Inclusion as a Starting Point: Refiguring The Future

REFRESH breaks down systemic cultural and economic oppression and offers validation, visibility, and new approaches to sustainable artistic practice. Refiguring the Future, our inaugural exhibition, will demonstrate a politically engaged and inclusive vision of what art, science and technology means, bringing special attention to populations that have been historically marginalized including women, trans and cisgender, people of color, LGBTQ+ and disabled artists from around the globe. REFRESH, in collaboration with Eyebeam will include community-based and site-specific projects, a gallery exhibition, and a host of public programming, bringing together a constellation of venues and organizations across New York City in Refiguring The Future which opens in early 2019.

A History of Invisibility

“Do women have to be naked to get into the Met Museum?” The Guerilla Girls asked this question in 1989 but the answer has changed little in the intervening years. A painstaking review of the statistics in 2016 confirmed that more than 90% of winners of a major festival in the arts self-identified as male, and two out of the 100 top selling artists at auction are women. The difference in price between the most expensive female and male artists is also vast; $44.4 million vs. $179 million. Women have been largely excluded from history, criticism, and curation of major art historical movements, even when they participate in great numbers as in the case of Abstract Expressionism.

The field of art, science and technology hybridize art world politics with those of tech and science culture. A comparatively new field, it has inherited and tended to perpetuate the oppressive structures of both domains. Diverse voices are vital to the field but have often been excluded from large artist residencies and projects. Despite this history, we believe art has a tremendous potential in the current cultural climate to open new trajectories and ethical choices by envisioning different possible futures.

A Platform for Change

Art, science, and technology are key social forces but we have yet to see a major retrospective or exhibition in United States grappling with the politics of this cultural interplay. Taking an explicitly political and socially-engaged focus on this intersection, Refiguring the Future is the first dedicated exhibition of its kind.

As the global present becomes increasingly politicized and polemicized it is more important than ever to challenge our ideas of what’s next: to push and probe, tear apart, and re-envision what the future can and should be from the ground up. By showcasing feminist, queer, de-colonial, disabled and historically marginalized artists Refiguring the Future will offer visions of the future outside and beyond the dominant discourse, where we can find new possibilities of real change.

Artists

in progress

Morehshin Allahyari

Lee Blalock

Zach Blas

Micha Cárdenas + Abraham Avnisan

Shawné Michaelain Holloway

In Her Interior, Virginia Barratt + Francesca da Rimini

Mary Magicc

Lauren McCarthy

Claire Pentecost

Sonya Rapoport

barak adé soleil

Sputniko! and Tomomi Nishizawa

Stephanie Syjuco

Pinar Yoldas

Curatorial Statement


Refiguring the Future


By Heather Dewey-Hagborg and Dorothy R. Santos

Discourses of science fiction, technology, and speculation have historically offered visions of the future that recapitulate dominant culture, projecting images of tomorrow through the existing capitalist, racist, and patriarchal structures of today. Interested in rupturing these systems, Refiguring the Future is inspired by artist Morehshin Allahyari’s use of “refiguring” as a feminist, decolonial, and activist practice. In this exhibition, we seek to “refigure the future”: to push, probe, tear apart, and re-envision what the future can be. Looking beyond the status quo, we sought out feminist, queer, decolonial, anti-racist, and anti-ableist artists concerned with our technological and political moment. Informed by the punk ethos of DIY, the artists in Refiguring the Future deeply mine the historical and cultural roots of our current moment, pull apart the artifice of contemporary technology, and sift through the pieces to forge new visions of what is possible. Working across an array of mediums and approaches—from analog books to augmented reality (AR)—these artists address and examine a tumultuous present in order to produce a more inclusive future. Artist Zach Blas points out that “like capitalism, the internet has come to exist as a totality, with no outside, no alternative, no ending.” Refiguring the Future begins by acknowledging that our current techno-political position is one of learned helplessness. This technological and political condition feels impossible to overcome; this position of powerlessness is perpetuated by the structural dominance of white, heteronormative, patriarchal perspectives. Refiguring the Future aims to offer new ideas to break out of the seemingly inescapable. Blas’s video Contra-Internet Inversion Practice #3: Modeling Paranodal Space explodes the network graph that commonly depicts the web, suggesting how other modes of interaction and connection are both possible and necessary. Morehshin Allahyari’s work critiques digital colonialism, pulling elements from Iranian mythology to craft a new feminism through “practices of magic and poetic-speculative storytelling.” Using tools of digital scanning and fabrication, Allahyari fashions new bodies and narratives inspired by ancient mythological figures. In Her Interior (comprised of Virginia Barratt and Francesca da Ramini) works with constraint-based methodologies to create open systems of production aiming to decolonize authorship and prioritize more holistic ways of “doing-with-others.” Data visualization is an important point of departure for Refiguring the Future, both as an artistic practice and as a way of seeing like the machine. To understand the social impact of contemporary algorithmic structures, we must first understand how data is represented and analyzed. Works by Sonya Rapoport—a groundbreaker of new media work whose experiments with gathering, processing, and representing data began in the 1970s—are the oldest in the exhibition. Her Biorhythm works (1980-84) translate data Rapoport collected on her physical and emotional states into both plotter-based graphs and visual icons. Meanwhile, Stephanie Syjuco frames a continuity between the historic medium of film and the contemporary medium of code by remaking the Miles Brothers’s 1906 short film A Trip Down Market Street through a digital composite of images as seen via Google Earth Vision. Lauren McCarthy’s work similarly invites the viewer to critically engage with technologies that have become commonplace and to question how they are impacting our humanity. Her new work, SOMEONE, examines home automation such as Amazon’s Alexa, and how the intimate surveillance this service entails stems from a desire to be seen and cared for. By placing us in the position of the algorithmic agent, McCarthy invites us to understand automation from the inside out. In most technological discourse, the body is missing—either accidentally, as an insignificant detail, or intentionally, as a shell to be surpassed. Refiguring the Future positions the diversity of bodies as indispensable and explicitly engages the messiness and hackability of the body as an essential substrate of culture. Barak adé Soleil’s work centers disabled bodies by sharing his experience of navigating physical disability, staging performative interventions that bring visibility both to his own body and to the built environment. Mary Maggic imagines a future in which open-source hormones can be synthesized in the safety and comfort of a home kitchen, while Pinar Yoldas’s sculptural works probe the scientific and ethical limits of human genetic modification and reproductive technology. Sputniko! and Tomomi Nishizawa’s photographs depict a fictional university in which female medical students engineer “perfect male doctors”—parodying the overt sexism of higher education in Japan. Lee Blalock’s installation transforms the function of breathing into a performative, sculptural, and meditative act in order to question the dichotomy between technology and nature—demonstrating a form of personal and perhaps transcendental technological practice. Inspired by Donna Haraway’s writing in The Companion Species Manifesto: Dogs, People, and Significant Otherness, shawné michaelain holloway presents a score for BDSM acts, requiring the viewer to kneel in submission in order to engage with the work. To refigure the future requires acknowledging our existence in an, unsustainable present. In Claire and Martha Pentecost‘s young adult novel, a 15-year-old activist urges her community to acknowledge the devastation already caused by climate change in coastal South Carolina. micha cárdenas and Abraham Avnisan use augmented reality to allow gallery visitors to see from the perspective of a transgender Latinx artificial intelligence character as they navigate a landscape transformed by climate change. Together, these artists provide a starting point for conversation and future-making. They offer a view of both the present and the future that is not ordinarily visible—one that is inclusive, diverse, and filled with a multitude of bodies and vantage points. Their views are neither utopic nor dystopic, but rather engaged with the complexities of lived experience. With this, we begin to move beyond a discourse of despair and inevitability, beyond a discussion of the end of history or the end of novelty. Refiguring the Future aims to inspire new avenues for thought and encourage the collective construction of new paths forward, ones that are inclusive, forward-thinking, and unexpected.

Exhibition and Conference

Exhibition: February 8, 2019—March 31, 2019 205 Hudson Gallery, Hunter College Art Galleries New York, NY 10013
opening February 8, 6-8pm

Conference: February 9-10, 2019 February 9th, 2018 10am – 6pm Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College 695 Park Ave, New York, NY 10065

February 10th, 2018 12pm – 6pm Knockdown Center 52-19 Flushing Ave, Maspeth, NY 11378

BUY CONFERENCE TICKETS


REFRESH has partnered with Eyebeam to bring an exciting initiative Refiguring The Future to New York City in early 2019 at Hunter College Art Galleries. The collaboration will include three main pillars of engagement: our two-year curatorial fellow: Lola Martinez, an exhibition, and three day symposium featuring a constellation of performances, workshops, and public talks. Eyebeam and REFRESH will also be creating an online platform for newly commissioned texts and a community portal to invite online conversation, as well as a tool kit for other organizations who would like to adapt Refiguring the Future model for their local communities.

Learn more:

Read about #KissMyArs, the social media campaign
that preceded REFRESH, on The Guardian

Big thank you to Pilar Gomez Ruiz, Carlie Zhang, Kar Rosen, and Dorothy Lam for web design.