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unREAL. The Algorithmic Present

June 8th - August 20th, 2017 / Haus der elektronischen Künste, Basel

The group show examines the complexity of our digital age and presents the often hidden materiality of the bits and bytes by means of 24 works.

Art has always been a test bed for a notion of the real. In contemporary art of the last fifty years, the concept of the real was often tied to a debate related to the body that reflected and commented on reality in haptic works. The advent of a globally networked society, the beginning of massive internet consumption and the ubiquitous use and universal distribution of digital devices have largely changed our perception of time and space, but also of work and play, politics and economics and many other areas of life. Reality has become more complex and more and more resists easy categorization and assignment of meaning. Today there is no area not controlled or informed by algorithms. Everything has become predictable. Digital technologies and tools have been designed to facilitate our daily lives and help organize the complexity of the world around us. In this way, however, they also constitute meaning and reality. 

The exhibition unREAL. The Algorithmic Present examines the complexity of our time as the separation between the digital and the real has become obsolete. It presents works that illustrate the often-hidden materiality of the bits and bytes. With the help of twenty-four works by international artists, algorithmic processes of our digital presence are physically experienced in poetic installations and immersive projections. By revealing the mechanisms and means of digital processes that constitute our present experiences of reality, the works unified in the exhibition show us a new logic to the real.?The exhibition's works invite visitors to new sensory perceptions that make the materiality of the digital processes visible. In their formal qualities, they are simultaneously poetic, complex and fascinating. They excite our senses and stimulate our perception. They point to the effectiveness of digital devices with which we entrust our data and make our memories. At the same time, the works question who has the right to own this new reality manifested in the materiality of the bits and bytes and the algorithmic performance of the digital. 

Some works have been specifically realized for the context of the exhibition, such as the new kinetic work ?Ton/2 by Swiss artist duo Cod.Act, or the lighting installation Untitled — Plato's Cube by Chinese artist Wang Yuyang, which changes over the course of the exhibition. The Swiss artist Pe Lang will expand his work series Modular three dimensionally into the space; Swiss artist Zahra Poonawala present for the first time her interactive sound installation The Fool's Ballad. In addition, the exhibition presents several significant works by renowned artists. The sound room REFLEX by Carsten Nicolai will be shown, creating an acoustic illusion for visitors as a walkable sculpture. In Kerstin Ergenzinger's Wanderer, small thermal printers create a drawing in the exhibition space. With 1 + N chairs, Colombian artist Fito Segrera creates a tribute to conceptual artist Joseph Kosuth's work, which he expands by using technological intelligence. The Small Data series by Daniel Canogar shows collective memories of old electronic devices such as mobile phones, hard drives or remote controls. In the installation Mirage by Ralf Baecker, a synthetic landscape is created based on the earth's changing magnetic field. The Chinese artist aaajiao creates computer-generated landscapes and objects. The work Stranger Visions by American artist Heather Dewey Hagborg has caused a stir worldwide by creating facial reconstructions based on DNA traces from public places. 

The installation works of the exhibition are supplemented by the project TRANSFER Download, which was conceived as an immersive environment. A dozen works of art, from VR, algorithmic generated videos to web-based works, are presented in a video installation.? The program for this installation was designed by TRANSFER Gallery in New York and adapted for the exhibition at the HeK. 

The exhibition unREAL is a coproduction realized in cooperation with the Chronus Art Center in Shanghai. After the presentation at HeK, it will be shown there from November 12, 2017 to January 25, 2018.


aaajiao, AES+F, LaTurbo Avedon, Ralf Baecker, Daniel Canogar, Cod.Act, Heather Dewey-Hagborg, Kerstin Ergenzinger, Claudia Hart, Pe Lang, Rollin Leonard, Rosa Menkman, Lorna Mills, Harvey Moon, Carsten Nicolai, Eva Papamargariti, Zahra Poonawala, Sabrina Ratté, Fito Segrera, Rick Silva & Nicolas Sassoon, Phillip David Stearns, Daniel Temkin, Wang Yuyang.

Curators: Sabine Himmelsbach and Zhang Ga
Opening: 07.06.2017, 19:00

Link to the exhibition