Chloe Torri: Sugar Coated Social Security
Today, there is no social and there is no security. Both of those dreams are sugar-coated fairytales for the next generation of Americans. While many have forgotten that Baudrillard had already declared the "death of the social" by the 80s, this proclamation was realized just a decade later with the rise of the interent and social media. As for the idea of "social security", our current theorists of techno-capitalism and the Gig economy haven't painted a candy-eyed picture of its prospects either. Rather, job security, financial security, rising food insecurity, and nearly every other form of long-term security seems to have evaporated over the course of a single generation. And yet, nobody has demonstrated the intersection of these ideas in quite so concrete and cushy a manner as Chloe Torri. Already a stand-out voice for millennial concerns, Torri’s projects have regularly transversed the playful, the humorous and the sanguine in order to highlight where we are in culture today.
Communication is a central concern in her art practice, and previous bodies of work like “Voices” and “Speak to Me” both delve into the proliferation of new forms of meaning-making in a world of re-mediated experiences. The difference is that Torri is a true polymath, using whatever materials are the best fit for her systems of artistic messaging. One might say that she selects the right form for the right platform, a perspective that the theorist of relational aesthetics, Nicholas Bourriaud, identified as a Post-Production ethic that seems to be a naturalized condition for today's "radicant" artists. This probably has something to due with the fact that just a generation ago this outlook was called being a "Post-studio artist", but in Torri’s work the struggle is not to overthrow medium specificity per say, but rather, to find out how the specificity of the massages that she is trying to convey can have a real and abiding impact her audience. If Bourriaud encountered her work, he'd undoubtably say that this exhibition is a clear example of relational aesthetics 2.0.
Nowhere is this rendered with such clarity as in Sugar Coated Social Security, which is a stunning redux of her much larger exhibition entitled Sugar Coated. What is different in this second edition of the show is that both the radical compression of forms, and the mere density of signs and signifiers that issue from our social networks, feel as though they fully encompass the space of the gallery even as they threaten to swallow up the viewer. This is because Sugar Coated Social Security is a radically immersive experience, where the dramatic upscaling and the wild proliferation of so many “Likes”, emoji’s and icons, are all made to feel as if they form the basis of a different kind of "social security net”, one that aims to offset the feeling of alienation that has come to be associated with what many theorists now call “the new isolationism”. Take together, the vibrant (re)materialization of these digital gestures at-a-remove, represent what we would hope the medium of ones and zero’s would actually feel like if we could physically inhabit it. It is no small accomplishment to have transformed the symbols of emoti-cons into an experience of the affective-real, giving us an uncanny moment where we encounter distanced affect and tangible effect in equal measure. It goes without saying that Torri's project has accomplished this in spades, and at a level and quality that is rarely seen in contemporary art today.
Of course, many of the critical problems in our society that Torri’s work serves to underscore are connected to the mounting studies that show how social media actually makes us feel more disconnected, more removed, and more alone even though we are in contact with each other more than ever. This strange conundrum relies on the fact that everyone on this side of the digital divide now has the feeling of being available nearly 24/7, and yet, we are somehow lacking the greater emotional connections and the kinds of deep social bonds that have characterized the congress of past generations. This is nothing anyone could have foreseen, but the revelation of its long-term consequences have caused many lead designers of social media to defect entirely from major corporations in order to reveal the true breadth of damage that is it doing to the psychological well-being of humanity on a global scale. In this regard, Chamath Palihapitiya is the Aaron Swartz, Edward Snowden, or Julian Assange of this cultural moment, and there is a decided resonance between Palihapitiya's concerns and the projects of Chloe Torri too.
Additionally, many political theorists have cited how participation at a remove, or the rise of Clicktivism, may be the main reason for a marked increase in political apathy, defacto resentment and growing political polarization. That is because all of the above changes have much deeper ramifications than most people are fully willling to admit, and that is because they are not unrelated to a growing crisis for millenials which is the dramatic rise in suicide rates among members of the younger generation, and women in particular. What was originally thought to have been an aberrant spike in statistical deaths during the early 21st century has quickly become a entrenched concern as it is now the second leading cause of death among people ages ten to thirty-four. Perhaps the sugar-coated sense of optimism behind both modernism and the revolutionary hope of the postmodern counter-culture, have finally begun to sour. Torri's projects are themsleves, about the question of how our personal and collective futures feel removed from the secure horizon of "progress" and "revolution". Instead, they point more to the unerving growth in the "security state" which is implicated by the "dummy" watchbirds that sourround her more recent exhibits.
And while the reception of Torri’s labor intensive soft sculptures and decoratively embellished wall-works create a warm and affectively rich experience, provoking the genuine urge to dive into a rather plush and opulent display of the "aesthetics of de-mediation", they also point to the psychological problems that can occur from being oversaturated in the types of mediums that the social theorist Marshall McLuhan referred to as “cold mediums”. And just like McLuhan’s writings about the medium being the massage, Torri’s projects provide just as many questions about how our e-motional states are effected by e-commerce, how our i-pods are resulting in us becoming human antipods, and what the entire range of implications about mediated forms of relating mean for a generation X, Y, Z and beyond.
Why millenials will certianly never struggle with new media the way past generations do, they face an entirely different battle over how to connect, why and with whom. This is what the author of The End of Protest: A New Playbook for Revolution and the leader of Occupy Wallstreet, Micah White, called the battle over our mental ecology. This has become an issue of paramount importance because being birthed into the information industrial complex has also meant being subject to a soft form of psychological warfare for millenials, with little choice but to try to separate out the rampant spread of clickbait, info-tainment, online disinhibition effects and even the worries of revenge porn from the valuted promises of living in a more "connected world". Torri’s contribution to helping us think through the complexity of the present situtation is what makes her oveure so prescient. While her tongue and cheek approach to addressing how digital and aesthetic experience informs our given dispositions at any one time, and even how we perceive the world around us, the more discerning viewer will be sure to note that lying just beneath the play of both material and screen effects, are those truly critical issues that resist being all-too-easily sugar-coated.