bitforms gallery announces Welcome to Alice’s Gift Shop!, a third solo exhibition with Claudia Hart. Featuring the New York debut of Hart’s augmented reality tableware and quilts, the exhibition includes three new participatory projects that engage virtual worlds, literary nonsense and domestic craftsmanship. The works are inspired by Lewis Carroll’s 1865 Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland and explore a populist culture so addicted to the devices of high technology that it can only bear a world that is filtered through them.
Using a variety of platforms, Hart’s new work present two realities: the physical and the hidden; or the dormant and the expressive. Steeped in the clichés of data-driven, punk and Romantic aesthetics, the works build a space that is interactive and irrational. Each composition is navigable using hand-held devices, which deliver animated and text-based content. Programmed by the artist, these multimedia objects craft metaphors that unfold using computer-vision, revealing “magical” layers of new information. The spectacle of new technology complicates three-dimensional form, as Hart pairs technical precision with raw, emotional subjectivity.
Over the past fifteen years, Hart’s practice has increasingly focused on notions of the digital body. She uses virtual imaging and 3D animation to counter what is typically an overly-determined Cartesian world of design. “I started working in a kind of hyper-feminine way,” says Hart. “I was dealing with ideas of beauty in the context of first-person shooter games that were fast and violent and pornographic. In resistance, I started making slow sensual work, focusing on the female body.” At the core of this work are issues of representation, as Hart questions what might be considered “natural”, and the role of the computer in shifting values about identity and the real.
Recently in a series of artisanal plateware, Hart has brought the conversation of technology to the dinner table, a site long equated with Feminist strategy. Here, the experience of a feast is disrupted by a virtual world, which can only be sustained computationally. Produced in hand-thrown porcelain, Nue Morte draws on the visual style and psychological subject matter of early Surrealist photography and film. It presents a naked sleeping odalisque that is viewable using custom augmented-reality software. As the plate’s inscribed decorative pattern is recognized with a custom tablet, a sleeping figure tosses and turns, apparently lying across one’s meal. Evoking early technologies of the peephole camera and the Zoetrope, Nue Morte renders a dreamlike subconscious space. The illusory female figure, as well as any food placed on the plate (when functional) is overrun by artificially intelligent insects, which crawl in endlessly mutating patterns. Double Narcissus, a related video and companion piece, frames the viewer’s gaze upon a male body that lies in bed with the plate, suggesting reproduction or cloning.
Hart’s series of decorative multimedia quilts similarly subvert the classic stereotype of so-called “domestic handicraft”. Also a play on the homespun narrative, the quilts deliver stories that are read with embedded pattern tags, which are programmed to be viewable with a custom tablet reader. Excerpts of Carroll’s text flash on-screen, and augment the geometric abstraction presented in a fabric picture plane. This is a system vulnerable to glitches and decay, as Carroll’s original narrative is degenerated into text graphics that evoke popup banner ads and trashy web design. Strobing concrete poetry emerges, as a result of haptic communication between the human and the machine.
The quilts are collages of polyester print remnants from Hart’s “website dresses”, which appear in a music video by Artur Ratton, projected on a gallery wall. Using documentary footage from Hart’s recent production, The Alices (Walking), it is driven by a score by Edmund Campion who appears on stage at the piano. A collaborative creation of Hart and Campion, The Alices (Walking) crafts an Alice for our time with characters clothed in a cyborgian identity, one welded to the realm of smartphone devices.