Black Box Formula is an immersive exhibition that reflects on black box theory. Black boxes are imaginary constructs where processes of any sort are influenced by stimuli but remain unknowable. In this show, mechanisms that are normally invisible are made physical. New works explore various aspects of black box theory, incorporating posthuman thought in terms of prosthetics and human networks. Though there are multiple types of black box theory, this exhibition draws from the version explored in cybernetics, where the contents of the black box and its workings are visibly informed by inputs and outputs but are ultimately mysterious. As the French philosopher and sociologist of science Bruno Latour writes in his 1987 text Science in Action,
The word black box is used by cyberneticians whenever a piece of machinery or a set of commands is too complex. […] That is, no matter how controversial their history, how complex their inner workings, how large the commercial or academic networks that hold them in place, only the input and output count.
The ‘Formula’ is a rhetorical device, with an animated text by YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES acting as an input for the audience as they enter the ‘Black Box’ of the exhibition. Inside, works by Zach Blas, Hyungkoo Lee, Lawrence Lek and Harry Sanderson each explore variations on black box theory. On exiting the gallery, the audience ultimately produces the ‘output’ in their reception of the work.
Conceptually, Black Box Formula takes cues from ideas of the posthuman, suggesting a movement towards the unknown: beyond the human and beyond embedded systems of knowledge, work and identity. Each piece is a new work and has not been adapted to fit an overarching structure, but rather created to be part of the whole ensemble. As curators, we also take on the unknown element of the black box as part of the unquantifiable nature of collaboration intrinsic to the artist-curator relationship.
Artworks and Participating Artists
Contra-Internet Inversion Practice #1: Constituting an Outside (Utopian Plagiarism)
2015, dimensions variable, single channel video
Contra-Internet Inversion Practice #2: Social Media Exodus (Call and Response)
2015, dimensions variable, single channel video and prints
Contra-Internet Totality Study #1: Internet, a definition
2015, dimensions variable, vinyl text
Contra-internet, by Zach Blas, is an experimental conceptual framework investigating post-capitalist politics and contra-sexuality. The series, to be developed over several years, works to unite forms of resistance against internet-based policing mechanisms such as mass surveillance and drone attacks.
Contra-internet spans three areas of focus: alternative tools employed by social movements or political uprisings (mesh networks, for example); internet ‘control allegories’ including the black box and the cloud; and lastly, the retreat from the internet, such as the act of resigning from social media and cryptography. The series critiques digital technologies as agents for neoliberalism and works towards an analysis of its propagation of ableism, classism, homophobia, sexism, racism and transphobia.
Blas will lead a workshop on 17 March exploring the Contra-internet. The afternoon will consist of a lecture, a roundtable discussion of selected readings and a performative group exercise. For more information or to book your place, click here.
21 experiments, 2015. Single channel video with sound, 2 min 8 sec
This new work by Hyungkoo Lee (b. 1969, Pohang) documents the connection between human physicality and that of a horse, as explored in his ongoing series Measure. The video shows the artist testing a prosthetic device: a pair of modified tap shoes based on the hoof of a horse. He experiments with the movement of the human body, along with the unique rhythmic sound produced by the device.
The title 21 experiments refers to twenty-one specific equine movements in a form of human dressage, working with themes of body modification, distortion and expansion.
Geomancer (Black Box Instrument 1)
2015, 360 x 300 x 260cm, simulation, plywood, custom speakers, monitors, video projection
Geomancer (Black Box Instrument 2)
2015, 40 x 40 x 170cm, simulation, plywood, custom speakers, monitors
In C# (Black Box Version)
2015, site-specific sound performance
In this new work, Malaysian-Chinese artist Lawrence Lek combines sculpture, performance and installation with the concept of the black box. Laid out in a fashion recalling a mandala, the installation consists of two pavilions wired to interact together. Together, they make up an audio-visual instrument where the input does not lead to a definite output, and where the sound in one affects the video in the other, and so on, in non-linear and unpredictable ways.
Geomancer continues Lek’s explorations into the physical experience of simulated presence. The title refers to pre-scientific techniques of ‘Feng Shui’ land divination, in which site topography and human agency are inseparably linked. The instrument is to be unveiled at the Black Box Formula private view on 5 March with a performance of In C#, a new sound work that activates the space for the duration of the exhibition.
Listen to Lawrence’s performance of In C# (Black Box Version) here:
A Day Made of Glass, 2015. Dimensions variable, mixed media installation with caustic light sculpture: aluminium, acrylic projection screen, motor and light projection
A Day Made of Glass, by London-based artist Harry Sanderson, uses caustic imaging technologies to create a visual allegory for the unknown elements of the black box. Light from three projectors is beamed through the acrylic piece, which slowly rotates on a motor hanging between three standalone screens within the gallery. The spinning object refracts the light, its motion creating an interplay between light and space.
YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES
THE MYSTERY OF MANZONI’S MERDA,
2015. HD Quicktime movie, flexible dimensions, 1 min 47 sec
This animated text video by YOUNG-HAE CHANG HEAVY INDUSTRIES (Young-hae Chang and Marc Voge, formed in 1999 and based in Seoul) acts as a prompt to the audience before entering the main space. It questions the very nature of the unknown within cultural production. It is presented in three languages – English, Korean and Simplified Chinese – reflecting the languages spoken by the artists and curators involved in the exhibition.
The video references the ‘shit stick’, a thin bit of wood used as toilet paper, as well as Piero Manzoni’s Merda d’artista (1961). The ninety cans that made up this body of work were supposedly filled with the artist’s excrement, and were valued at the cost of their weight in gold, although the true contents of the can remained unknown.