Shotgun Reviews

Mean Time to Upgrade at InterAccess

Shotgun Reviews are an open forum where we invite the international art community to contribute timely, short-format responses to an exhibition or event. If you are interested in submitting a Shotgun Review, please click this link for more information. In this Shotgun Review, Shauna Jean Doherty reviews Mean Time to Upgrade at InterAccess in Toronto.

Hannah Epstein. Cock Fight, 2010; mixed media. Courtesy of the Artist and InterAccess. Photo: Robin Hamill Photography 2014.

Hannah Epstein. Cock Fight, 2010; VHS game. Courtesy of the Artist and InterAccess. Photo: Robin Hamill Photography 2014.

The exhibition Mean Time to Upgrade at Toronto’s premiere new-media art gallery, InterAccess, responds to the evolving climate of museum collections and exhibition approaches in the wake of new-media art. In a collection of highly technical artworks spanning a period of 30 years, each is uniquely at risk of becoming obsolete due to its reliance on antiquated components. Save for one of the works in the show, each was selected from a call for works in “existential crisis”—that is, works that are on the verge of losing their function by virtue of their technical composition. By delaying upgrade momentarily, this exhibition gives room to consider the impact of changing the technologies that are fundamental to these artworks. 

Three 1950s beauty-salon chairs complete with hovering helmets populate a substantial space in the gallery. Modified with analog switches and small color monitors where blow-dryers were once housed, Nancy Paterson’s Hair Salon TV (1986) produces a stream of video images with portraits of technological icons juxtaposed with footage of women in various domains (domestic space, workplace environments, and engagement in scientific discovery). The analog technology used effectively collapses images of the domestic, aesthetic, and technical realms to firmly place women in each arena, while also making visible their intersections.

Hannah Epstein’s VHS roulette game, Cock Fight (2010), invites viewers, two at a time, to choose and insert a VHS tape into the player. Users then randomly press the play and pause buttons as points flash on screen (+5, -10). The player is awarded the points that appear onscreen when the video is paused. Cock Fight harkens back to a brief cultural moment in which VHS games were popular. The piece subverts the technical function of the play/pause buttons, and opens up new ways of using and thinking through technologies.

Dragan Espenchied’s 1000years (2012) stands as the most contemporary work in the exhibition, and yet it faces a crisis of expiration like the others. The work is a computer-based performance piece, using a Mac OS X Lion iCalendar program that flips forward and backward 1,000 years. As the animated pages turn rapidly, they indicate the passage of time—a central theme in this exhibition. Mean Time to Upgrade acknowledges the crisis of preservation that currently plagues the field of new-media art but offers little in the way of resolution. The notion of time is so essential in this exhibition because of the rapid rate at which technologies advance and, subsequently, obsolesce. Electronic and digital art demand the development of new institutional modes of thinking in terms of both curating and preservation in order to ensure that technical art, which is so prolific in contemporary art production, is reflected in arts institutions and collections worldwide.

Mean Time to Upgrade is on view at InterAccess in Toronto through November 22, 2014.

Shauna Jean Doherty is a freelance art critic and curator based in Toronto. Her academic research investigates glitch aesthetics and new-media art-preservation practices.