John Gerrard: Power.Play

From 9 June to 7 August 2016, the Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) presents “John Gerrard: Power.Play,” the artist’s first exhibition in China and most comprehensive institutional solo show to date.

Art Exhibition previously on at Ullens Center for Contemporary Art in China.
From Thursday 09 June 2016 to Sunday 07 August 2016

John Gerrard: Power.Play image

Published by anonymous on Thursday 30 June 2016.
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The exhibition features three major works: Solar Reserve (Tonopah, Nevada) 2014, a painstakingly accurate, virtual portrait of a functioning solar farm; Farm (Pryor Creek, Oklahoma) 2015, a digitally modeled composite of one of Google’s server centers in Oklahoma; Exercise (Dunhuang) 2014, a reconstruction based on satellite imagery of a system of roadways located mysteriously in the middle of the Gobi Desert, which then becomes the site for a lengthy elimination game played among avatars modeled on factory workers in Guangzhou; and. Together the works raise important questions not only about key issues of the present historical moment such as power and surveillance, but about the very nature of the work of art in the digital age.

In his works of the past fifteen years, John Gerrard has pioneered the use of post-cinematic, virtual space through complex algorithms that generate imagery in real time. Deceptively similar to film or video, his works are simulations: virtual, graphical worlds that exist outside of physical time. Often exploring geographically isolated locations—be they the agrarian American Great Plains or remote reaches of the Gobi Desert—Gerrard’s works frequently refer to structures of power and networks of energy that have coincided with the expansion of human endeavor in the past century.

Illuminating the entryway of the Nave with the image of 10,000 mirrors, Solar Reserve (Tonopah, Nevada) 2014 is a portrait realized as a virtual world, a massive light sculpture depicting a power plant located in the Mojave Desert. Everything appearing in the work has a real world antecedent copied by hand with 3D design software. As an artist, the game engine is Gerrard’s primary medium, and the artwork is exported as a piece of software, which, here, produces a non-durational image in real time projected without frame. This post-cinematic portal meditatively glides along a sixty minute orbit around the solar plant, a symbol of humanity’s reliance on and resistance to solar rhythm.

John Gerrard’s other works involve similar feats of documentation followed by painstaking digital replication. His requests for access to sites, however, are not always met with welcome. Such was the case for Farm (Pryor Creek, Oklahoma) 2015. Rebuffed by Google, Gerrard hired a helicopter to assist in the production of a covert photographic survey of one of the company’s server centers, or “data farms,” in Oklahoma. While this process is not considered a part of the final work, it illustrates the guerilla-style production tactics the artist feels are necessary in approaching topographically extreme sites. Here, “extreme” describes both the surrounding geography—barren countryside—and the (conspiratorial) regulations delimiting access to these otherwise banal regions. Extending Gerrard’s “Grow Finish Unit” series, which focuses on architecturally similar, computer-controlled pork production units in the American Midwest, Farm (Pryor Creek, Oklahoma) 2015 is a synecdoche of the information systems and power structures that organize the resources enabling it, eerily reminding viewers of the direct influence digital space carries over the real landscape.

Work on Exercise (Dunhuang) 2014 began when a friend informed Gerrard of a mysterious network of roadways the size of a small town in the heart of the Gobi Desert. After visiting the site in person, Gerrard digitally reconstructed it using satellite depth-scans of the markings. To add another layer, Gerrard has placed avatars based on motion scans of thirty-nine workers from a Guangzhou computer manufacturing plant, wearing blue uniforms and paper bonnets, into the simulation, their movements as they wander through the vast network mirroring those of the actual workers. The players’ paths across what can be read as a game board, landscape, or gigantic stage are determined by the A* algorithm used in GPS route-finding systems. The entire performance, play, competition, or exercise is depicted by three different virtual cameras: from human head height, from the point of view of a circling low-flying drone, and from a satellite’s vertical perspective. Viewers of the dispassionate surveillance are telepresent and omniscient, yet strangely disconnected.