Turning the Viral Tempest ~ opening September 3rd

Joseph Nechvatal

Turning the Viral Tempest 

(Tournant de la tempête virale)

Galerie Richard

74, rue de Turenne 75003 Paris

September 3rd – October 22nd, 2022

Orlando Manifestation in Bifurcated Transference (2022) 96x96cm

“An invisible circulating virus has humbled our powers of perception. Its human-to-human transmission essentially steers culture towards a heightened sense of connectivity, delicacy and vulnerability.”  – Joseph Nechvatal

In the first gallery of the Turning the Viral Tempest exhibition, four 2022 Orlando Manifesting paintings are hung; one on each wall. This hanging suggests a turning circular dynamic within the room that parallels the physical turning of my The Viral Tempest double LP record when being played. The Viral Tempest record has recently been released by Pentiments

I also connect this circular turning dynamic to my memory of seeing Quad, a 1981 television play by Samuel Beckett where four hunched hooded asexual figures in robes turn around and around a stage in set patterns. 

The second gallery of the Turning the Viral Tempest exhibition is hung with a straight line of smaller canvases from my 2020 Galerie Richard show Orlando et la tempête. Taken together, the Turning the Viral Tempest exhibition indirectly addresses issues of gender plasticity within our tempestuous viral and social-political times by imagining nonexistent mythic scenes from the flippant 1928 novel Orlando by Virginia Woolf (the story of an aristocratic young male poet who transforms into a woman overnight and lives for 300 years).

Turning the Viral Tempest treats the fantastical and voluble story of Woolf’s Orlando with corresponding puckish flippancy. But this playful flippancy is achieved by what I think of as the responsibility of long looking—a shift into a non-binary visual noise field where viewers can re-appropriate their capacity to visualize on a personal basis.

Storms have no gender and mean full-blow fluidity. In Turning the Viral Tempestmy ambiguous Orlando avatar (a regenerated Lazarus) is embedded into just such noisy chaotic grounds to the extent that normal figure/ground relationships more-or-less merge, playing elusively with what is seen, what is suggested, what is repressed, and what is desired. The starring pansexual Orlando avatar plays hide-and-seek with the tempestuous, viral-whipped, environment, that, in the end, is meant to suggests carnal mystic queries.

Long term influences on my pangender interests have been key works of Marcel Duchamp and Genesis Breyer P-Orridge’s term (from the mid-80s) panthropology: a transhumanist multi-spectrum poly-androgynous concept that transcends gender labels. In 2000 I exhibited Computer Virus Project II artworks (with artist’s statements) investigating virtual hermaphrodite complexity in my ec-satyricOn 2000 exhibition, and again in my 2002 show vOluptuary: an algorithic hermaphornology. I have continued to use viral, androgynous, and trans-forms in my work, since. Indeed, in 2018, I penned a pansexual art theory paper entitled Before and Beyond the Bachelor Machine that was published in Arts.

As meticulously articulated in my book Immersion Into NoiseTurning the Viral Tempest utilizes aesthetic visual noise that puts representation and abstraction into interactive play by flipping the common figure/ground emphasis (to some extent) so that the eye must navigate and unpack the phantasmagorical pandemonium presented. This entails an intimate act of seeing and imaging on the part of the viewer, which the paintings’ rather modest size encourages. As such, Turning the Viral Tempest dips under the surface of the turbulently shredding atmospherics of today to convey and encourage intimate and fluid visualizations that resist conventional social constraints. 

Gender here is viewed as an act of becoming that fails to sustain sex oppression by ceasing to draw the boundaries of the Other. As such it is a provocation not only to male/female constructions of heterosexuality, but also to homosexual constructions of identity. This critique of ‘representation’ in the aesthetic sense is part of a critique of ‘representation’ in the political sense (and vice versa). 

The paintings in the Turning the Viral Tempest exhibition are created with custom C++ artificial-life software modeled as a virus (made in collaboration with the French programmer Stéphane Sikora) and archival inkjet painted on Hahnemühle Daguerre canvas. The black node graph panels in some of the small diptychs and triptychs were made in a manner similar to Markov chains, tracking the word virus in William S. Burroughs 1970 essay The Electronic Revolution. In that essay, Burroughs draws attention to the subversive influence of the word virus on humans and the dangers of using the human voice as a weapon. A script was written to analyze the text, where, for every transition from the word virus to another word virus, a link was drawn between the nodes corresponding to that recurring word. Then Graphviz, an open source graph visualization software, was used to generate the graph, which I then aesthetically treated.

open cover of The Viral Tempest LP released by Pentiments
Sashaying Orlando on the Moonlight Mile (2018) 30x60cm diptych

More images of the paintings in the show can be found on my website here: https://www.eyewithwings.net/nechvatal/TurningVT/TurningtheViralTempest.html

About josephnechvatal

Joseph Nechvatal is an American post-conceptual artist who creates virus-modeled artificial life computer-assisted paintings and animations. Themes he has addressed in his art include the apocalyptic, communication excess, the virus, and gender fluidity. In 1975, he moved from Chicago to the downtown Tribeca area of New York City. He began studying at Columbia University with the philosopher Arthur Danto while working for the Dia Art Foundation as archivist to the minimalist composer La Monte Young. In 1980, he moved from Tribeca to the sordid Lower East Side where he found artistic camaraderie and politically inspired creative energy. There he became closely associated with Collaborative Projects (Colab), the influential post-punk artists’ group that included Kiki Smith and Jenny Holzer, among others. Those were glory days for the famous Colab projects, such as Just Another Asshole, The Real Estate Show and The Times Square Show. He also helped establish the non-profit cultural space ABC No Rio, where exhibitions were animated by political purpose. In the early 1980s, his art consisted of dense post-minimalist gray graphite drawings (that were sometimes photo-mechanically enlarged), of sculpture, of photographs, and of musique concrète audio collages. In 1983, he co-founded the famous avant-garde art music project Tellus Audio Cassette Magazine. In 1984, he created an opera called XS: The Opera Opus (1984-6) with the no wave musical composer Rhys Chatham that was presented in Boston and New York. In 1986, Nechvatal began using computer-robotics to make conceptual paintings. Some were exhibited at Documenta VIII in 1987. In 1992, when he was artist-in-residence at the Louis Pasteur Atelier in Arbois and at the Saline royale d’Arc-et-Senans, he created computer virus codes that he used as an artistic tool. This work was a reflection on his personal experiences of risk and loss with the AIDS epidemic. In 1999, he earned his doctorat in the philosophy of aesthetics and technology in England and soon wrote two art theory books: Towards an Immersive Intelligence and Immersion Into Noise. In 2001, he extended his initial experimentations into the virus as an artistic painterly tool in a series of artificial life works. These works include various series of paintings, animations, and a lengthy audio composition entitled viral symphOny. He has created a series of virus-based themed exhibitions of artificial life paintings and animation projections that explore the fragility and fluidity of the human body. You can follow him on Twitter at @twinkletwink Homepage: http://www.nechvatal.net
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