ATT/ention, at Dashboard Co-op’s North Avenue gallery through December 3, presents art that provokes attentive contemplation even as it claims to deal with how digital media make us inattentive.
The gallery is almost empty. Of the five pieces commissioned for the exhibition, one hangs outside over the door, where it is easily mistaken for part of the ambient noise of North Avenue. Fahamu Pecou’s All That Glitters Ain’t Goals consists of a hip-hop soundtrack playing from a glittery golden speaker, and its largely indecipherable content comes closest to creating the condition of casual inattention that the exhibition seems to promise. The title, of course, implies the artist’s larger social agenda, but it takes a visit to the Dashboard website to learn the point of the soundtrack, drowned out by the competing street noise.
Takuro Masuda’s Happiness Spectrum is a piece of old-school technology designed to slow viewers down for a long, significant moment. A board with a seemingly random pattern of colored bulbs on it, it invites viewers to choose a bulb from a box of them neatly sorted into red, blue, and yellow, and to place their light wherever it seems to add the greatest harmony to the pattern already emerging. This requires a moment of focus and decision, even if the decision comes at Zen speed.
Darcy Mae’s 608.518.8566, seen on a small screen, is a video of a young woman putting in her contact lenses, checking her appearance and generally behaving as though she were facing a one-way mirror. Viewers who text to that number will see their text appear on the iPad’s screen for a few seconds, just as it would on any linked digital device, though there is no such indication by the piece.
They will also see texts by others who send them to that number. However, since there’s no way to foresee when a text may come, viewers may be in for a long wait. The waiting itself can produce the same state of irresistibly hypnotic fascination that viewers’ own phones and tablets already do.
Even if a random text were to appear, viewers might assume it was part of the looped video — a curious reversal of this young Wisconsin artist’s previous work in which she posed motionless, using FaceTime in a piece designed to make viewers assume they were seeing a prerecorded video rather than live (in)action.
At the far end of the gallery, Courtney McClellan’s Novel consists mostly of a chair and a desk with one of its legs propped up by copies of Madame Bovary and a few other works of fiction. On the desk sits a laptop open to McClellan’s emails to the imaginary characters in the novels she has been reading. This activity permits her, she writes in her artist’s statement, to test the claim that reading fiction increases empathy and also to explore “the thin digital barrier between fantasy and reality.” Her emails are another form of the fan fiction that has evolved on the Internet, where readers and viewers imagine further chapters or alternate endings for their favorite tales.
McClellan writes emails to television characters as well as literary ones, but two classic examples will give you the idea: one to Capt.Ahab@pequod.con [sic] says only “Adventure?” while one addressed to MmeBovary.Emma@gmail.com is a link to what McClellan claims is a relevant BuzzFeed “quiz for you!”
The only other work in the show is the small room housing Dave Greber’s Stasseo: Rise from Your Grave, a bizarre combination of tavern and cathedral that extends Greber’s mash-up of pop culture icons and religious iconography (his concurrent show at Arthur Roger Gallery in New Orleans features video-based 7000-Day Candles). This projection is something like a mandala-cum-rose-window-as-beer-sign, with the artist’s head and shoulders in the center next to a rotating can of beer.
A shelf containing actual cans of the same beer is attached to the wall in the dimly lit viewing space, allowing transgressive souls to “have a beer with Dave” and contemplative ones to ponder the resemblance of the shelf to a rack of unlit votive candles.
Greber has described his work as a quest for “a mystic search for oneness” between his childhood Quaker faith and the culture of contemporary commercialism. Given the Buddhist flavor of Masuda’s installation, the querying of the nature of reality in McClellan’s, and the unprepossessing character of Pecou’s and Mae’s, ATT/ention’s intended commentary on the distractions of our digital world may instead be one of the most spiritually challenging antidotes to them we are likely to find this autumn.
If that seems entirely too heavy, feel free to contemplate the only partly tongue-in-cheek Little Chapel that is now a semipermanent feature of the adjacent Dashboard gallery: weddings performed by ordained clergy on minimal notice, 24/7. Other galleries rent out their spaces for weddings; Dashboard provides the wedding itself in an artist-designed homage to Las Vegas.