"Ghosts" of Past, Present and Future: Examining the Complicated Relationship of Humans and Technology at the New Museum
Hans Haacke, Blue Sail, 1964–65. Blue chiffon, oscillating fan, fishing weights, and thread, 134 x 126 in (340.4 x 320 cm).
(© Hans Haacke/2012 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York)
The exhibition "Ghosts in the Machine" at the New Museum is not a pretty sight. Then again, pleasing the eye was never the goal in a theme that has preoccupied artists for generations: as technology continues to impact our lives in countless new ways, so art responds somehow to this evolving relationship." Ghosts in the Machine” reflects this broad and inherently historical thread by presenting a mass of works in a self-proclaimed encyclopaedic Wunderkammer, running through over a century of this conflict of modernity.
The exhibition delves into this history through both textual narrative and the reconstruction of several pieces of artwork, largely from the mid-20th century, interspersed with both 19th-century and contemporary pieces. Art and non-art appears side by side, just as it occurred in its time.
"Historical reconstruction is an important part of the way we approached the show," says curator Gary Carrion-Murayari. "We were interested in looking at specific moments when these ideas were explored elegantly and profoundly," using previous landmark exhibitions as points of reference. At the same time, the exhibition also looks to "minor" figures and extends into areas beyond art to produce a veritably contemporary assessment of the human-machine relationship. This includes less- explored movements such as Op Art and Kinetic Art. "It is important to give them critical assessment and see them as serious [artists] rather than producers of patterns for fashion," he says.
The exhibition also physically sets the artists into a larger discourse taking place on the three floors of the museum, reaching back to artists who exemplify the full spectrum of responses to technology from the “almost delirium” of the 1950s as seen in Richard Hamilton's reconstructed "Man, Machine and Motion" (1955) to its Enlarge image Stan VanDerBeek, Movie-Drome, 1963–66/2012. Dimensions variable. (© Estate of Peter Moore/VAGA, NYC. Courtesy the Estate of Stan VanDerBeek) "more sinister aspects” in the decades that followed. They are in dialogue with art created for the exhibition, as well as recent pieces such as Henrik Olesen's "Scenes from the Life of Alan Turing" by (2008), the man widely known as father of the computer, who also suffered from his own darker desires to be more machine-like in order to cope with the "treatment" of his stigmatized homosexuality.
The mid-20th century, and in particular, the 1960s form the "heart" of the exhibition and "reverberate outwards in both directions," says Carrion-Murayari. "The story is very different than it was in 1968," he says, referring to the MoMA's "Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age," which nevertheless forms a pillar in the exhibition's construction. Similarly, Harald Szemann and his 1975 "Bachelor Machines" plays the role of theoretical anchor in the exhibition, his inspiration of eroticized technology derived from Michel Duchamp's watershed "Large Glass;" the same copy of" Large Glass" that hung in Szemann's exhibition is found here.
At the same time, it is not only the reconstruction of elements, but the inspiration of form that guides the exhibition as well. The way Szeeman "brought together disparate materials you wouldn't expect to see in same exhibition," such as artists and writers, even reproductions, influenced the layout of these works in the exhibition, says Carrion-Murayari.
Enlarge image Emery Blagdon, The Healing Machine, ca. 1955–86. Wire, tin foil, mixed media, 82 x 38 x 38 in (208.3 x 96.5 x 96.5 cm). (© John Michael Kohler Arts Center Collection) Many of these pieces illuminate the greater context of the human-machine interplay and its ramifications, illustrating the nexus of art and industry as well as a starkly psychological aspect. Some of the oldest pieces on display are drawings from as early as the beginning of the 19th century of schizophrenia patients who suffered from delusions of being controlled by machines or of being machines themselves. "The anxiety around machines and the desire for machines to accomplish something in relation to our bodies is a contemporary issue," says Carrion-Murayari. "It's always there; the technology and metaphors used to discuss it just change."
Carrion-Murayari hopes that the viewer will abandon passivity and engage in the challenge of "Ghosts in the Machine. "[These works] were meant to affect your perception and immerse you in something that was somehow outside your everyday experience," he says. "Many of these were lost, the experience was lost, and that was a new experience at the time."