Documentation by Pieter Kers
February 16, 2012
It is often said that if Sisyphus were alive today – he would probably be using a bulldozer to push his boulder up the mountain, while running a small company for similar services. Such are the times in which we live, where it’s possible that even mythology cannot exist without having cast over it the contemporary shadow of the corporation. Art that uses technology in any way is also under the same shadow: the product is embedded, be it the logo on laptop lids, in-camera menu systems, the sheer presence of digital projectors in the gallery space adds the subliminal presence of the multi-national brand. This minor conflict is not so much because they are there but because they are not intended to be there. It is a concession that must be made in order to use these tools. Never before has industry been so visible in art materials. Perhaps in a typical setting we are expected to overlook the device in order to consider the art is only what comes out of it. For this reason gallery and museum spaces often attempt to conceal these pieces of equipment so that their relationship with the artist and the viewer is not questioned, but in some ways this smudges something that might be pivotal.
With his history of performances that engage with popular culture and consumer technology Emile Zile recently premiered OMG_Sisyphus. The Greek mythology of Sisyphus, a tale of burden and absurdity, is used as a prop on which to enact a contemporary performance situation: being on YouTube. The performance happens in the midst of laptops, amplifiers, digital cameras, projectors and a heavy looking stone that the artist carries in from outside. In recent performances of OMG_Sisyphus at (Open Archive Melbourne, 30 November 2011, Palais Paradiso Amsterdam 16 February 2012) Zile enacts a humorously calculated switch. In his treatment we begin to understand that the laptop/webcam is now a rock, or vice versa. Its physical presence, weight, and texture become entwined in a passage of worship, as the ubiquitous Apple product is now something more equivalent to a Chinese scholar stone (Gongshi). Throughout the whole performance it is as if through some application of post-production what we should be seeing as a computer (the adored gateway to online audiences) is now a small volcanic boulder. Simultaneous slips between live action and published content begin, as Zile sits staring at the rock we imagine him staring at his computer, alone in a room while addressing an imagined YouTube audience. In doing so the actual live audience sitting in the gallery space is distanced, even denied. YouTube clips are executed and closed at the same time as the live performance, and by performing to the rock the absurd act of speaking to a mute object is comically revealed. All at once we view him in physical proximity sitting at his desk almost as if we are already at home watching him online. But we are not. At the same time YouTube clips projected at large scale on the wall present various moments recorded earlier, leading to a sense of shifts in time – the first clip is a (insert precise video length) closely cropped macro image of the minute crevices and minor surface details of the rock itself. The tragedy is that even though the rock is there in the room with us we still see it more closely on YouTube. The tone of this performance brings to mind the not-quite-transcendent aura of work by Shana Moulton combined with the webcam style bravado and entertainment factor of Hennessey Youngman. At some points in the piece we are made to feel the joys of web 2.0 publishing, light relaxation muzak plays, we are all connected by technology. But the gallery space begins to fall out of step as the artist struggles against what appears to be self-doubt and loneliness. The rock remains motionless on a small table under lamplight. Is real life different to projected life? Maybe it used to be. Zile seems to suggest a new friction is built in this crossover rather than a seamless merger. Whilst various elements of the performance are online, the crux of this work hinges on being present live in the gallery space – where multiple facets of contemporary being are felt and fired simultaneously. As it happens we are pointed toward a space where states of alienation, corporation and intense connectivity collide into a state of indivisibility.