The Virtual is Visceral in “Speculative Cultures” at the New School’s Kellen Gallery

Ancient and contemporary collide in the spectacular “Speculative Cultures: A Virtual Reality Exhibition”, on view through April 14th at the Anna-Maria and Stephen Keller gallery at the New School (2 W. 13th Street, New York, NY). Curated by Tina Sauerlaender (DE), Peggy Schoenegge (DE), and Erandy Vergara (MX/CA), “Speculative Cultures” examines the physical remains and objects that embody the weight of cultures immemorial, ranging from ritualistic and spiritual artifacts to our current digital practices. Featuring a survey of contemporary artists working across the digital realm, “Speculative Cultures” features cutting-edge artists including Morehshin Allahyari (IR/US), Scott Benesiinaabandan (CA), Matias Brunacci (AR/DE), Yu Hong (CN), Francois Knoetze (ZA), Erin Ko (US) and Jamie Martinez (CO/US).

Installation shot, “Speculative Cultures. A Virtual Reality Exhibition” (2019), curated by Tina Sauerlaender, Peggy Schoenegge, and Erandy Vergara. Anna-Maria and Stephen Kellen Gallery, Sheila C. Johnson Design Center, Parsons/The New School. Photo: Marc Tatti

This survey show probes the various ways in which artists working in multi-disciplinary, digital artistic practices re-create myth and ritual. A global survey of civilizations’ myths and spiritual practices, the intersectional approach adopted by the curatorial team frees it from the abject fetishism still (regrettably) present in many contemporary surveys meditating on diverse civilizations. Adapting diverse shamanistic and traditional practices into a digital format, “Speculative Cultures” allows breathing room for entrenched ideological precepts to be creatively re-interpreted.

Exhibiting artists such as Morehshin Allahyari (IR/US) and  Scott Benesiinaabandan (CA) configure their practices by denying the myth of Western hegemony perpetuated by way of colonialism. Allahyari’s postcolonial approach reflects her contemporary, digital artistic practice in dialogue with ancient Iranian belief systems. Benesiinaabandan, meanwhile, configures an ancient story of the Anishinabe native peoples of the North American continent, orienting it toward a futuristic setting.

Diverse experiences await visitors to the exhibit, including an interactive shaman’s journey created by Matias Brunacci (AR/DE) and explorations of China’s rich historical diversity as told through the eyes of artist  Yu Hong (CN). Francois Knoetze (ZA) blends past and present into futurist modes of dress, posture and performance. Meanwhile, the sole US contributors – artists Erin Ko (US) and Jamie Martinez (CO/US) – draw from the Egyptian Book of the Dead to imagine new possibilities and propose a liminal spiritual space linking life with afterlife.

Jamie Martinez and Erin Ko,”Neo Kingdom”, Digital Installation component. “Speculative Cultures. A Virtual Reality Exhibition” (2019), curated by Tina Saurlaender, Peggy Schoenegge, and Erandy Vergara

Ko and Martinez formulate an approach especially apt to continuing the discussion around shfits and symbiosis in cultural tradewinds, ranging from analog to digital. Their installation, “Neo Kingdom”, contains both tangible and virtual components, welcome visitors into an ethereal space delineated by light and fabric. This partition, representing the veil separating life as we experience it from the afterlife, also serves as a boundary marking a viewer’s shift from observing with the senses to observing an unseen, digital world as represented through virtual reality. The power of the exhibit as a whole is cemented in this particular gesture, showing us that by contemplating the methods by which great civilizations of the past imagined the overlap of physical and spiritual realities directly impacts the modes by which contemporary artists can imagine alternate cultures.

“Speculative Cultures. A Virtual Reality Exhibition” is on view through April 14 at the Anna-Maria and Stephen Keller gallery at the New School (2 W. 13th Street, New York, NY).

Presented in partnership with the Consulate General of Canada in New York.
Technical expertise and support kindly provided by the 
XReality Center at The New School

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