Review: Existential Disruption On Display At The Age of You Exhibition

We are all desperately trying to figure out the age we’re living in. Every day we are awoken by the new horrors unfolding within our digital realm. From deep fake hysteria to social media toxicity to the threat of big tech capturing your data and selling it onwards.

One of the best ways to reflect this Bladerunner vision is through the medium of art. It has a clear conscience and at its inception is mostly never coopted by the markets. Artists like Norman Rockwell, Ai WeiWei and even Banksy follow a long historical trend of individuals delving into our psyche challenging our deepest held assumptions from the comfortable couch we hide behind.

Words: Shumon Basar/Douglas Coupland/Hans Ulrich Obrist; Image: Paul Mpagi Sepuya, Self Portrait, 2018.

This is what The Age of You Exhibition intends. A comprehensive analysis of the digital age we live in, sandwiched by the bitter flavours leftover in your mouth.  Curated by three heavyweights of the art world, Shumon Basar, Douglas Coupland and Hans Ulrich Obrist. It is their collective attempt to parse digital technology through the realm of existential disruption, reflecting the many digital puzzles we face around identity and self-worth.
To do this, they have enlisted some of the best artists around, over 70 visual contributors from the worlds of art, design, filmmaking, photography, performance and electronic music.  Commissioned by the newly opened MOCA in Toronto, they range from the London based fashion hype-king Craig Green to R.E.M. vocalist turned overnight intellectual Michael Stipe and established gulf futurist Fatima Al Qadiri.

This exhibition is laid out like the journey of a novel, each floor woven into chapters, each corner numbered to give you a coherent narrative.  Some pieces are more intimidating and confronting than others. Other pieces demand you sit back and absorb.
There is no doubt however, that the exhibition as a whole is intended to inspire conversation. In fact, I had several passionate impromptu discussions with random people in the space. It became a laboratory of philosophical chatter rather than a place to just sit and flop about.  You can feel your pulse rising as your eyes fall upon provocative pieces of text or imagery, asking myself how does this relate to me?

Qatari-American artist Sophia Al-Maria delivered a disturbing video sermon via a dreamy and demonic-looking avatar, she could be straight from the bedroom of a 15-year-old, mirroring the unsettling online behaviour of our Like culture. Then there is Toronto-born drag artist Victoria Sin who uses speculative fiction and still-life art to explore self-obsession as the narrator repeats the mantra, “Look, look, look…” over and over again.  This is weird stuff, but then so is our culture right now.

Words: Shumon Basar/Douglas Coupland/Hans Ulrich Obrist; Image: Stephanie Comilang, Still from “Lumapit Sa Akin, Paraiso (Come To Me, Paradise)”
Sophia Al-Maria “Mirror Cookie”, 2018 Courtesy the artist, Fondazione Arnaldo Pomodoro Milan and Project Native Informant, London.

As I travel through this dystopian chamber of quotes, banners, videos and glitches a sense of angst washes over me.  Confronting myself with questions of existence and self-love. They have even tagged their exhibition with the statement – “If you’re wondering why the inside of your head feels so strange these days, this exhibition is for you.” I would respond by saying if you are not a fan of investigating the self, then I would not recommend this hall of mirrors.

I have thought about this exhibition and what springs to mind is: We’re not scared of this present moment – we’re terrified because we have seen glimpses of the future. The loss of self and control. We’re entering a digital void where there are no limits to your fragmentation. But then I think, what good did the individual ever give us? It brought us ego, climate crisis, obsession with profit and growth, maybe it’s ok that we move into this new open-ended paradigm.

Victoria Sin, Tell Me Everything You Saw, and What You Think it Means, 2018. Film still (detail)

However, this does also feel like an exhibition more about the concerns of the curators than ours. More about their own sense of mortality, loss of individuality and control. As ambassadors of the liberatti, they espouse disgust over recent political events such as Brexit, with one canvas stating, “Does it really count if 52% vote for this?”

Let’s be honest, there’s a whole generation, mostly made up of under 20-year-olds that don’t give one hoot about any of these issues,  they accept every term and condition, upload their bodies in the hope of attracting just one more like and they TikTok their way into the future. The question that I am left with is, is this the future we want or rather a deep and unsettling probe into our current reality? That is up to you.

Written by founding editor Ari Stein

Age Of You is on now at the MOCA until January 5, 2020

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Luggage on this trip supplied by Horizn Studios