26/F/NL seeking a way to reconnect at IMPAKT’s Modern Love festival
Review by Agnieszka Wodzińska (Metropolis M)
How does the Internet impact the way we meet, date, love, and break up? Can artists bridge the gaps between individuals that capitalist modes of being, the COVID-19 pandemic, and social media all widened in recent years? Modern Love (or Love in the Age of Cold Intimacies) offers a refreshing take on how digitisation influences our most intimate relationships in a two-part exhibition across Utrecht and a vibrant hybrid programme of screenings, discussions, and performances.
Love is an elusive thing, yet we can’t stop making art about it. If I had to pick one overarching theme present in my favourite artworks and the media I consume, and I was being honest about it, I would admit it is love: or desire, or longing, or heartbreak. Despite its many facets, love rarely gets the kind of direct attention in art spaces like it does in Modern Love. Curator Katerina Gregos elaborates on her interest in this topic: “There’s a misconception that if you talk about love, it’s corny or cheesy. But I think it’s a profoundly interesting subject. It makes the world go round; it can move mountains.”
Love may be universal, but it requires a reference point, otherwise it may balloon into self-serving sentimentality or shallow, abstract reflections. “I didn’t just want to do a show about love,” says Gregos. “My work is always politically and socially engaged. I wanted to look at how the Internet and social media have affected our most intimate social relationships because they have, whether we like it or not.”
It is no use pretending that love is somehow the last man standing as all other aspects of life (both private and public) suffer lasting effects of capitalism, digitisation, and increased surveillance. Modern Love acknowledges this backdrop and provides a space to contemplate and re-consider this predicament. What has digitisation done to love and intimacy? Where do we go from here?
At IMPAKT Centre and Centraal Museum, I am met with a assemblage of works that together explore both the struggles and joys of relationships in the age of “cold intimacies,” a term coined by sociologist Eva Illouz, a guest speaker at this edition of the Festival, referring to the blurred lines between economic and emotional relations.
As I explore the space, I am split between melancholy and wonder. I consider the tension between these feelings, playing tug-of-war with myself. I eventually decide, with the help of the works on display, that it is a good thing to make space for both. For instance, Maria Mavropoulou’s multimedia project Family Portraits(2017-ongoing) feels familiar and alien at once; the bright screens featured in the photographs illuminate the otherwise dark image, but they do not feel warm or inviting. I want to reject it, yet I recognise the warm connotation with video calls and the possibility to see loved ones in digitally mediated encounters. Mavropoulou explores this tension with grace, highlighting the absence of physical bodies and tenderly inquiring about the authenticity of these exchanges as they blur boundaries between work and leisure, connection and loneliness.
Less melancholic and more vibrant – most of the works in Modern Love embody both in various degrees – Marijke De Roover’s prints Niche Content for Frustrated Queers (2019-20) lean into the visual language of memes. In exploring themes like the performativity of online dating and the construction of unrealistic expectations, De Roover utilises self-deprecation and recognisable templates to play with visibility of queer desire. These fringe expressions usually exist in digital spheres that are uninterested in or hostile towards non-heteronormative content. De Roover asks what it means to be queer online and looks for common ground with anybody who might relate to the struggles. It might be fleeting or comic, but recognition takes place. Then it passes. Digital worlds continue to morph and shift as we play with humour and sadness. It is refreshing to see a series of works unafraid to bite into the present moment and leave an impression.
Across IMPAKT Centre and Centraal Museum, Modern Love constructs a compelling meditation on what it means to have a body with physical and emotional desires in a world mediated by technology. These relatively new but ever-present digital forces create distance between us and, ultimately, induce apathy. All that matters to corporations and surveillance mechanics is to keep us online, not to keep us engaged in meaningful exchange. But Modern Love is anything but apathetic. The works express connectivity and curiosity, united by a desire for the physical, in whatever way possible.
Across IMPAKT and Centraal Museum, Modern Love constructs a compelling meditation on what it means to have a body with physical and emotional desires in a world mediated by technology
Hannah Toticki’s sculpture Framing Reference (2020) urges you to take a seat, rest, connect; Marge Monko’s installation I Don’t Know You So I Can’t Love You (2018) asks you to listen to a conversation between two voice assistants; Peter Puklus’ installation The Hero Mother – How To Build a House (2016-19) makes you comfortable in a domestic space where you can question your assumptions around what it means to build a home.
Gregos explains her belief in the power of artistic interventions into our relationship with the digital sphere: “Artists have the ability to negotiate the plethora of images that surround us because they understand the mechanisms and engineering underlying images that exist within the domain of the virtual. I’m following artists of all different ages and looking with great interest at what young artists are doing. They are very much resisting everything that comes with social media platforms.” I was pleasantly surprised to see so many young artists included in the exhibition.
Without stumbling into 90s nostalgia, the programming of Modern Love recognises the promises the Internet continues to hold as it explores ways to mediate a healthier and more conscious relationship to the digital
Alongside the exhibition, Katerina Gregos and IMPAKT director Arjon Dunnewind join forces, bringing a selection of screenings, performances and discussions to Het Huis Utrecht and the online platform IMPAKT.TV. In this way, Modern Lovetackles both art and larger social phenomena that contextualise it. Take the panel discussion The Skin of Your Ass, featuring Heather Berg, Jennifer Lyon Bell, and Michael Portnoy. Asking questions about pornography and identity, the discussion explored tensions between pornography and erotic art, and tackled issues of safety, labour, and liberation in sex work. Fragments of video works by Portnoy and Berg showed the role consent and humour play in erotic videos and art. Screenings of Shelly Silver’s What I’m Looking For (2004) and Mike Hoolbloom’s 27 Thoughts About My Dad (2019) and their Q&As opened up issues of safety and vulnerability in social relations performed or documented in the digital realm.
I was touched by the continued impression that both the contributors and attendees of Modern Love are searching for some sort of a soft landing, a reassurance; looking for ways to reconnect and repair relations fissured under the pressure of late-stage capitalism and Silicon Valley enterprises.
Without stumbling into 90s nostalgia, the programming of Modern Loverecognises the promises the Internet continues to hold as it explores ways to mediate a healthier and more conscious relationship to the digital. We must first find each other in the dark. Reach out, hold on, and resist the toxicity of data overload and (self-)surveillance together. The rest will follow.