Digital information constantly bombards us. With our smartphones always on our bodies, we can navigate the physical world tethered to technology; we can't help but live in a world where cyberspace is omnipresent. Our use of technology is so interwoven with our every day lives that we take for granted our dependance on it. JODI: Street Digital is a multi-sensory experience that makes transparent our relationship to the technological world by temporarily breaking it. Since the mid-nineties and the beginning of the dot com age, the art collective comprised of Joan Heemskerk of the Netherlands and Dirk Paesmans of Belgium, has been creating innovative video and internet art. Using video, software, and the World Wide Web, JODI creates work that exacerbates the break down of technology, or at least our relationship with it. By hacking into our computers, creating viruses and altering programming codes, they repurpose technology disfunctionally.
JODI: Street Digital showcases some of the duo's most visually and conceptually stunning work since 1999. Walking up the modern white staircase up to the MOMI's third floor, the viewer concedes to an onslaught of strobe-like blue lights and reverberating bass-heavy noises. The first piece on view is overwhelming. LED Puzzled (2012) lies on the floor and consists of a segmented grid of broken up LED screens, reminiscent of the imposing screens that feed us advertisements in Times Square. Each screen flickers disjointed text and unrecognizable imagery; a labyrinth of cords and cables surround to create a chaotic nest on the floor. With the lights dim and a thunderous noise emanating from behind the adjacent wall, this first piece sets the tone for the ominous and dark yet witty evocation of the show at large.
A black painted wall separates LED Puzzled from Untitled Game ("Arena," "A-X," "Ctrl-Space," "Spawn") (1996/2001) on the other side. Perhaps the most exciting piece in the exhibition, this interactive "video game" JODI created by modifying the code for the violent first-person shooter game, Quake. Surrounded by four screens on four sides, the viewer is invited to pick up game controllers from the floor. After some experimentation, one realizes that the seemingly random exploding black and white images on the surrounding screens are actually manipulated by the viewer. On one screen, bursts of white small squares flicker, as everything but the fire exploding from the player's weapon is erased. Stripped of all color, form, and recognizable imagery, the computer game is basically functioning on glitches alone. Audio intact, the viewer experiences playing a video game with no objective, no rules to follow, no game to win. The objectives are obscured yet the mesmerizing effect of gaming is maintained, as the player of this bizarre “game” tries to figure out what effect she might have on the jittery numbers, lines, and shapes on the screen overhead.
In the less striking YTCT (Folksomy) (2008/2010), the video screen is split into four quadrants, where each one presents a YouTube video of people physically destroying their devices. Kids smash a cell phone with rocks, grown men use their phones as golf balls, and desktop computers are set on fire. Of course the irony is that the authors of these videos all made sure to capture this destruction on video and upload it to the internet. At once we are struck by the sheer passion by which these anonymous people vehemently violate their devices, yet we can empathize with the frustration we all sometimes feel with these machines we have so near to us.
JODI reveals the essence of technology by breaking it apart and reassembling it disfunctionally. Viewing JODI's work through the years, we are reminded of how our relationship to the digital world has evolved. As technology becomes more involved in our daily lives, our dependance on it deepens. Put down your smartphones and come see the dark and comical work of JODI, on view at the Museum of the Moving Image from now until May 20th.