Turning the Viral Tempest
(Tournant de la tempête virale)
74, rue de Turenne 75003 Paris
September 3rd – October 22nd, 2022
“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 Tempest, my 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 Noise, Turning 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.
More images of the paintings in the show can be found on my website here: https://www.eyewithwings.net/nechvatal/TurningVT/TurningtheViralTempest.html