Last week, I witnessed a birth. I know that it happened at 11:59 am on February 21st, 2012, that her grandmother made her a pink elephant blanket, and that she arrived an “overly punctual” three days ahead of schedule. I know this because she was tagged in seventy-three photos on Facebook; images that linked to her very own profile, created by her parents. Her birth is the first major event on her page’s timeline, and she “checked in” at the hospital about eighteen hours prior to her birth. Madeline’s birth can be observed and verified thanks to a user-friendly platform that archives and shares everything she does for an interactive audience. Those actually present at Madeline’s inaugural breath were ready with cameras and smart phones, uploading photos of her before she was even free of her umbilical cord. We witnessed her delivery through the eye of a camera, or an illuminated screen – documented via the best angles and speediest of status updates. Supposedly, this means the event was real, its verisimilitude acheived through its digital artifacts, its online chronicle – its meticulous documentarians. The world is no longer experienced through rapt attention, but rather through multi-tasking surveillance and a cache of preoccupations. Has the fixation with recording our every exploit replaced our emotional awareness of an actual experience?
Standing within Jennifer Steinkamp’s most recent solo exhibition, “Moth,” at ACME (Los Angeles, CA), I was reminded of this detached relationship with actuality. Esteemed for her captivating 3-D animation projections and installations, the new media artist has steered away from her recent room-engulfing environments for something quieter, though still digital. A few swatches of tattered fabric are suspended by unseen pins, silently fluttering and twisting in a simulated breeze. Their pastel hues evoke a Southern spring, like garments abandoned on the clothesline for the alluring indulgences of a lazy afternoon. Steinkamp’s mastery of movement simulates the kind of nostalgic hypnosis found in nature’s many gestures – a beckoning tree branch or a nodding lilac coax you to stay for awhile, like a child meandering through the park. “Moth” is alluring in its unpretentious grace, the cloth reminiscent of a neglected, tangible past, elegant despite its imperfections. Hinting at the nettlesome insects of the same name, “Moth” brings to mind abandonment, or human experience left to decay in favor of e-simulacra. Consumed by a persistent need for a personal repository, we often overlook the ephemeral in our desperate plight for eternal imitation – a notion best illustrated by Steinkamp’s moth-eaten textiles, which reveal a reoccurring choreography after several moments.
Much like “Madame Curie,” (2011) the artist’s recent commission for the Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, “Moth” alludes to the increasingly complex kinship we share with nature and technology. While both share the unwavering observation of time and evolution, each faction poses ever more conflicting interpretations of mortality. Whether our sensory consciousness or our intellectual annals prove our livelihood remain to be seen; until then, we may continue to twist in Steinkamp’s imitation wind.
“Moth” is on view at ACME through March 10th, 2012.