We live in alarmingly lonely times. The modern lifestyle of convenience and the accompanying technological accoutrement effectively do more to separate us than to keep us together. The highly-wired age of "constant contact" has resulted in our present plugged in, face down culture; our fingers touch more keyboards than skin. At the same, making and maintaining connections with no regard for time or space allows for personal relationship to exist where they previously wouldn't have been able to. As we settle out of the newness of technological integration in social interactions, we are left deciphering the repercussions begotten by all this—are we more united or are we forgetting the basics of human exchange in favor of a solitary relationship with our phone or computer screen?
From the get-go, let's not pretend we're turning over new stones here. By now, this information is not revelatory—we know what kind of mess we've potentially gotten into. We spend more time watching digital news feeds of our friends' live than we spend being with our friends. The digital communication boom is the new proliferation of cigarette smoking; by the time the carcinogenic nature of our new favorite habit came to light, we were already addicted.
In Restless Devices at Beep Beep Gallery, Joe Tsambiras and Jason R. Butcher present a view of where we are in our relationships with each other, ourselves and technology...and where we might be leading ourselves if we stay the course.
From the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" file, Tsambiras continues to render his human figures with the same painstaking, gritty detail that goes into actually existing as a human, without forsaking the dreamy, hyperbolized beauty that shouldn't be overlooked, neither in art nor in life; there is reality and then there is impression. Tsambiras habitually considers both, resulting in years of evocative, endearing work. His figures in Restless Devices
don't stray from this MO but the inclusion of super-vivid wires into the drawings put them in a new context—the wires are conduits of color, action and life, but none of the vitality is transferred to the people. Are the cables supplying the characters with the life blood of human connection, or draining it from them?
Jason Butcher's audio and video works take the present set of circumstances set by Tsambiras' drawings and projects the possible implications into the future. If we're allowing our humanity to be drained out of us, how does this affect the greater sensory environment, both internally and externally? Think about the textural difference between sharing a photo collection online and sharing it in an actual photo album—droned out humming, clicking keys, isolation versus pages flipping, the visual diversity of staring at something other than a screen, moving your body, the conversation and collective excitement of reliving memories with other people. Given the extensive research that has been conducted on the effects of sounds, visual stimuli, and physical proximity of other people, it's not too far-fetched to give weight to these sensual differences as they reverberate through our bodies, and the outside world.
Drawing on this proposed power of human energy, Butcher's works hypothesize a sparse reality where years of not having our environmental walls and bodies hit with warm, human sensations has stripped ourselves and our surroundings of all but scratching, harsh noise—a terror-ridden preview of our potential dystopian doom if we continue to trade in coffee dates for Facebook chats. Along the lines of "you are what you eat", you are also what you produce, and the world around you will become what you are currently contributing to it. If Butcher is trying to scare us straight, he's doing a good job.
In the end, Butcher and Tsambiras aren't too stubbornly condemning technology, nor are they lauding it. Restless Devices is a sensitive, self-aware series of observations and conjectures on the new human condition, and a call to action that we (at least) deliberately retain our humanity as we dive into the glittery world of technology. And with the sophisticated balance of vastly different, but still harmonious, media, the lesson is delivered in a pretty pleasing package.
What is irrefutably present is the assertion that there is no substitute for human contact and the show leaves the viewer wanting that, both for themselves and the characters on the wall (that's not to say the show is "wanting" for anything; on the contrary, it's the "alone together" solitude of the works that make the show successful, even if it is kind of a beautiful bummer.) I would like to (in a totally fake way) request that Mr. Tsambiras add a small drawing of two hands touching and put it on the back of the front door, letting us leave the space with a comforting exhale after holding our breaths, waiting for the disparate characters of Restless Devices
to make contact; a reminder that connection still exists, either because of the wires that bind, or in spite of them.
Restless Devices, Jason Butcher and Joe Tsambiras. Thru Dec. 4. Closing reception, Dec. 4, 8 p.m.-11 p.m. Beep Beep Gallery. 696 Charles Allen Drive.