Revised Sam Lewitt: 2012 Whitney Biennial
The 2012 Whitney Biennial purports to be a core sample of the best that contemporary art currently has to offer. While much of the work leaves the viewer underwhelmed, there are some standouts that make this exhibition, on the whole, successful. The curatorial triumph of this exhibit is captured in an odd feeling of frenzied tranquility in which the wide-ranging disciplines coalesce in the same space. The time-based works dovetail seamlessly with the more traditional static painting and sculpture in a way that the interwoven disciplines naturally coexist. Despite a slight air of disorder, the exhibition succeeds on the grounds that each piece is given equal weight and allowed to retain its own identity despite the commotion of combining such disparate elements.
One such piece titled Fluid Employment by Sam Lewitt resembles a staged landscape that seems to have been transplanted straight from a laboratory onto the museum floor. The experimental quality of this piece is highlighted by the fact that it appears to be a living entity, recalling a giant petri dish in which hybrid organisms undulate under the soft breeze of several desk fans set up around its perimeter. Among other materials, Lewitt employs a magnetized liquid called ferrofluid in his work. Ferrofluid is commercially ubiquitous with applications ranging from electronics devices and hard drives to magnetic resonance imaging technology in medicine. Although it is seemingly everywhere in the technologies we rely on in the modern world, it can also have an alien presence due to the fact that it is hidden from view and unfamiliar. In Fluid Employment, the liquid has been poured over assemblages of various types of metal, which act as weights that hold five plastic tarps to the floor. The fluid clumps together with the magnetized weights creating masses that appear to be miniature organisms that seem to subsist off the substrate of oozing brown fluid. In this case, the clumping fluid around the magnetized metal weights simulates the organisms.
Sparking notions of futuristic land use proposals in miniature mock-up to self-replicating Nano machines and hybrid organisms, Lewitt plays with the self-organizing properties of the material in a way that metaphorically reminds the viewer of emergent utopian-like environments still in the planning stages. Fluid Employment succeeds as much in its beguiling range of associations as it does with its re-appropriation of technology.