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CHICAGO — The opening of Fixity=Death took place in the city’s Pedway system, in a gallery space tucked into a corner of the subterranean commuter tunnels that connect the city’s downtown. The show marked Chicago’s first offline exhibition as part of the fourth edition of the Wrong Biennale, an international digital art festival that has connected creators and curators via a format that resembles the synaptic organization of Internet communities. In years past, Chicago artists have displayed work online as part of the Wrong’s digital galleries, known as pavilions, but F=D provides a chance for participants to present work that bridges the space between online and off by providing a physical space — an embassy, in the Wrong’s terminology — in addition to the usual pavilions. The Pedway, that invisible network that underpins so much of Chicago’s commerce and connection, is a fitting site for this bridging of the digital and physical worlds.
The Wrong, by its nature, is focused on the connection of otherwise separate spheres — David Quiles Guilló started the festival in 2013 as a way for artists to circumvent the elitist infrastructure of established art fairs, which can be difficult environments for displaying the sort of digital and new media work the Wrong focuses on, by hosting their work on websites that could be accessed by anyone, from anywhere, for free. As Guilló told the New York Times in 2018, Wrong organizers practice “instant radical inclusion” in their curation, and the platform of decentralized online galleries is central to that mission. For Chicago’s first Wrong embassy, co-curators Francisca Rudolph, Jiaqi Zhang, and Madison R. Young saw a chance to push the biennale’s tenets of connection and inclusivity into more conceptual directions.
Part of the curation process was focused on what it meant for a gallery space to display work that meaningfully comments on the digital. In speaking with Hyperallergic, Rudolph explained,
When deciding about artists showing in both the pavilion and the embassy, we had to think conceptually about what that meant. It was never meant to be a direct translation. If you have a video online and then show that on a monitor in a physical space — it’s the same artwork, just a different screen, right? The experience doesn’t really change.
F=D’s embassy reflected this distinction — instead of simulating Internet ephemera, the pieces explored how the echoes of digital spaces can be felt in the real world. Alan Perry and Richard Domenico’s “The Gross Gloss” (2019-ongoing) for example, expanded upon Perry’s online work “The Ambulatory” (2018-2019) by placing the latter’s exploration of digital determinism into a beautifully illustrated leather-bound tome that preaches a gospel of mystical algorithms and omnipotent AIs. Perry explained to Hyperallergic that together the works explore the “parallel between faith in God and faith in technology, and mystical union with each,” casting our societal belief that technology will always produce positive change as akin to the faith of a medieval monk. Also on view is Jas Brooks’s “Download My Food” (2019-ongoing), which explores how the Internet’s democratizing power could expand into food and even flavor with a mini-fridge of chemically-flavored jellies by providing participants a chance to crowdsource the flavor descriptions of Brooks’ recipes.
Of equal importance to the F=D curators was honing the Wrong’s “radical inclusion” to focus on highlighting femme and non-binary people in tech. “If you look at tech spaces and startups, it’s all very male-heavy,” Young said. “So the opportunity for us, all identifying as female, to curate an exhibition that was inclusive of everyone was huge.” The diverse roster resulted in a bevy of works that explore the ways the Internet and its associated spheres variously reduce and amplify gender constructs. Wanbli Gamache’s sculpture “All He Ever Wanted” (2019), built from a digital rendering of the artist’s body she made before transitioning, was the centerpiece of an in-gallery performance that toyed with the aesthetics of webcamming and amateur pornography — motifs that show up in Gamache’s video works on view in the gallery and online. Sid Branca’s online work “Elektra Day: Last Nights” (2019) explores the ways that tabloids, social media, and online fandom destroy the women in their gaze via a rambling fan-page conspiracy that denies the fictional Elektra even her own death. Branca expanded on their piece with a performance that drew parallels between the role of women in ancient plays like Medea and Hippolytus and the societal scrutiny of modern-day pop stars like Britney Spears and Amy Winehouse.
In speaking with the curators about the future of Fixity=Death, they focused on its place in a structure that is inherently impermanent. “One of the big conversations happening right now around art and tech is the question of preserving this sort of work, and how it’s supposed to live, and if we should even try to preserve it,” Rudolph said to Hyperallergic. As discussion swirled around how future embassies would build on this first iteration, the curators returned to the show’s title as a philosophical waypoint, which is drawn from a paper by Jon Ippolito, “Death by Wall Label” that posits that for digital culture, staying put is tantamount to death. At the same time, the curators want to remedy the difficulties faced by institutions currently attempting to document digital works made in decades past. According to Rudolph, the debate is best approached on a piece-by-piece basis. “Sometimes that means recreating the piece, sometimes simulating it, and other times it means letting it die,” she said. “Luckily, we have no problem with death.”