Something has really changed. It’s unclear when it happened exactly, but we've definitely crossed a precipice — a technological precipice. Where previously our adoption of digital technology still felt like a novelty, today we are fully, profoundly immersed. It has seeped into virtually every facet of our lives, altering us so profoundly that at times we hardly even take notice.
This is the jumping off point for “Surround Audience”, the New Museum’s 2015 Triennial, which opens next week on the Bowery. While 2012’s “Younger Than Jesus” was a full-scale immersion in the generation known as “Millennials,” this year's show is all about the times in which we live.
In keeping with the mission of showcasing "early-career artists whose work is shaping the discourse of contemporary art," “Surround Audience” was curated by Lauren Cornell, who cut her teeth with the digital arts organization Rhizome, along with Millennial artist poster child Ryan Trecartin. Gathering over fifty artists from all over the world, the show is less fixated on virtual reality (though there is some of that), and more on the way technology has transformed our bodies, our psychology, and our social interactions. In the other words, the artists are as immersed in this stuff as the rest of us.
Standard Culture got an inside view of the show from the curator herself, Lauren Cornell.
STANDARD CULTURE: How was curating this Triennial different from "Younger Than Jesus?"
LAUREN CORNELL: For the upcoming Triennial, we don’t have an age cut-off and I traveled to over twenty-five countries, over multiple years, doing studio visits. Ryan Trecartin met with many artists, as well, but mostly in the U.S. We also had a longer lead time, and so we were able to commission many new works for the show. The commissioning process is very intense: it involves working really closely with artists over a long period of time. This process is special because it allows you to take risks collaboratively with the artists.
The theme of this show — the social and psychological effects of technology—is massive. How did you wrap your mind and your arms around it?
The exhibition really focuses on how these effects are felt in our bodies and in our conception of community and identity. So, these large themes are grounded by questions of embodiment and persona. These are dauntingly large questions, as you say, but dauntingly large is often the only way to wrap together such diverse artists in a project that attempts to resonate with complex and unanswered questions of our time.
Trecartin, Cornell, and unidentified friends
One of the symptoms of our current obsession with technology is the need for constant “newness.” How did you avoid this trap in curating the show?
As a curator, you need to evaluate an artwork’s claims to originality within a larger arc of art history. We did try to find work that we felt was making original, bold and timely statements and, yet, we also did not fetishize innovative new gadgets or embrace trends uncritically. That said, we do have a newly commissioned piece in the exhibition by Daniel Steegmann Mangrane that visitors will experience through Oculus Rift.
What are your feelings about social media — Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc? Do you love these platforms, hate them, use them to your own ends?
As a curator who ran the digital art organization Rhizome for many years, I think about how these platforms affect art and culture, and I watch how artists use them. In terms of personal feelings: I’m introverted online. It’s just not my nature to share details of my life or selfies of myself at art events. But I do watch others do it! I’m a news junkie, so I’m constantly listening to podcasts and scrolling headlines on Twitter. Instagram has been fully absorbed by the art world — that’s a bigger conversation.
Why is it not a conflict of interest to have an artist (Ryan Trecartin) co-curate this exhibition?
This was a real labor of love for Ryan, and he’s not profiting off the exhibition – trust me. When I asked Ryan to co-curate the show with me, he agreed, I think partly because his astrologer had told him that he’d be a producer in 2015. He wanted to act on that impulse: to support the creation of other artists’ works. That’s what he did for this show, and it won’t feature any of his work.
DIS, co-designed by Mike Meiré: Study for "The Island" (2015)
Triennials can be overwhelming viewing experiences. What would you say is the ideal way to absorb/navigate the show?
Often people ask: where does the show begin? But shows aren’t linear like books. They need to be organized so they can be entered from multiple paths and viewpoints. Thinking through all those paths (and sightlines) is part of the job. This exhibition has quite a lot of events accompanying it – performance, dance, comedy, poetry, and talks. I think it's wonderful when you get repeat visitors to a show, and so I hope people will come back after seeing the main show to engage in other elements of it. Aesthetically/formally, are there any recurrent motifs that you noticed running through the work? I think the anxiety around embodiment and feelings of fluidity of self unfold in works that confine — cages, quarantines, luxury kitchens — and works that are exuberant and surreal, with psychedelic painted heads bleeding into the environments around them, as in Sascha Braunig’s paintings.
Any funny/telling stories organizing the exhibition?
Something I love about my co-curator Ryan [Trecartin] is that his forward-thinking ideas are sometimes literally beyond language. As we were working on the press release, which mentions Casey Jane Ellison’s online TV show “Touching the Art,” I got a text from him asking me if I could think of another word for “Television.” It’s a good question! TV as we’ve known it has radically changed, but, as far as I know, there isn’t one discrete term that sums it up just yet and I certainly wasn’t going to crack it under a deadline.
Frank Benson, "Juliana" (2015)
What are your guilty pleasures online?
Anything comedy-related. One of my favorite moments in my career was when Amy Poehler performed at the New Museum, in a night I organized with another amazing comedian, Chelsea Peretti. She pretended to be a curator whose exhibitions could only be seen under the chairs in the café. She also claimed to have invented “moogling” (mind-googling) and found the website that tells you the day that you die but conveniently forgot how to return to it. Centuries-long existential questions compressed into one-liners. Amazing.
“Surround Audience” is on view Feb. 25th – May 24th, 2015.