March 16, 2022
Jon Rafman (Montreal, 1981) is one of the most acute and penetrating interpreters of the new figurative culture: his works, from videos and photography to the more traditional techniques of painting and sculpture, have fascinated not only the art’s system but also that of fashion, going beyond the limits of the two languages in favor of a multidisciplinary approach.
An exhibition on view at Ordet Gallery, a Milanese exhibition space, presents a body of recent works that take the artist's research to a new level, focusing on topics such as the dissolution of reality and the relationship between subjectivity and collective imaginaries.
₳Ɽ฿ł₮ɆⱤ Ø₣ ₩ØⱤⱠĐ₴ is an exhibition full of references: from the digital and popular subculture to occultism from which it retrieves the concept of egregore, to consider as the the key to the interpretation of the seven works presented in the Milanese space. It’s a term from the Greek etymology - literally wakeful - which in esotericism indicates a mental form that manifests itself as the emanation of a community that shares a common cultural framework. Born from obsessive thoughts and myths, the egregore can lead to collective false beliefs: the series of homonymous works that welcome the visitor - a three-channel video installation from 2021 - looks like an ancient triptych that show sliding montages of images taken from the deepest and most forgotten corner of the Web. Chaotic visions manipulated by the artist that, in their rapid and disturbing flow, reveal the unconscious side of the network, as in a sort of visual archive that retrieves and collects traces of the Internet age. As an archaeologist brings to light the remains and the material testimonies of ancient civilization with a meticulous excavation work, Rafman searches of the most remote and forgotten traces of the Internet: if the ephemeral is one of the main topic of virtual reality, the artist takes on the almost ethical task of bringing them back to the surface.
Continuing the visit, another recurring element emerges in Rafman's work: the use of the universe of videogames and the newest and most advanced technologies: just think of his famous works that use a tool such as Google Street View in a singular and unusual way or the way he penetrated the parallel universe of Second Life. Among the Milanese works, ᖴᗩᑕ Iᗩ ᒪᔕ I (Facials I, 2022) is a collection of facial skins designed specifically for the use of videogame animation, for the creation of avatars and in other fields of the 3D industry. Rafman imagines these manipulations as a sort of advertising trailers of products that can be purchased for their avatars, guaranteeing a further possibility of customization. The Baby portrait, from the New Paintings series, is instead a print on canvas made with the support of artificial intelligence: Rafman appropriates those tools typical of the contemporary world that alienate the human being from himself and the surrounding context to put them at service of art and aesthetic experience.
Two other videos - real films in terms of time duration - tell something more about the limitless universe of Rafman: Minor Deamon I is the continuation of the previous work Dream Journal 2016-2019 from both the conceptual and the aesthetic point of view. It’s a production video conceived in Computer-Generated Imagery: a surreal dystopia derived from weird fiction in which any action and any abomination are possible. The retro taste of the production, the music and the plot contribute to the viewer's sense of disorientation, invited to observe the installation directly from the fleshy armchairs designed by the artist himself that evoke the classic professional gaming seat.
The artist investigates the concept of memory and identity in the contemporary era in the film Punctured Sky I, a recent production that has its roots in the past: the title itself evokes a videogame totally forgotten and of which Rafman himself was big fan in teens. From a technical point, in the film he still uses artificial intelligence and smartphone apps of view to obtain a narrative that becomes increasingly visionary: the narrator is the same artist who, during the video, undergoes a real and profound identity crisis and a collapse of definite truths due to a total loss of memory. The protagonist therefore finds himself dealing with a world of mass illusions and having to rely on his own strength during his experience. The video is indebted to that imaginary that invades the network called creepypasta, made up of absurd and horrifying images and characterized by rapid copy and paste actions: anonymous and illusory fragments, posted for example in the messages of forums and social networks, in a parallel dimension from our everyday life.
The great strength of the exhibition lies in the complexity and actuality of Rafman's visual and cultural references and in his ability to put contemporary man at the center of his art. When the boundaries between art and life and between web and reality become increasingly narrow, Rafman leaves us with a single question "What does it mean for something to be Real?".