The Amazon rainforest was ablaze last year as artist Mark Amerika and curator Jessica Kooiman Parker began to conceptualize a new media exhibition for the Dairy Arts Center. In fact, the whole world seemed to be on fire, with the impeachment inquiry reaching Planck temperature, the U.K. smoldering under the heat of Brexit, and the U.S. wilting in the hellfire of the highest rate of income inequality ever recorded in the country.
Reality looked harsh, too sharp, like the glare of fluorescent light on cheap laminate flooring.
“We’re looking at a pretty challenging environment right now, literally and figuratively,” Amerika says. “Politically we’re in a crisis mode, environmentally, economically we’re in a crisis mode. The concept of reality, truth, fact, fiction, how these things are manipulated, how just the nature of reality is being manipulated before our very eyes and really challenging us.
“It’s brutal reality.”
Brutal Realities became the name of the exhibition, opening on Jan. 17 at the Dairy. With Kooiman Parker scheduled to take maternity leave late in the year, she tapped her former collaborator and fellow artist Drew Austin to co-helm curation. Together, Austin and Amerika curated the work of a dozen artists creating in varied media — video, sound, animation, photography, performance and digital manipulation — to share their vision of the turbulent cultural and political world in which we live.
Of course it’s digital technology that has set the world on fire: digital disinformation campaigns wreaking havoc on democracy, cyber behemoths like Facebook making data-sharing deals with other cyber behemoths, social media diluting and warping our notions of what’s normal or beautiful or attainable.
Still, the manipulation of data is nothing new; in a post-internet world it just dons more convincing disguises.
In a meta move, the art in Brutal Realities is created through data manipulation — whether that’s by layering and distorting images, or by intentionally breaking algorithms, or by remixing gifs and memes. Sometimes the work is dark — like the mixed media photographic works by Regan Rosburg and Natascha Seideneck that speak to the destruction of the natural world — and sometimes it’s playful — like the video works of Laura Hyunjhee Kim, who satirizes online platforms by reworking gifs and tweets into actual laugh-out-loud music videos and commercials.
“As artists, we can go dark,” Amerika says. “Or we can go satirical, we can go abstract and we can go humorous and really challenge the perception of reality or push back against the brutal realities and get folks to rethink it, to see it differently.”
Dominican-born, Colorado-raised artist Annette Isham challenges perceptions of reality by creating worlds that don’t obey the laws of space and time. In her series “Unfolding,” Isham explores how she, as a woman of mixed race, fits into the American West — land that was forcefully appropriated and settled by white men. By bending and folding photographs of Western landscapes, Isham creates a kaleidoscopic version of the West, using what’s already there to create something new.
Chicago-based artist Jon J. Satrom similarly bends reality, but in a virtual way. Satrom’s video work is more like performance art, exploring common computer failures: the unstable and confusing “glitch,” the time before the computer goes black or blue… or off.
“Maybe that’s one romantic way of looking at the glitch,” Satrom says in a video about his work on his website, “which is that you’re trying to inhabit this cliff that you don’t want to fall off of but you might be able to peer over and see some interesting secrets.”
Indeed all of the work in Brutal Realities stands at the precipice looking out and down, searching for answers in a world where reality feels subjective. It acknowledges that digital technology is here to stay; our imperative is to keep asking ourselves how it can best serve us, and what we can learn about ourselves as we push deeper and deeper into the information age and beyond.
The opening reception for Brutal Realities is free and begins at 5 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 17. Co-curator Mark Amerika promises an “experimental, noisy, avant garde, live audio visual performance” from five of the artists with work in the exhibition.
ON THE BILL: ‘Brutal Realities,’ featuring work by Annette Isham, Michael Theodore, Regan Rosburg, Natascha Seideneck, Déesse, Jon J. Satrom, Laura Hyunjhee Kim, Melanie Clemmons, Ryan Wurst, Rick Silva, Nicholas O’Brien and Mariana Pereira Vieira. Dairy Arts Center, 2590 Walnut St., Boulder. Jan. 17-Feb. 23. Opening reception 5 p.m. Jan. 17.