by Zoe Theodore
“Our machines are disturbingly lively, and we ourselves frighteningly inert.”[i]– Donna Haraway, A Cyborg Manifesto
Donna Harraway first published “A Cyborg Manifesto” in 1984, within which she warns society against the blind acceptance of the “scary new networks” that appear to adopt the language of domination. Haraway’s musings anticipate the advent of the Internet, which was made publically available in 1991. Despite these warnings, today, the Internet has been willingly accepted as a democratic tool that has enabled individual liberation from institutional control – enabling minorities to exist amongst the patriarchal corporations that increasingly control our world.
Dalton Stewart’s mixed media installation Periphery recalls Haraway’s forewarning and actively challenges the perceived societal agreement with these totalizing structures of the digital age. His practice is acutely influenced by the notion of “progress” and how society engages with the urban landscape through the virtual screen space of everyday technology. Stewart is deeply interested in how contemporary society not only participates, but willing submits, to invasive technology that appears to be shaping our relationship to the world and others within it.
Periphery was the first exhibition of the 2015 ACCA Startups program. Stewart was the youngest artist within this year’s Startups program and Periphery marks the artist’s first solo exhibition. Stewart, who originally practiced as a painter, is a multi media artist that explores the status of image making amid contemporary Internet culture. Painting, however, traces a direct lineage throughout his work as he adopts painterly gestures within a digital media framework to explore challenges contemporary machines impose upon artists.
The installation included a clear piece of Perspex that was hung from the ceiling of the container, dividing the space into two. Vaseline was painted gesturally to the top half of the material to distort the apparent transparency of the material. A small space was left around the edges of the Perspex to enable visitors to move freely around the room and gaze through the smeared screen. The Perspex became an analogy or simulation to a mobile interface – the screen that consumes contemporary modern experience and embodies the boundary between our physical virtual realities.
The installation also includes another image that is hung on the back wall of the space and is seen by looking through the Perspex screen. This artwork combines varying disciplines that continue Stewart’s investigation into the relationship between painting and digital technology. The canvas is constructed from 64 inkjet print transfer panels that make one complete image that is cut and stretched like a traditional painting. The original image was a photograph taken from a smartphone that has been subject to two stages of distortion. Firstly, Vaseline was placed over the camera lens to create an abstracted image that the artist likened to the blurring effect that digital screens create while an image is loading. Next, Stewart broke the image down into A4 pages or pixels that make up the image as a whole. This grid like system works as an allegory to entropic conditions of contemporary virtual life; where there is an inevitable degree of chaos and fragmentation.
Similar to the 1830s when conventional forms of distance and space were altered by the invention of the steamboat and railways, the Internet has heralded the death of geography, time and communication as we once knew it. Within, Periphery, Stewart considers the potential for network technology to annihilate contemporary society and questions the perceived notion that digital technology is a tool that aids liberation and democracy.
Zoe Theodore is an emerging writer, producer and curator. She is ACCA’s intern on the Startups project.
All photographs by Laura Owsianka
[i] Donna Haraway, “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist Feminism n the Late Twentieth Century,” in Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (New York; Routledge, 1991), pp. 152.