Modes of Communication & Technology
by Ryan LeJarde
14th May 2013
A new show at (Art) Amalgamated in Chelsea strives to test the boundaries of communication and connection in the 21st century. Some Fifty Miles of Concrete Pavement is a collaboration between the artists David Birkin and Jeremy Hutchison. The two kept correspondence from their respective home bases at the time, Birkin in Southern California, and Hutchison in London. The show is a testament to the two artists attempting to bridge the gap between their locales, connecting through each other’s work, ideologies, as well as the similarities and differences between their respective environments.
On one wall of the gallery are four photographs that juxtapose what each artist saw when he walked 25 miles from his base. In the most stunning of these photos, the image of a glut of highway overpasses is placed directly in the center of a desert scene. The two skies from each photo play off each other; the highway scene is grey, cloudy, and somber, while the sky above the dessert is clear and blue. Something as simple as a difference in the weather provides not only a fetching visual convergence, but it also quickly and efficiently portrays to the viewer the severity of the disconnect between these two seemingly likeminded artists.
While these photographs are in and of themselves worth a few moments of contemplation, the better use of juxtaposition occurs in two emails that are on display, one addressed from Birkin to Hutchison, the other vice versa. In his message, Birkin writes, “We’ve both been very positive and responsive towards each other’s ideas, which is incredibly important and the sign of a good collaboration.” In the center of each email is a fragmented section of the text from the opposite message. The result is that a large chunk of each email is unreadable without some elite spatial awareness on the part of the viewer. With the inclusion of these emails, the clarity of our now-simplest mode of communication is called into question, as the body of the text, which might otherwise satisfy any voyeurism in the viewer, is not available in whole.
Birkin and Hutchison seem very concerned with the shortcomings of 21st century technology. The show includes a large image taken from Google Maps: a satellite view of Hutchison’s London stomping grounds, which is partially blocked by a superimposed image of El Mirage Dry Lake in Adelanto, CA, just north of Los Angeles. In trying to discover a route between these two places, the artists have caused the ubiquitous technology of Google Maps to fail, as the piece declares, “We could not calculate directions between Adelanto, CA, USA and London Borough of Hackney, United Kingdom.”
But the show is evidence enough that a connection was ultimately attainable. Perhaps the most striking pieces on display are the two pairs of pants that are splayed out on the gallery floor. Two pairs of jeans – one black, the other faded, each originally belonging to one of the artists – have been cut in half and each leg has been reconnected to the opposite leg of the other. The fact that the pants are lying on the ground suggests tiredness and exasperation, the result of a grand accomplishment on the parts of the artists. They symbolize the coming together of two artists and two minds, creatively, spiritually, philosophically, and, with this particular piece, physically as well.