERLORDS BY TOM ESTES at Interlife Crisis
It’s hard to remember a world without the internet. In its current pernicious state of velocity combined with a fathomless audience, the internet has become a dizzying source of daily information. According to a recent survey, we now spend almost half our waking hours either online, on the phone, or watching television. The flow of information has continued unabated and transmission of images has accelerated to become a source of daily reality for most users of technology. Younger people have shown the biggest changes in how we use media. But the divide between younger and older people's use of technology is starting to narrow.
The definition of 'reality' is one of the big questions for our time. For artist Tom Estes fantasy and illusion are not contradictions of reality, but instead an integral part of our everyday lives. In his practice, Estes approaches the theme of 'reality' by engaging with the variety and fidelity of sensory information found on the internet. Estes strives, not to break down this introverted, often self-imposed hall of mirrors; instead his theatrical interpretation looks at how dataflow from the virtual realm impacts on the significance and symbolism of real-world human senses. At the core of Estes' work is an attention to the paradox of using intervention and history as meta-narrative devices. Estes originally conceived 'Overlords' as a video installation comprised of images of ‘Time Travel’ projected on to a book called ‘Local History and Antiquities’. The work was deliberately left incomplete. The display of the digital image- as the only reminder of the artist’s original intention- points backwards to interrogate the capacity of the viewer to recognize the gesture of 'inertia' as ironic. Because irony always implies a ‘double audience’ – there are those who accept the gesture at face value and those who realize the gesture is simulated intentionally.
So how much of reality is fictional and how does fiction express reality? Estes has begun to generate unexpected questions about how art might be able to inscribe itself on the surface of reality; Not to represent itself on the surface of reality, not to represent reality, nor to duplicate it- but to replace it. The work 'Overlords' recalls the little known ‘Conquest of Ubiquity’, by Paul Valery which makes prognostications that works of art are designed with their reproducibility in mind. It is therefore neither uniqueness, nor specificity, but the potential for ‘ubiquity’ that yields the value of work made for new media. By intentionally leaving the project unrealised, Estes’ closed circuit of illusion mimics and merges with the mass media desire for immediate novelty. In the work, Estes anticipates the online reduction of his installation to a single image. By creating an art-world-as-fiction, the work raises the question of whether this project should be understood as an online representation – using fictional space to comment on the ‘real’ world - or as intervention- actually reordering the real world.
Throughout human history the most powerful groups in society have used images to institutionalize their power and to shape social memory. Today's increasingly homogenized 'market' implies the inability of the consumer to acknowledge life experiences that are different from their own. An image today needs a compelling and persuasively clear message that the target audience can understand immediately. An act of 'Passive Resistance' can end up lost to viewers who conceive of others experiences as substantially analogous to their own. Screwing with reality then seems to be a logical next step in a world ridden by exploitation and exclusion. This may seen reactionary and counter productive, but in doing so Estes questions the position of art as a potentially critical gesture – and in turn creates a potential for criticism back onto the art world itself- an issue he has attempted to play out in a number of recent projects. But by disrupting the conventional barriers between artist, audience and art institution, Estes' act of subterfuge has begun to generate unexpected questions about the flickering, fading definition of 'reality' in the PR driven world we inhabit. The distinction between representation and intervention reveals the problem of presenting to an ‘art audience’, and comes back to the intriguing and troublesome question of what happens when ‘we’ see ourselves seeing something from the vantage point of a particular cultural position, such as that of contemporary art.
The global world of the 21st century is increasingly complex, hard-hearted and cynical. While there was a time when we thought of photographs as recorders of reality, we now know they help to shape and invent reality. E-mails, mobile phones, search engines and even navigation systems propel images towards us throughout our daily waking hours in a way that is both ‘real’ and utterly superficial. Prior to this plethora of images, the decision-making time span was attached to a photographs presentation or recording capacity. No longer are we dependent on secondary sources such as the photographic laboratory or other specific technologies for their retention, development or processing. Images are produced in one instant and disseminated within the next giving the illusion of a certain cultural freedom. And yet Lens-based technology is routinely subscribed to without a second thought to the point of being all-pervasive. At one stage or another, whether in shooting, developing, editing or placement, pictures are manipulated, which means that we are manipulated.
'Overlords' by Tom Esteswas shown at SALON NEU at The Embassy Gallery in Edinburgh in January 2012. The work also recieved an Honorable Mention- as part of The Boston Online Biennial- and was shown during The Biennial Project's VIP Opening Reception for the opening week of the 54th Venice Biennale. Overlords was also part of The Agency of Unrealized Projects at the Kopfbau in Art Basel. The Agency of Unrealized Projects (AUP) was devised by Julieta Aranda, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Julia Peyton-Jones and Anton Vidokle and was organized as a join effort between e-flux and The Serpentine Gallery.
Interlife Crisis closing reception at FICTILIS - Friday April 27th 6-9pm.