September 5–October 19, 2014
Evenings by APPOINTMENT
It is difficult to refuse the fact that certain things in this exhibition are fundamentally sick. The materials alone—oily slabs of rubber, detailed instructions on how to fuse a human spine, a fabric medical restraint, and off-gassing foam monoliths—orient us toward illness and debility. Around these physical objects is Files, a multi-channel sound piece McArthur produced in collaboration with Alex Fleming. Files plays from speakers mounted to brick walls, filling the space with spoken fragments of text that recombine material pulled from a range of online sources, including robotics videos, instructions for the mounting and installation of rubber sockets and fixtures, descriptions of different kinds of care work and sex work, as well as recent reports investigating the living conditions and abuse of disabled people in state residential institutions and mentally ill people incarcerated in state prisons. These texts, read and recorded as part of Files, present a discordant body of statistics and reportage.
The composition of Files is organized by programmed Markov chains, mathematical systems that transition from one state to another. Markov chains are usually characterized as memoryless: The next state depends only on the current state and not on the sequence of events that preceded it. Markov chains are part of the structural math that runs our lives. They peddle search engines, gauge financial markets, and are used by actuaries who manage the risk of health and life insurance policies. If we view information itself as a body, as a living process, then we might be led to ask: What is a life? When does it begin and end? Why, as the theoretician Donna Haraway once asked, should a body end at the skin? Where does a body—and its aliveness—begin and end? And can we intimate the continuity between a body or bodies (meaning the body’s experience of itself, as if from inside) and those various objects, systems, and controls that the body is not?
In a society that has historically valued the productive capacity of humans, the repercussions for those who are disabled and dependent have been devastating. This system of valuation has resulted in enforced sterilization, euthanasia, institutionalization—ultimately, governmental control of bodies out of line with the promises of our recumbent democratic state. As an inquiry into social issues, this exhibition directs us away from affirmation, and toward a place less morally self-assured, asking how we value human life, and more expressly, how human life might be regarded in relation to something other than its potential use value.
The algorithmic concept for Files was produced by Anthony Tran. Momo Ishiguro contributed sound design and production. Matt Carlson engineered the sound, and the recorded voices were spoken by Tom Blood and Vanessa Place.
Park McArthur was born in 1984 in North Carolina. She now lives in New York. Alex Fleming was born in Michigan in 1984. He now lives in New York.
Thanks to Abrons Art Center, Pedro Barbosa, Andrew Black, Cammisa Buerhaus, James Cahn, Oliver Cano, Matt Carlson, Neal Curley, Antonio Diaz, Amalle Dublon, Nick Dupree, Lindsey Gorton, Maxwell Graham, Mary Herman, Momo Ishiguro, Kristen Malossi, Alejandra Ospina, Vanessa Place, Danniel Rangel, Cameron Rowland, Anthony Tran, Abbey Wilusz, and Tina Zavitsanos.
This exhibition is supported in part by Jason Hirata, a grant from the Oregon Arts Commission and the National Endowment for the Arts. Yale Union’s program would not be possible without our members, volunteers, The Martin Family, The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, The Meyer Memorial Trust, Work for Art, The Foundation for Contemporary Arts, and Umpqua Private Bank.