For the exhibition Message from Our Planet: Digital Art from the Thoma Collection at the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis, curator Jason Foumberg brought together 19 international artists who use digital media in their work. The exhibition takes inspiration from a time capsule included in Voyager 1, the space probe launched by NASA in 1977, containing a record of human civilization.
Tabita Rezaire’s video work, “Sorry for Real,” (2015) follows a phone call to outer space from the Western world, apologizing for crimes against Africans and Afro-descendants. As a cell phone glows, the “Speak & Spell” sounding voice apologizes for slavery, racism, Islamophobia, homophobia, and for claiming to have discovered the g-spot. The unseen recipient of the phone call mocks the apologizer through a chat exchange with another friend. They quote Tupac and reject the apology while a phone floats toward an autonomous existence in outer space.
In the video “Time Traveler ™” (2007-14) by Mohawk artist Skawennati, a protagonist from the future travels to significant moments in Indigenous history like the US-Dakota War and the Occupation of Alcatraz. Skawennati created the work as a machinima (machine cinema) using the 3D virtual world platform, Second Life.
Some works in the exhibition, including Robert Wilson’s “Lady Gaga: Mademoiselle Caroline Riviere” (2013) use 21st-century technologies to reinterpret art history. In the video work with sound, the pop star is dressed as Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres’s portrait of the same title, sans Gaga, (1805). In Wilson’s version, birds pass behind the subject, her eyelashes flutter, and a haunting score by Michael Galasso plays quietly. Already an iconic figure herself, Gaga’s presence transfixes the viewer in the same way as the work’s original subject.
Paul Pfeiffer’s silent lopped video depicts the last minutes of heavyweight boxer Bermane Stiverne losing his world title in “Caryatid (Stiverne)” (2018). The work is captivating in the way it erases the violence of the action. The artist digitally omitted Steiverne’s opponent, leaving only an excoriating view of the boxer’s face rippling with punches. By taking away the sounds of the ring and the victor himself, Pfeiffer critiques the way that hypermasculinity is glorified in the sport of boxing, and in our culture more broadly. Deleting the victor takes away his glory.
“White Tower,” (2007) by Jenny Holzer, punctuates the exhibition nicely. Hyperbolic phrases scroll up with flashing lights. “Don’t control or manipulate,” Holzer writes. “Make amends. It all has to burn. It’s going to blaze.” The frantic, post-apocalyptic tone of the messages places the work in the aftermath of late-stage capitalism, represented by the towered structure of the tower where the words scroll continuously. A message for the end of the world indeed.
As a whole, the artists in Message from Our Planet use various technological tools to shake the viewer awake. We aren’t going in the right direction, many of them seem to be saying. Wake up and change the world before the planet isn’t here anymore.
Message from Our Planet: Digital Art from the Thoma Collection is on view through May 14 at the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis, Minnesota.