If you can make it past the stairs of the Walker Art Center without getting a traumatic flashback to Winter Ball, you’ll find “The Body Electric,” a refreshing new exhibit focused on the human relationship with digital technology. In Macalester’s spirit of internationalism, the curators brought together a multitude of intergenerational artists from around the world to comment on one concept: identity in a virtual age. Each work combines different forms of media in incredibly creative ways, forming a shocking experience that raises a plethora of questions.
As the viewer moves from room to room, the exhibit calls on them to question how class, gender and race function within the digital world we now live in. The pieces themselves are abstract and may be difficult to fully understand, but I found the thematic introductions in each room and accompanying descriptions of the art helpful. Curators Pavel Pyś and Jadine Collingwood introduce the exhibit by writing, “In the first decades of the 21st century, we constantly shift between the physical world and digital realms that are accessed through technology. As a result, seemingly once-stable divisions—between the real and the virtual, the body and the machine—are being eroded.” The artists explore mediums such as life-like avatars, cryptic videos on an old school TV and repurposed snapshots of social media posts. One is a computerized projection of a rabbit that “challenges our perception of the virtual and the real.”
The third room, completely dark, is dedicated to one of the most avant-garde pieces of art I have ever encountered: Trisha Baga’s “Mollusca & The Pelvic Floor.” Using 2-D and 3-D video, Baga created a fully immersive projection supplemented with objects and sound. Inspiration for the piece comes from “Baga’s increasingly intimate relationship with her Amazon virtual assistant Alexa, which she renamed Mollusca. Drawing on popular science fiction books and films, Baga narrates a blurry metamorphosis and cyborg-like intermingling between herself and the technology,” according to the piece’s description. Manipulating and embellishing images out of her life — her studio, Sicilian caves and inside her computer, to name a few — Baga has constructed a film that “narrates a blurry metamorphosis and cyborg-like intermingling between herself and the technology.”
Stepping out of the darkness and into the next room, you’ll run into a new theme: sexuality. Sandro Botticelli’s iconic painting “The Birth of Venus” (1486) is projected onto a blank wall. Although the image of Venus is unchanged, the medium in which she is presented changes the way the viewer perceives her femininity. The artist, Ulrike Rosenbach, comments that “the meaning of the picture has changed… it has become a cliché for the erotic adaptation of women to the sexual needs of a male world.” The piece fits perfectly into current discussions happening on our campus and within society, commenting on gender though an artistic medium.
“The Body Electric” is thought-provoking and definitely worth seeing for yourself. The experience will make you question not only how social media is a projection of self, but how technology is taking on a shared identity with us. Even though the entire exhibit takes up only a few rooms, I ended up accidentally spending several hours there just trying to figure it out. Admittance to the Walker is $10 for students and free on Thursday nights. “The Body Electric” will be on display through July 20. It’s time to make some memories at the Walker that you’ll actually remember.