Tuesday, July 13, 2010

REVIEW: Robots and Rayguns at S.P.A.C.E. in Burlington

By Stephen Orloske

The producers of our objects seem bent on reducing every tool to a bare minimum. Apple, the current maestro of such design, lauds the feeling that their computers seem to disappear when in use. Actually delivering such ethereal magic, Microsoft recently unveiled Kinect, which does away with touch all together, now you simply gesture to the air. While this march toward invisibility seems, with its elegance, inevitable, the trouble is that once they reach the point where they become irrefutable with their inventiveness and are always on and always present, then they also always demand our attention. And if they have no body, then how can we grasp the distance which separates human from machine? How does one even acknowledge a ghost?

Perhaps the scary part is how naive those marketing the future seem. Their great promise is a synthesis between human and machine. A synthesis which will herald unimaginable, immediate pleasures and that these pleasures will be like our own, only greater, but they fail to acknowledge the subjectivity of a machine. A machine does not have desire proper where, like humans, an irrational, emotional desire is, hopefully, brought to fruition by our cognitive means, rather a machine programs its desire, it uses cognition to know what it wants. (Take Bina48 as an example. Compiling interviews and factual data, she is ever more becoming an exact digital replica of her original, human Bina. As is her programing, her greatest desire to be more like the real Bina, a position no human can truly have, for we can only fantasize about another and it is our irrational fantasy which we truly desire, while Bina48 actually desires to be Bina. Yet, as we all know, we hardly know ourselves. Our family often draws a better description of us since they can actually watch what we do. Which opens up the horrific scenario that, since Bina48 can know, in fact desires to know, what Bina's parents and lovers know, she becomes more Bina than Bina herself.) The moment people are altered to be subjectively like a robot is the moment we think toward desire rather than desires creating our thinking. And the moment when our self enters the miasma of our tools, the moment the desires we are all familiar with become impossible and the nightmare of droll labor being the only thing we can desire becomes possible.

So go to Robots and Ray Guns at the S.P.A.C.E. Gallery in Burlington and see what other courses technology could take. There are unabashed influences in much of the work, from steampunk to The Jetsons. Robots wink and cringe in proletarian tableaux. Play dolls emanate quasi enlightened splendor from their eyes. But spelling it out further misses the whole point of the show. This isn't art for the hoity-toity, rather it's cheeky fun the whole hoi polloi can enjoy, which is an element missing from the tech savvy world. They forget that humanity is not at its best when interacting with the invisible, it is better when it has something real to grasp. And if more of our tools are becoming autonomous then better they manifest concretely, better we have something to lay hands upon and know who controls what, rather than the accepted norm which is fast reaching the moment where we simply sit warily in a haunting presence.

Robots and Rayguns is up through July 31st. The S.P.A.C.E. Gallery, located at The Soda Plant Building on Pine Street in Burlington (266 Pine Street, Suite 105) is open Thursdays through Saturdays 11-4, though they say they are always around, so you can drop in anytime or call first at (802) 578-2512.