• Jeffrey Choy

Review: Future Shock and The Halls of Hollow Installations

Updated: Aug 1

Future Shock is an exhibition of 14 international artists and collective works in audio-visual technology opened at 180 The Strand in London. Review by Jeffrey Choy.

United Visual Artists, Topologies, 2022. Photo: Anne Verheij

As you step into Future Shock, going through the dark corridors of 180 The Strand, you're welcomed by two exhibits, loud and bright, shock and awe. Both ‘Subassemblies’ and ‘Topologies’ feel like an expensive intro to a summer blockbuster film. Then you descend into the underground space, a linear journey without a story, room after room, each demonstrating what artwork could be in the digital space.


If you look up reviews for Future Shock you'll quickly realise - whether it's being praised or criticised - most people will agree that it isn’t attempting to tell any coherent narrative across its works, while respectable works in their own right, the curation of Future Shock feels more confusing than inspiring. It leaves you questioning: Who is Future Shock for?


The Guardian's art writer Jonathan Jones called the exhibition 'a pretentious nightclub where no one is dancing', and that 'The world is filling with “creatives” who play about with digital toys and create groovy effects that don’t have much function but to distract(…) Just don’t claim it is art.’ While this take isn't necessarily untrue, I think it's missing out on several intriguing prospects of technology practices in art and art presentation at large that most critiques of the exhibit miss.


When artists establish themselves as digital artists or collectives, the level of entry becomes much, much lower since digital usage in art is light-years behind popular culture. As the curation marketed the exhibit primarily as an immersive visual feast and talked nothing of their deeper meaning and goal, the execution level of the works quickly fell apart. The ‘cutting-edge’ technologies used in Future Shock left a lot to be desired.


One of the two stand-out examples is Lawrence Lek’s Theta shows a self-driving car Theta as it travels through remnants of a smart city that became a ghost town, produced entirely in Unreal Engine. This depressingly reminds me of K.I.T., a short film also made in Unreal Engine last year by a single student under a month, about a robot exploring the ruins of the earth, featuring much more complex animations and world-building. Theta is part of Lek’s ‘sinofuturism’ cultural and socio-concept exploration, that feels disconnected from its central idea by the curation of the exhibition, and left with a poorly animated chassis of an artwork.

Lawrence Lek, Theta, 2022. Source: FACT magazine

Vicky, Actual Objects’ installation commissioned by 180, presents a room of screens that says to ‘utilised branded data and gamified interactions define space populated by digital humans triggered by motion senses allowing for the telling of multiple experiences’ An intriguing sell at first, but the magic of interactivity wears out fast when I realise the ‘interaction’ is just LED screens simply playing ‘video A’ and will play ‘video B’ when I show the attached webcam a logo that the room provides. I can’t help but question how this pointless forced interaction of watching a video in this environment with an overcomplicated button press enhanced my experience of listening to the stories.

Actual Objects, Vicky, 2022. Source: FACT magazine

So what’s selling here isn’t precisely ‘cutting-edge’ technologies, but installations that look fancy enough that impress a regular gallery-goer with 180 throwing enough techy buzzwords on the curatorial text and sell the package in a £20 ticket. It’s about assembling a messy capitalist spectacle that doesn’t require you of your feeling (ironically enough, for an exhibition that constantly reminds you of its interactivity).


Time Out's visual art editor Eddy Frankel wrote ‘So what’s this show about, what’s the big conceptual idea here? I don’t really think there is one. (…) none of it really fits together conceptually, it just all looks like the world’s fanciest branch of Cyberdog. But it probably doesn’t matter. Because what 180 has done is establish itself so firmly that you know exactly what you’re getting.’ And I believe this is an impetuous approach towards digital practices in art experimentation that not only just hurt digital artists and the practice itself, but by allowing this art to not matter, we’re also fabricating a hierarchy for some art to be more worthy of attention and require less of you, as a viewer, to feel, explore, and evolve you're as you undergo the experience.


The result of that disposition of curating works for simply the medium itself has little to no curatorial value other than being flashy and will effectively discourage artists that aim to challenge and be playful. Imagine if a gallery starts putting sketches in one room and painting in another with no regard to their origin, period, intent and context, are they not simply organised pigmented oil on a canvas? Imagine if one introduces themselves as a digital artist and doesn’t immediately meet with an eye roll, because it is a form of expression that is curated just as seriously as any other medium, instead of an extravagant demonstration of how magical computer-powered art can look, but to content, inspire, emote and portray.


 

Future Shock is at 180 The Strand, London, 28 April 2022 – 28 August 2022.