ArtCenter Exhibitions and LACMA Art + Technology Lab present Julia Christensen: Upgrade Available at the Peter and Merle Mullin Gallery at ArtCenter College of Design. For nearly a decade, artist Julia Christensen has studied how “upgrade culture”—the perceived notion that we need to constantly upgrade our electronics to remain relevant—impacts institutional archives and operations, long-term scientific research and our personal lives. The exhibition follows the trajectory of Christensen’s ongoing endeavors at the intersection of art and technology, from an e-waste processing plant in India to her meetings with scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to discuss concepts that transcend obsolescence. Featuring nearly 50 artworks from multiple bodies of work, Upgrade Available also includes works recently completed in dialogue with LACMA’s Art + Technology Lab and JPL’s Innovation Foundry.
With her ongoing photography series Technology Time, Christensen exposes the material consequence of upgrade culture with images of heaps of outdated batteries, microchips, USB flash drives and cables found at toxic electronic waste dumps around the world. In a large-scale installation titled Burnouts 2.0, Christensen utilizes discarded handheld devices to display animations of constellations that have been “retired” from the study of the night sky due to light pollution. The retired constellations all still shine in the night sky, but astronomers no longer include them on maps because of changes on our planet. Projecting the retired constellations with discarded iPhones is a fitting homage: just as the constellations are still there, yet no longer in use, so are our own outdated gadgets.
Two series in the exhibition,We Share Our Pictures and Hard Copy, investigate the phenomenon of collecting and keeping recordable media such as VHS tapes and floppy disks despite the fact that they are inaccessible due to obsolescence. While these media are kept with the intention of upgrading them to newer media formats, more often than not they linger in the attic until the original owner passes away, leaving others to sort through the memories. For Hard Copy, Christensen presents a series of digital photographs of collections of VHS tapes and floppy disks that friends and neighbors have hoarded in their homes. We Share Our Pictures consists of ten triptychs of digital drawings of images sourced from found slide collections from the 1970s; one collection belongs to the artist’s family, the other procured from strangers’ estate sales. Each set of drawings contains two images from the strangers’ collections, and one from the artist’s family collection—without any indication of which image belongs to which collection. The juxtaposition of personal and impersonal images flattens them to the collective plane of forgotten photographs, reminding us that all of these images were once personal to someone.
During her fellowship at the LACMA Art + Technology Lab (2017), Christensen developed two series of photographs exploring how technological obsolescence impacts institutional operations. Archived Obsolescence and Smart Buildings display how institutions struggle to keep step with upgrade culture by documenting the range of media stored in institutional archives and the multiple generations of obsolete technology physically embedded in LACMA’s buildings. In a dialogue initiated through this same fellowship, Christensen met with a group of scientists at JPL to envision two long-term space mission concepts that transcend technological obsolescence.
Christensen’s exhibition will feature the first public showing of her initial photographs, drawings and digital sketches related to these mission concepts. Using one such concept, The Tree of Life, Christensen envisions a communication system designed to outlive typical technology using unlikely components: a set of living trees on planet Earth in communication with a small satellite (CubeSat) designed to operate for 200 years. Datasets describing the tree’s health and the CubeSat’s operations would be transmitted between Earth and outer space as sonic frequencies, effectively causing the tree and spacecraft to “sing” in a 200-year duet. A model will be on view as part of the Upgrade Available exhibition, where visitors will be able to listen to the live “song” of the tree. The sonic technology for The Tree of Life was developed during Christensen’s residency at the Fulcrum Arts AxS Incubator.
In conjunction with the exhibition, LACMA will organize a series of workshops for public middle school students at Young Oak Kim Academy (YOKA) that explore parallels between scientific methods and artistic processes, by introducing Christensen’s artwork. The program will also bring students on a field trip to the exhibition at ArtCenter College of Design, and will result in an art show of student work generated in response to the Upgrade Available exhibition.
Julia Christensen: Upgrade Available is accompanied by a forthcoming book, also titled Upgrade Available, published in April 2020 by Dancing Foxes. The book features Christensen’s writing interspersed with her artworks, and conversations between the artist and fellow artists Ravi Agarwal and Cory Arcangel; Lori Emerson, associate professor in the Department of English and the Intermedia Arts, Writing, and Performance Program at the University of Colorado at Boulder; Jessica Gambling, archivist at LACMA; Rick Prelinger, archivist and professor at UC Santa Cruz; Bobbye Tigerman, curator at LACMA; and linguist Laura Welcher, director of operations at The Long Now Foundation.
The exhibition is curated by Stephen Nowlin, director of Exhibitions at ArtCenter College of Design, with assistance by Julie Joyce, curator of Exhibitions.
Julia Christensen: Upgrade Available is made possible through a generous grant from the Pasadena Art Alliance. Major support is provided by Creative Capital, LACMA Art + Technology Lab, and the Guggenheim Foundation, with additional support from Fulcrum Arts, the Wexner Film + Video Studio, Oberlin College and the MacDowell Colony.
Christensen’s work at JPL for The Tree of Life and Proxima B design projects is facilitated and funded by the LACMA Art + Tech Lab and the Fulcrum Arts AxS Incubator.
ArtCenter Exhibitions includes the Alyce de Roulet Williamson Gallery at the Hillside Campus in Pasadena above the Rose Bowl, the Peter and Merle Mullin Gallery, the Hoffmitz Milken Center for Typography Gallery and the Hutto-Patterson Exhibition Hall at the South Campus a mile from Old Pasadena, and ArtCenter DTLA Gallery in downtown Los Angeles. These curated spaces embody ArtCenter’s institutional will to understand artistic thinking and design strategies as levers in promoting social advancement, the pursuit of humanitarian innovation and use of critical inquiry to clarify objectives and truths. Using the lens of contemporary art and design, the mission of ArtCenter Exhibitions is to ignite emotional resonance, provoke intellectual dissonance and conjure unexpected pathways of thinking.
Founded in 1930 and located in Pasadena, California, ArtCenter College of Design is a global leader in art and design education. ArtCenter offers 11 undergraduate and seven graduate degrees in a wide variety of industrial design disciplines as well as visual and applied arts. In addition to its top-ranked academic programs, the College also serves members of the Greater Los Angeles region through a highly regarded series of year- round educational programs for all ages and levels of experience. Renowned for both its ties to industry and its social impact initiatives, ArtCenter is the first design school to receive the United Nations’ Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) status. Throughout the College’s long and storied history, ArtCenter alumni have had a profound impact on popular culture, the way we live and important issues in our society.
Inspired by the spirit of LACMA’s original Art and Technology program (1967–71), which paired artists with technology companies in Southern California, the Art + Technology Lab at LACMA supports artist experiments with emerging technology. Through sponsors, the Lab provides grants, in-kind support, and facilities at the museum to develop new artist projects. To date, more than 30 artists from around the world, including the Czech Republic, Ghana, Korea, Mexico, Switzerland, Turkey, and the United Kingdom have received awards through the Art + Technology Lab.
The Art + Technology Lab is presented by Hyundai and made possible by Accenture and Snap Inc. Additional support is provided by SpaceX and Google. The Lab is part of The Hyundai Project: Art + Technology at LACMA, a joint initiative exploring the convergence of art and technology.
Seed funding for the development of the Art + Technology Lab was provided by the Los Angeles County Quality and Productivity Commission through the Productivity Investment Fund and LACMA Trustee David Bohnett.
Located on the Pacific Rim, LACMA is the largest art museum in the western United States, with a collection of nearly 142,000 objects that illuminate 6,000 years of artistic expression across the globe. Committed to showcasing a multitude of art histories, LACMA exhibits and interprets works of art from new and unexpected points of view that are informed by the region’s rich cultural heritage and diverse population. LACMA’s spirit of experimentation is reflected in its work with artists, technologists, and thought leaders as well as in its regional, national, and global partnerships to share collections and programs, create pioneering initiatives, and engage new audiences.
Location: 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90036. lacma.org
Fulcrum Arts is a Pasadena based arts organization that promotes and nurtures art works with the capacity to be implemented on a civic scale across the fields of art and science, while initiating collaboration and dialogue between artists and major scientific research institutions in the region through its A×S (art and science) programs. The A×S Incubator residencies provide mid-career visual artists with opportunities to develop new ideas and methods by forging deep connections to the region’s remarkable array of scientific, research, technological, design, and cultural assets. The A×S Incubator was launched in 2016, recognizing the critical need for support for artists to conduct deep research in collaboration with established laboratories and scientific research institutions. The initiative was designed to be an open-ended research residency to help artists to think about possibilities to work in new ways through access to processes and approaches normally out of reach in the studio setting, and to help the scientific community to recognize new concepts for creative thinking and public communication within and beyond their field. Previous residents include Evelina Domnitch & Dmitry Gelfand, Lawrence English, Christopher O’Leary, and Sarah Rara.
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