A Movie-Drome, Kafka’s Execution Device, and Other ‘Ghosts In the Machine’

The new exhibit at the New Museum might leave you glaring suspiciously at your toaster or wanting to give your computer a big, sensual hug. It all depends on how you take it. There are over 70 artists and visionaries representing 50 years of our relationship with technology at the Ghosts In The Machine exhibit, filling three floors. Are you comfortable with the machines taking on progressively more human traits and healing, killing, imitating, and infiltrating your psyche? Check out our slideshow preview and see.

There’s a great breadth in the exhibit, a variety of art and non-art objects, and a few deliberate crowdpleasers. Point in case: a giant, looming machine pulled out from Franz Kafka’s story “In The Penal Colony” and created for a 1975 exhibition at the Kunsthalle Bern — an execution device that “inscribes” a convict’s crime in needles into their flesh, deeper and deeper, over the course of twelve hours until the accused understands their crimes in a rush of euphoria and dies. There’s also a recreation of experimental film legend Stan VanDerBeek’s Movie-Drome from the ’60s, a dome pulsating with movie clips, half immersive environment, half futuristic techno-hut, as well as “healing” metal constructions built by Emery Blagdon which are said to pick up electric currents. Other exhibition highlights include J. G. Ballard’s erotic photo collages, a faith remix of Madonna created from an image of a Mercedes, and a black-lit room strung up throughout with a glowing matrix of string. The latter is the kind of space that makes you question your existence. You feel as if you’ve entered an computer program and are nothing but a point planted on a XYZ plot.

At that point you wonder, between the ooh-ahh-awe pieces, the pulsating 3D projections, and the hulking apparatuses — are we getting too comfortable, too intimate and too entranced with the machines among us? Is there anything they can’t do? Is there anything we wouldn’t allow them?

Paul Sharits, Epileptic Seizure Comparison, 1976. Photo: Marina Galperina/Flavorwire