By Gavin Keeney
Gaialight began her sojourn in art with an exploration of Pop art and its late manifestation as a type of cultural capital that includes a darker, more forbidding side than anything Andy Warhol ever anticipated. While the origins of Pop pre-date Warhol, and were part of the 1950s post-war thirst (and hunger) in Britain for a proper consumerist culture mimicking that of America, its latter-day forms have instead incorporated a somewhat sinister aspect of the hyper-mediatic culture that is part and parcel of neo-liberal capitalism and its endless cycles of consumption, waste, and disposable everything.
Moving through Pop and into Neo-Pop, Gaialight’s work references the various discontents of what has come to be known as late capitalism. The surveys of cultural phenomenon have included icons of popular culture, cinema, trash television, and – more recently – video games and Internet media (inclusive of webcams and their increasing ubiquity as a form of perpetual surveillance and voyeuristic entertainment).
Gaialight’s work, while situated at first as a commentary on the hubris of popular culture as a panacea for social discontent and political and cultural injustices has slowly evolved in recent years (under the spell of Josef and Anni Albers and her fellowship in Bethany, Connecticut in 2010) into a critique of the very agencies that operate within art – foremost the nature of the image and its relationship to propaganda and the production of a supposedly benign type of amnesia or forgetting of the more rigorous and culturally responsible origins of art. Never moralistic, the work nonetheless is highly moral in its embrace of an ethos that transcends genres and styles. Never quite Pop anyway, her work has become a conceptually and critically based approach to the image as cultural artifact. This work utilizes photography, video, installation, and performance to suggest that within the plethora of imagery circulating within contemporary culture a more serious issue regarding its dynamic function within both collective and personal experience remains unanswered, if not unanswerable, except by way of the critical image proper. This suggests, in turn, that all art comments upon art before commenting on anything else.
Recent projects include “Brooklyn Buzz,” “Screen Trilogy” (“Mass Surveillance,” “Cam Girls,” and “Video Games”), all of which circle and close in upon exceptionally complex social phenomena, a series of inter-related projects that, arguably, returns art to its origins as a methodology for evaluating the world at large – mimesis not as amnesia (forgetting) but as recollection (remembering). The exhibition “Cam Girls Met Ladies” (at Fotoleggendo Festival, Rome, 2011), in particular, challenged viewers to connect the dots between representations of women in contemporary culture (in web-based light pornography) backward to now-classic paintings hanging in the galleries of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York. A symptom of these times (well-documented by the Guerrilla Girls, for example), the persistence of the thematization of the female as femme fatale and/or seductress is neutralized in a presentation of images “stolen” from the hyper-real world of Web 2.0 and the hallowed halls of a major institution devoted to the canonization of art – both forms of art as spectacle, but with the neutralization occurring through the conflation, which sets off an associative voyage to the land of innocent sensualism, versus exploitation. The voyage occurs through the de-contextualization and the re-contextualization of the images, but foremost through the “conversation” of Met Ladies and Cam Girls across time.
Moving from one reality to another, Gaialight has consistently mined art forms past and present to create new works of art that are (secretly) highly political. The politics of these works is to be found in the production of alternative realities, a process now underway – once again – with the Light TV series launched on YouTube (“YouTube – Broadcast Yourself”), perhaps one of the most sensational “channels” given to contemporary popular culture with its periodic viral qualities and its ability to influence a large number of people in a very short period of time. The Independent Reality TV Channel (2012) is also consistent with the artist’s pushing representational values back to their historical roots insofar as the reduction experienced in the works influenced by the Albers Foundation visit has been carried across the recent works through a self-imposed, pseudo-dogmatic persistence of limits that in turn make things quite literally “jump.” Similar to Lars von Trier’s experiments with cinema, Gaialight’s version of a self-imposed “dogma” presses the various media she exploits (lately photography and video) to reveal the dynamic of the discord hidden or buried in the phenomenon she documents. Neither minimalist or reactionary, these works are truly avant-garde in the original sense of the work – or, advanced assaults on the attempted re-calibration of the present-day culture industry by the mostly spectral agencies of orthodox cultural production.