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Last days to visit Jeremy Shaw’s first major museum exhibition in France in the Centre Pompidou with a unique immersive project, Phase Shifting Index on view till Monday 27 of July. A show about spirituality, altered states of mind, introspection, alternative cultures, and science fiction. very appropriate for these atypical times we live in.
Based in Berlin and originally from Canada, Jeremy Shaw (Vancouver, 1977) artistic corpus lies at the crossroads of several contemporary issues, based on the study of philosophy, anthropology, sociology, and scientific practices — more particularly cognitive and neuroscience, not to mention the latest technological advances such as bio-nano technologies. Combining and amplifying strategies of cinema vérité, conceptual art, music, and video clips, his works create a post-documentary space in which perception, rituals, spirituality, belief systems, transcendence, and disparate stories coexist in an interpretative limbo. Shaw has an uncanny ability to explore and capture visible expressions of invisible realities and his work is a visual and sound representation of these multiple developments in research are real multi-sensorial experience.
The exhibition Phase Shifting Index is part if this year is the fourth edition of Mutations/Creations, a program resembling a laboratory for creation and innovation taking place at the Centre Pompidou that works at the frontiers of art, science, and engineering. Each year, the program brings together artists, engineers, and scientists. Mutations/Creations 2020 focuses its prospective research through two exhibitions, Jeremy Shaw and Neurons, Simulated Intelligence about technical progress and artistic representation around artificial intelligence.
Phase Shifting Index follows on from the series Quantification Trilogy for which the Centre Pompidou acquired the video piece Liminals in 2017, following its presentation at the Venice Art Biennale in 2017. Between rituals and drugs walks Jeremy Shaw’s Quantification Trilogy, this series of works focuses on the exploration of neuroscience and cognitive and where transcendental and altered states of mind and belief systems are crucial. His idée fixe for the loss of control and altered consciousness, usually with the help of drugs, dance, science, trance, and religious ecstasy, rises above the origin that provokes them to confront the audience with the ineffability and incommunicability of subjective experience.
After contextualizing the exhibition in the French territory and especially in the Pompidou Centre, let us now contextualize Shaw’s work which deals with especially first world contemporary issues. Shaw has conducted his artistic, audio, and often immersive artistic work for more than fifteen years, following a period from 1996 to 2009 spent traveling throughout the world as a DJ with his Circlesquare project. It is obvious that those years are not unrelated to the very nature of his artistic work, where drugs, music, and the sound dimension play an important role.
Art, humanity, beliefs, transcendence, perception and drugs
Humanity has always used rituals to regain its balance in the face of the disturbances caused by the disorder of the world and its dizzying behaviour. Violence, natural disasters, or disease are at the origin of many ritual practices. Collective excesses are also part of an ancestral tradition. Mythical events, such as the ancient bacchanals dedicated to Dionysus which, in addition to being dramatic and lyrical performances, included unbridled dancing, tumultuous parades, orgies, ecstatic rites, and wine consumption. On the other hand, drugs —both legal and illegal— have been used since time immemorial, for example, the use of hallucinogens in the Inca culture (dating from 8600 BC) and of opium by the Sumerians (from 5000 BC).
Whatever mankind has ingested, artists are among its most notorious users. To cite one case, see the avant-garde movements of the early 20th century, in particular, the Surrealists and their passion for psychedelics. Artists’ relationship with drugs is unique as they tend to communicate these experiences through art, even integrating ingestion into their practice, as Marina does Abramović in Rhythm 2 (1974) or in the case of Rob Pruitt, who invites viewers to snort the work Cocaine Buffet (1994) like Narcisos, which consisted of a six-metre line of cocaine on a mirror. Similarly, Tania Bruguera handed out cocaine to those attending a performance in Bogotá in 2009.
Shaw, spirituality and the sociology of beliefs
Shaw’s narratives derive his inspiration from the psychedelic culture of the 1960s and 1970s produced by the Beat Generation and the most recent progress in neuroscience concerning how the brain functions while working precisely on perception within the context of his installations. These engage spectators in real multi-sensory layers, thus giving rise to questions in the work and in his experiments, concerning the meaning of the perceiving subject’s lived experience. A dissolution of limits by challenging the human aspiration for transcendence at a time when the cognitive sciences are triumphant.
Through an artistic method, questions concerning metaphysics, the primary philosophy which focuses on things “beyond the world” —the eternal, the divine— lie at the heart of Shaw’s practice. To this metaphysical dimension is added an acute sensitivity to sociology, particularly the sociology of beliefs. Shaw questions the persistence of this fundamental need of human beings for spirituality and beliefs, despite scientific progress that might have led us to expect this need would be replaced by reason and technological progress.
In rave parties and the widespread availability of hard drugs, Shaw observes the loss of a certain idealism and a revolutionary desire that typified the 1970s, in favour of consumer-ready fashions and trends. Neuroscience and the cognitive sciences constitute a third element in the work of Jeremy Shaw. He appropriates the new images produced by brain science, such as MRI, spectroscopy, and microscopic photography, and makes them his own. His work seems to stage scientific imagery detached from a theoretical base, encountering popular beliefs that came into being at the same time as the new technologies.
At the entrance to the exhibition, the public discoversTowards Universal Pattern Recognition, a series of kaleidoscopic photographs that use images of religious or festive trances subjected to a process of shattering and fragmentation.
After the series of photographs produced for the exhibition, a video-installation has been designed especially for Phase Shifting Index located at Gallery 3 and consisting of seven large video screens.
Entering a vast room with a long ramp that produces a claustrophobic feeling, visitors find themselves high up on terraces somewhat overlooking the space plunged in the darkness where seven films are projected on seven suspended screens showing groups of dancers that seem to come from different eras performing ritual-type and cathartic movements until they synchronize in a moment of collective ecstasy in one and the same sound and image track.
The films Quantum Moderns, Countdown, The Violet Lux, The Alignment Movement, Reclaimers, Zero-Ones, and The Cyclical Culture are screened for around 30 minutes. For the few remaining minutes, at the high point of this catharsis when the same aspiration for transcendence culminates, all the screens display computer-distorted images of the faces of the characters in the previous films in an explosion of sound and color.
This disfiguring inspired by biotechnologies produces a feeling of incertitude concerning the future prospects of additions to the human body, just as it simultaneously provokes an aesthetic fascination and discomfort. Shaw subverts scientific progress in the same way as he plays with the tools and the sometimes-unresolved questions of the cognitive sciences.
As a confrontation of rational and spiritual aspirations in a future post-human era, the Phase Shifting Index video installation dissolves the limits of sound and image, stimulating the perceptive nerves of the spectator torn between ecstasy and fear, relief and apprehension. This criticism of modern rationality and the return to emotions seems positive to me until the dystopian vision of the synthesis between humans and machines comes to play.
Phase Shifting Index playlist
Jeremy Shaw has created also created a playlist in Spotify, on the occasion of the exhibition, here is the link.