Within the first few minutes of David Cronenberg’s 1999 movie eXistenZ, video game designer Allegra Geller is referred to as both “goddess” and “demoness.” The polarizing reaction to Geller’s games sets the stakes for the ensuing narrative—one in which “realists” fight against gamers, who, according to the realists, “deform” reality. Indeed, in immersive games like eXistenZ, players are never sure if they are themselves or their characters. Buried under several layers of “reality,” everyone in the film ends up with a multitude of identities; Allegra is goddess and demoness at once.
Although the muted, sterile objects in Andrea Crespo’s polymorphoses do not resemble the veiny, grotesque game pods in eXistenZ, Crespo asks Cronenberg-ian questions: must we establish a single identity when it is so easy, because of video game and internet avatars, to assume multiple? How can we feel secure, if at all, while navigating alternate “realities”? In polymorphoses, as in eXistenZ, beings and their projections are constantly splitting and re-joining, doubling and reducing, disappearing and reappearing. Are such dimensional shifts necessarily negative, or can a confusion of identities open up new (inter)personal possibilities?
Installation view of polymorphoses, 2015. Photo: Fran Parente. Courtesy of the artist and Hester, New York
Crespo addresses these themes most saliently in parabiosis: neurolibinal induction complex, the exhibition’s sole video piece. Evocative words and Game Boy images appear on a black screen. A glowing bar wipes them away, or perhaps copies them, acting as a Xerox machine. The devices we use—scanners, Game Boys, and their contemporary counterparts—play both goddess (creator) and demoness (destroyer) every day. Throughout polymorphoses, then, Crespo navigates the boundaries between these two roles in a post-eXistenZ, post-internet, cultural climate: one a bit more comfortable with hybridity.
In plurisim (incubator), one of five “data security boxes” hanging on Hester’s back wall, Crespo interrogates our digital relationships. Nintendo Game Link cables connect on one end (not unlike the umbilical cord cables and bio-ports in eXistenZ), their other ends growing outwards. In conventional use, the cables allow Game Boy players to “interact” across platforms. Even though the cables are secured within a box, they suggest a possible union between human avatars. Is this—multiplayer gaming—a “real” connection? In eXistenZ, the answer is no; no relationship is firm, or even physically safe. In polymorphoses, however, even with glimpses of techno-exclusivity (i.e., objects locked in data security boxes), it seems as though Crespo wants to unlock some sort of personal “reality” and potential for “real” connectivity.
(left) plurisim (incubator), 2015, Data security box, UV print on acrylic glass, poly mesh, Nintendo Game Link Cables, sprites by rockiecuff.deviantart.com
(right) somatospasm (disinterface), 2015, Data security box, inkjet print on paper, UV print on acrylic glass
Photos: Fran Parente. Courtesy of the artist and Hester, New York.
The printed surface of another box, somatospasm (disinterface), affirms Crespo’s grasp for the personal—anthropomorphically, with hands clutching the box, and aesthetically, with the images’ hand-drawn look. Despite being mass-produced objects, the boxes’ function is private: for security, safekeeping. By using small, portable hardware that is industrially fabricated but for individual use, Crespo renders potentially alienating processes of production and replication single. The mobile scanners that hang two of the prints, then, illustrate our ability to take replication literally into our own hands. When we scan, we create. Are we “goddess,” or do our relationships with these devices “deform” reality, regardless of the resultant creations?
Since before eXistenZ, people have been wary of the dissociating effects of video games. Countless studies have questioned whether gamers bring on-screen violence to the “real” world. Although Cronenberg’s moral position remains unclear, eXistenZ ultimately presents something negative: a violent dystopia. Crespo addresses this paranoia explicitly in the 2014 series Complex Cases, which questions the motives and psychoses (often linked to video games) of notable young male killers like Adam Lanza and Elliot Rodger. And in polymorphoses the artist elaborates; interactive exhibition centerpiece polymist: echolalic transponder specifically fights perceived dissociating effects while being, in some ways, a game itself.
Andrea Crespo, polymist: echolalic transponder, 2015, EMDR light bar kit, stereo mixer, media player, 9m12s digital audio file, foam tiles, 30 x 49 x 49 inches. Photo: Fran Parente. Courtesy of the artist and Hester, New York
To view the work you sit on a mat, wearing headphones and watching moving lights—much like the experience of playing a video game. But the EMDR light bar Crespo uses is borrowed from PTSD therapy; as such, the “game” cures the negative mental consequences of violence and gaming (PTSD or, for instance, Dissociative Identity Disorder). Simultaneously cause and cure, polymist evades definition (its subtitle is, more or less, “meaningless communication device”). Meaning is scattered like, well, mist, or the bar’s photons splashing from left to right and back again. We are there all the while, though, participating in the creation and destruction of our psyches.
Crespo’s pieces ultimately outline the ways in which technologies both distinguish and form—not “deform”—our realities. The objects in polymorphoses point to reproduction (scanners), even intercourse (inserted cables); they also suggest memories (PTSD) and dreams (the transient dotted images in parabiosis). They receive abstruse names like echolalic transponder or teratosyzygy—but like PTSD or DID, these jargon-y words have simple implications: we are hybrid beings feeling for our roots.
View the polymorphose press release video by Andrea Crespo here.
(Image at top: Installation view of polymorphoses, 2015. Photo: Fran Parente. Courtesy of the artist and Hester, New York)