Friday, April 13, 2012

FINAL:  JODI, "Street Digital" at MOMI

JODI: Street Digital, an exhibition at the Museum of the Moving Image, brings together work by a two-artist team that rose to prominence in the mid-1990s.  Known as pioneers of “,” JODI is the collaborative project of artist duo Joan Heemskerk and Dirk Paesmans.  Street Digital showcases the duo’s groundbreaking vision with works ranging from 1999 to the present.  Using the virtual language of HTML, JODI’s tinkering with digital code is an antecedent to today’s ubiquitous computer viruses and Mal ware designed to infiltrate and sabotage otherwise perfectly functioning software.  By manipulating small bits of code, JODI riffs on a commonly held perception built into the very framework of our technologically driven world – that is, mainly it’s ability to control vital industrial processes while maintaining a reliable modicum of order for our civilized society.  In doing so, the artists frame an alternate experience of the flashy World Wide Web that inundates the senses with malfunctioning games and digital signage gone haywire.  Using hack-a-day tactics to splice and reconfigure bits of conventional digital software, JODI seems to question the underlying stability of these existing structures by disrupting our common perceptions about their function. The resulting exhibition creates an experience in which the modern world as we know it seems as if on the verge of a catastrophic collapse and effectively pokes a large in hole in our assumptions about technology’s role in maintaining social order and stability.  In doing so, JODO stages a kind of self taught, DIY aesthetic seemingly available online to anyone with a penchant for anarchy and decoding “how-to” manuals as a way of creating disorder.
The first piece the viewer encounters, LED Puzzled (2012), dominates the entrance to the exhibit in its scale as well as the visual noise it creates through its pulsating strobe effect.  The blinking system of lights lies on the floor against the backdrop of a blue-lit wall of roughly the same proportions.  Much like the omnipresent assault of information that characterizes modern urban experience, the cacophonous broken mosaic resembles a broken digital sign that has taken on a life of its own. The scrambled LED components create brightly flashing geometric patterns, as if a mutant virus had suddenly commandeered the giant screen, destroying its intended purpose.
Perhaps one of the more interesting interactive works, “SK8Monkey on Twitter,” a performance on view at the opening reception, plays with the viewer’s common perception of today’s social media forum as a normative space of shared communication.  In this particular piece, a wireless computer keyboard replaces the traditional deck of a skateboard, which is ridden by a skater in real time and space.  The rider’s foot patterns string together incoherent groups of letters and numbers in a live Twitter account that appear to mimic a bizarre type of hacked computer code.  When the rider’s foot strikes the return key, a tweet is sent in real time and posted on the Internet. 
Another interactive piece, Untitled Game ("Arena," "A-X," "Ctrl-Space," "Spawn") (1996/2001), is the earliest piece in the show.  It is defined by four large-scale screens, tethered to game controls, which envelop the viewer in a 360-degree space of absorption.  The game controller dictates the on-screen action by pressing buttons that create exploding noise, mimicking the video game Quake.  In JODI’s modified version, however, the controller produces effects that are reflected in unusual patterns of black and white lines, and shapes on the four screens but the nature of those effects are unclear because the normal visual environment that accompanies the game have been deleted. Thus what the viewer is actually controlling is questioned, offering a strangely hacked version of the game.
JODI’s interest in tweaking aspects of the ever-changing digital medium as a means of reconstructing our experience of it now seems commonplace in a world where computer hacking and viruses are the norm.  “Street Digital” forces the viewer to reassess their relationship to technology by laying bare the fallibility of the processes that ostensibly drive the modern world.  JODI exploits our fears about technology’s apparent unreliability to do what it was designed to do and what that could portend in the wrong hands.  In turning otherwise innocuous games, signs and social media into symbols characterized by a breakdown in coherence, Street Digital foreshadows the possibility of a future world in which the underlying structure and function that we largely take for granted, might unravel into chaos at any given moment.


  1. I missed this show, and after reading your review I feel that I have a decent visualization of these particular works. I wish you had included an example of a tweet by SK8Monkey. I think that the introduction is lengthy in comparison to the conclusion, maybe this needs a better balance.

  2. I agree the show was amazing. You do a great job on explaining how vast and experimental JODI is. This duo is very hard to pinpoint because they can do so much with an ever evolving medium. I think explaining SK8monkey was great but maybe you could talk more about how they are artist hackers. Just as we had witnessed during SK8monkey JODI was occasionally hacking some weird site throughout the reception. Manipulating the photos on a projection across from the twitter piece. The conclusion is nice and the show did integrate the relationship between viewer and technology.