Out of all the different types of art in the world, installations are something I’ve always been drawn to for the way they can take over one’s senses and provide a multi-dimensional insight into the mind of the artist. Zoe Beloff’s latest installation, Emotions Go To Work, does just that with an immersive and evocative experience, and I got to experience it during a visit to Firstsite art gallery in Colchester.
Artist: Zoe Beloff
Gallery: Firstsite, Colchester
Dates: Sat 19th Jan – Sun 24 Mar 2019
Technology is weaved into our worlds now whether we like it or not, and Zoe Beloff’s aim with this installation is to explore the history of it in the sense how it is has been anthropomorphized, from a retro Betty Boop cartoon to the emojis of the current day. She looks at how both we have shaped technology and how it, in turn, has shaped us back, and asks us to strike a balance between the two.
When I first walked in I’ll admit I had no idea what was going on, presented with a variety of different videos and art pieces with QR codes next to them. Booklets were also on display which are necessary to appreciate what Beloff is presenting us with, but no individual signs by the art. The space the exhibition is hosted in is small with lots of things happening at the same time; printed pieces of art showcasing faces and emojis, cardboard cut-outs of ‘smart’ devices such as a washing machine and a TV, and several videos playing at the same time – the Betty Boop cartoon by Dave Fleischer, illustrating everyday objects suddenly coming to life with excessive emotion (a 1927 cartoon called ‘The Little Screw’ is also played, portraying a similar concept), an Internet of Things video based on a commercial for IBM, and a short, silent video of the Marey Motion Studies, showing the instrumentalisation of moving image media from the very beginning.
Unlike a standard exhibition where the audience walk around and view each piece individually there isn’t much movement within Emotions Go To Work – it’s surreal in a way as you’ll view each individual part from the same spot, moving only to turn slightly to face something else. It gave me a slight claustrophobic feeling which I think mirrors how technology can make us feel sometimes, too – I expected a wide open space with loads of things to explore and instead I found myself crammed into one space, overloaded with so many things going on at the same time. Quite a nice metaphor for the internet!
My Favourite Pieces
I didn’t get as much from the cut-outs, needing an explanation to truly get what they were saying, but what did catch my eye was the Internet of Things video – exploring what technology can do for us now and how personable it is, whilst slotting sinister words such as “carcass” and “terror” into otherwise positive and empowering sentences. Loud, strange laughter from the Betty Boop video in the background reinforced this, making it a powerful watch. Having my reservations about the whole Internet of Things concept, this resonated with me.
The artwork of faces were also interesting to explore, capturing both freedom and limitation within expression, but the videos were what truly made the exhibition for me. Perhaps I just respond better to video installation, but I found they really drew me in, and I just loved the concepts being explored. I’ve always been a fan of video use in installation, in particular when multiple videos are shown, as it forces the brain to focus on certain aspects that jump out rather than everything one after the other, lending to a unique experience for the viewer.
The topic is certainly current and I found Emotions Go To Work to be thought-provoking, especially in the context of how readily our species is being transformed by the things we ourselves have created. I wanted more from it but I can appreciate the concerns of Zoe Beloff, and perhaps her exploration of the topic will allow us to delve deeper into this world we designing and achieve that balance before it becomes unattainable.
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