Recently I took part in a group project. The assignment, to curate a fictional art show with two other students. We were asked to pick a subject, artists and a format along with writing a curatorial essay and slideshow. My group chose to focus on the phenomenon of alone togetherness… I wish I could say it was my idea but it wasn’t.
This feeling of being alone together has it’s roots in mid-nineteenth century French thought with the advent of early urban & industrial development in Europe. French Poet and Art Critic Charles Baudelaire discussed the disconnected experience of living in the changed streets of Paris and is, “credited with coining the term modernity.” Early examples of this theme bring to mind impressionist painters like Degas with his Absinthe Drinker. The people in these works are surrounded but lack fulfilling interaction. They retreat to cafes drowning their loneliness in spirits and cheap entertainment.
Over time the sensation of being alone together has evolved and changed. Forces such as globalization and technological innovations like social media have amplified our feelings of numbness. Alberto Giacometti, Do Ho Suh and Alan Rath were the three artists I chose to represent Together/ Alone for the 20th century.
“The confrontation seems to say that the reality of a person is only established through his relation to another but that this relation reveals the solitude of each, the untraversable distance between them, recognizing that this other is no projection or extension of oneself or creature subject to oneself but a being separate from oneself.”
~ Looking at Giacometti by David Sylvester
Born just after the turn of the century in 1901 Giacometti’s work spans an era during which the European Avant Guard tradition progressed into Modernism. Immerging out of a surrealist practive Giacometti is remembered for his reed like solitary sculptures of the human form and painted portraits that seem to amplify space. Creating a bridge between abstraction and figuration his work is sometimes grouped with the Abstract Expressionists. Like many other artists of his time he hoped to reveal something of the universal in human existence especially as it relates to our understanding of self awareness and perception. In works such as Three Men Walking, 1948 Giacometti perfectly presents early 20th century manifestations of the alone/ together. He captures our sense of walking next to or past one another through life.
Do Ho Suh:
“Interested in the malleability of space in both its physical and metaphorical manifestations, Do Ho Suh constructs site-specific installations that question the boundaries of identity. His work explores the relation between individuality, collectivity, and anonymity.”
~Lehmann Maupin Gallery Website
Do Ho Suh’s work deals with societal power dynamics and the disorientation of cultural dislocation. One of the ways that Suh approaches this sense of displacement is through his examination of the “home” in works like Stove or Fallen Star. In Stove we are presented with an anthropological object for study. The sheer blue polyester fabric gives the impression of an x-ray and the immateriality of an apparition. It’s casing is an isolating barrier that both protects it and keeps us at a distance. Suh offers the sculpture to us as a tool; it is a means of stepping outside our day-to-day lives and looking back analytically.
He continually juxtaposes our individual character against our role as member of the crowd. In Floor, he demonstrates societies ability to strip away identity and crush the individual but also to leverage numbers in a show of collective strength. In presenting the sculpture as the floor Suh obliges us to consider the implications of walking on a surface held up by others. Are we meant to think of ourselves as holding up the floor, as one figure among many below? or do we imagine ourselves separate, as one of few walking above? Either way we are alone. Alone in our anonymity below or in the empty space above.
“Alan Rath, who has a degree in electrical engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, makes mechanical sculptures that embed human features in machine bodies. In Infoglut (1996) a moving mouth and signaling hands convey messages in video screens that rest on a ‘neck’ and ‘arms’ made of industrial components, suggesting that human communication is dependent on technology.”
~Themes of Contemporary Art; Visual Art After 1980 by Jean Robertson and Craig McDaniel.
Rath’s work mingles technological advancement with human identity and even biology. Engaging with the theory of a posthuman world his work anticipates the next step in the evolution of man blending human anatomy with electronics. Togetherness II is a work featuring two human faces, one male and one female. Electronic connections link the two figures to a common energy source and vices old and new grip both the monitors and a clock overhead. Rath makes visible technology’s impact on human interaction without altering our desire for contact. What will it mean for us as technology continues to play a greater role in human togetherness?