In an era of Bluetooth-enabled butt plugs, when the life-saving potential of VR comes second to the porn industry’s quick cum, is there any chance for technology to deepen our emotional interconnectivity or create new types of interspecies intimacy? What about toppling human-centric narratives of the Anthropocene, or dismantling the patriarchal purviews of capitalism under which digital dating apps have flourished?
Future Love. Desire and Kinship in Hypernature, on show at the Haus der elekronischen Künste (HeK) in Basel from 18 January to 15 April 2018, teases out these questions with a roster of 14 international artists. Their multimedia practices dovetail though a shared interest in the aesthetics, ethics, and social life of digital technology, but that’s where the common ground ends. Avoiding binaries or absolutes, Future Love provocatively keeps its own opinions up in the air. As a result, the standard voids between utopia and dystopia, nature and culture, the familial and the amorous become blurred – and irrelevant. “There is no personal bias in the show,” says Boris Magrini, HeK’s Curator. “We were more interested in presenting the whole spectrum of our tech-enabled future visions.”
What might that future look like? From sex robots to queer hacktivism, it’s a world where hardcore science and forensics meets an odd mix of dystopian cynicism – and hope. Pinar Yoldas’s Designer babies (2013) submerged in tanks of milk open up the show with two juxtaposing ideas of posthuman proliferation. Leaning over the ambient algorithmic fetuses, Magrini senses my bemusement mixed with horror. “If you can imagine a future completely framed by genetic manipulation and desire, this is probably it,” he suggests. The ambivalence of utopic idealism and creeping dystopia at the heart of the sculpture’s fantasy of a perfect human race, mediating its own ideological rift with sensory stimulation, is a perfectly unsettling anchor through which to view the rest of Future Love.
From personalized 3D printed dildos and edible anuses to send to your partner (or enemy?) and custom VR avatars (including the iPhone X’s self-emojification), there’s a growing market already catering to the human desire to view and consume one's own sexuality through alternative media. Dmitry Morozov’s Black Box (2018) and Una Szeemann’s Composition of a Counterpart (2018) tap into the tenderness and vulnerability to be found amid the rampant commercialization of our sexuality. A lesson in artifice and fantasy that encapsulates her online dating experience, Szeemann’s glimmering 3D printed sculptures look like hand-carved porcelain or marble from afar but reveal their robotic fabrication up close. It’s a bonus that the shapes came from fun with clay while Szeemann put herself under hypnosis. This altered-conscious consideration of modern-day romance in the era of the dating app begs the question: How many Tinder dates have you actually shown up to sober?
Morozov’s jittery robot in bondage is an empathetic creature hard at work translating his home sex tape to an ultra low-res rendering of four by four pixels. The video plays out through a retro light-up grid while the machine’s roaming antennae, rubber-bound and wriggling with glee, receive muscle movement data Morozov collected from his legs and chest during the act. Occasionally, a spout of water erupts from the robot’s core in delight. “I can’t imagine sex without fluids,” Morosov explains amid a particularly energetic burst.
“I’m the lube of this show,” Joey Holder greets me with a sticky handshake. Her militant mural The Evolution of the Spermalege (2018) swerves and spills around the show, and its content – rich in CGI detail and blinged-out digi-tech aesthetics mined from all corners of the Internet – is no less bold. Taking its inspiration from the violent sexual mating of bed bugs, wherein the male will “pretty much stick it anywhere,” says Holder, her expansive installation explores the strategic evolution of the softer female organ, the spermalege, to mitigate this brutal effect of traumatic insemination. Even with its dark reflection on the capitalistic violence of industrial production upon our fetishes and fantasies, Holder’s architectural invasion isn’t without its silver lining. Celebrating new morphologies and bio-tech’s blurring of human sexuality, she says: “Nature is always queer, right?”
The mural of micro-penises skirt around Tabita Rezaire’s Ultra Wet – Recapitulation (2018), a pyramid to pop-culture that blends the artist’s signature femi-posi approach to cybersexuality with sci-fi aesthetics. Intended as a healing artefact, Rezaire creates shamanistic strategies of digital connectivity that merge with traditional, pre-colonial African wisdom and Egyptian iconography. As Rezaire’s projection dances around the pyramid and her laptop floats in twinkling cosmological landscapes, the post-apocalyptic afterparty begins to look pretty fun after all.
Future Love then takes to the bedroom, wringing out the cult of domesticity with artists including Olga Fedorova, !Mediengruppe Bitnik, and Ed Forneiles. Within Fedorova’s hypersexual lenticulars, stone-cold nude women perform elaborate exercise rituals inside bizarre domestic spaces. Bathed in an overhead fluorescent blue light, the shiny modernist interiors are increasingly unsettling, drawing an immediate parallel with Silicon Valley’s techno-dystopian designer offices where time stops and computers never switch off. !Mediengruppe Bitnik’s fuchsia-washed posse of screens seem to poke fun at the gender binary while playing host to the site-specific Ashley Madison Angels At Work in Basel (2018).
The exhibition has a hardcore finish, thanks to artists like Mary Maggic and Špela Petrič, whose provocative works offer strategies of transhuman hacktivism and queering hormonal manipulation underneath our current system of patriarchial capitalism. Open Source Estrogen: Housewives Making Drugs (2017) by the LA-born Maggic speaks to a particularly precarious moment in US biopolitics, with Trump’s continued efforts to further restrict the accessibility of hormone therapy to trans individuals alongside the longstanding Western tradition of disciplining intersex individuals at birth through hormone replacement therapies. Taking the garish aesthetics and embedded gender politics of cooking shows as her point of departure, Maggic creates a fictional DIY Estrogen extraction video-guide that masks its civil disobedience through the girly excess of TV kitsch. Employing a similar strategy of hormone extraction, Petric’s Ectogenesis: Plant-Human Monsters (2016) flips the human-centric essence of genetic modification on its head. Petrič feeds plants hormones isolated from her own urine in a process-oriented installation that offers an alternative understanding of nature and humanity’s hybrid state.
Equal parts critical and imaginative, sensory and analytical, Future Love offers a rich dreamscape of our tech-enabled near-now. Painting a conflicted portrait of the ultimate effect of these burgeoning bio-technologies on our human and trans-species relationships, intimacy, and sexuality, the political potential of love – with its overlaid and nebulous definition that pushes past distinctions of gender and species – gives a powerful energy to the exhibition. Its ambivalence teases and provokes in all the right ways; like any good foreplay, the multi-sensory stimulation lets us come to our own conclusions on our own accord.