Retro-TechSeptember 15, 2010
For the 2010 01 SJ Biennial, the San Jose Museum of Art presents the exhibition Retro-Tech, which in light of the technology-driven biennial, is surprisingly more reflective than futuristic. While some of the artworks in the exhibition clearly fall under the exhibition’s rubric of repurposing and manipulating current and obsolete technologies, others seem to be more in keeping with the biennial’s theme of “Build Your Own World.”
Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla’s video There’s More Than One Way to Skin a Sheep (2007) grounds the exhibition nicely as a ridiculous but effective reapplication of an antiquated technology. In the video, Allora and Calzadilla use a tulum, a Turkish bagpipe created out of a sheep carcass, to inflate a bicycle tire as they ride through Istanbul. The absurdity of using a traditional musical instrument, the visual oddity of blowing into a sheep carcass to inflate a tire, and the bustling backdrop of ancient Istanbul peppered with more modern elements creates a jumbled narrative of time and purpose.
Also included in the exhibition is MadeIn’s 1 8848-1.86 (2005), which depicts an “expedition” team as they attempt to remove 1.86 meters (the artist’s height) from the peak of the 8848-meter-high Mt. Everest. The video was actually shot on the rooftop of a Shanghai gallery and playfully fuses the bravado of polar expeditions and summit climbs with the status-seeking artist.
While the pixellated video makes reference to early or low end video production, it seems less about repurposing or reinvestigating older technologies and more about an absurdly staged narrative that is more aligned with the “Build Your Own World” concept.
While both the biennial’s theme of “Build Your Own World” and the accompanying exhibition Retro-Tech possess rich landscapes of significance and play, Retro-Tech has not taken full advantage to mine these ideas. While digital media tends to favor novelty, Retro-Tech possibly indicates the maturation of the ten-year-old technology festival and the changing climate of Silicon Valley from the entrepreneurial and technological optimism at its inception in 2000.