Jon Rafman and Mark Soo
Wil Aballe Art Projects
March 31 – April 29, 2016
Sex and death: these are the currencies of the dark web, a mysterious domain for all things nefarious. The indecency of humanity that the ego labours to keep at bay runs freely within its nebulous walls. The dark net dungeon sits somewhere separate from the domain of the publicly accessible internet, apart from conventional indexing systems that make content findable on the regular internet (known to dark net users as the clearnet). This is the realm in which Mark Soo and Jon Rafman play, displacing content from the online world into Wil Aballe Art Projects in Vancouver for the exhibition You Can See The Weakness Of A Man Right Through His Iris.
Jon Rafman’s video, Mainsqueeze (2014) runs on a numbing loop. Its clips are culled from an endless archive of web-based material, woven together to make a stream of dystopian human experiences. Taking structural and aesthetic cues from Tumblr, Mainsqueeze mines the bizarre digital detritus that overwhelms the internet and re-presents selected pieces into an overwhelming anti-narrative. The disparate imagery, sprawling and disturbing in equal measure, includes a sea of blurred pool-goers listlessly bobbing among simulated waves; a woman crushing a crayfish with her basketball shoe; and a mosh pit populated by young white women with dreadlocks. These scenes – initially repulsive, through repetition become morbidly pleasing. As a portrait of the hapless world technology has created, Mainsqueeze leaves little room for optimism. The subjects and original video-makers who have contributed (unknowingly) to Mainsqueeze remain anonymous. Their identities immaterializing like all things that circulate in the digital realm – the same realm in which ethics and authorship have migrated to the margins. Their behaviour is shameless, in a way that is specific to the culture cultivated by the web.
Mark Soo places the abject in the analogue realm with his 2015 photogram series, which shares its name with the exhibition. Ghostly traces of possibly used condoms are transformed into objects of utilitarian beauty. Soo’s centralization of human refuse is an act intensified and enabled online—a domain which fetishizes the personal in the most public of realms, combining an impulse to show with an impulse to look. The latex contraceptives are ambivalently displayed and can not be traced back to any specific user.
In Koons On Ice (2015) Soo explores the arousing intersections of voyeurism and exhibitionism, the perverse and the mundane. This video piece executes a digital reworking of Jeff Koons’ series Made In Heaven (1989), which famously presented the artist and his future (now ex) wife, the Italian porn star Ilona Staller, known as Cicciolina, in an impressive array of lustful positions. Uniting sexual and technological fantasies, Soo’s 3D rendering of one of Koons’s sculptures introduces new possibilities in the realm of post-digital pornography. Soo has transplanted his metallic-looking model into the material world (but only virtually) by combining real footage of the German neighbourhood where he works with the digital material that composes his sculpture. In so doing, the artist seamlessly creates a perceptual impossibility. He further produces a cinematic illusion by presenting his virtual world with conventional camera-based action – close-ups, blurring, a shifting depth of field. This uncanny visual scenario is compounded by his expert deployment of refraction—reflections of the sculpture’s false surroundings multiply—articulating Soo’s interest in the technical intricacies of optics. Hues of purple and pink and flashes of chrome nipples conjure an image of a techno-futurist carnality. Whereas Koons’s series was considered a work at the height of postmodernism, Soo’s adaptation is firmly placed within the domain of the post-internet, where questions of appropriation, high and low culture, and authorship are flattened and mocked.
In this exhibition, both artists ambivalently re-present fetishistic human behaviour, leaving the viewer to examine their place within this economy of image ubiquity. Rafman’s accumulation of videos made by other people and Soo’s reworking of Koons’s sculpture centralizes the question of authorship and subjectivity in the digital age, locating these positions in a constant state of slippage. Relying on material whose origins remain elsewhere, these works are not about the subjects that they represent but the very conditions that make them representable. It is with an alluring nihilism that these works are achieved, bringing imagery that hides in the deep net to the surface and placing the viewer somewhere in Rafman’s wave pool – faceless, depraved, and endlessly circulating.
Shauna Jean Doherty holds an MFA in Art Criticism and Curatorial Practice from the Ontario College of Art and Design, Toronto, and a Bachelor of Arts in Semiotic Theory from the University of Toronto. With a foundation in the science of signs and an ongoing interest in the social history of technology, these themes recur in both her curatorial projects and writing practice. She has curated experimental video screenings and new media art exhibitions independently across Canada, in Toronto, Calgary, Halifax, and Vancouver. She has also written exhibition reviews and essays with a focus on works that navigate the threshold between analogue and digital domains.