11 May 2015
NEW YORK — Team gallery is featuring new work from Tabor Robak, presenting four video installations in his show titled Fake Shrimp. Ubiquitously, each piece displays strong prismatic arrays of color, all psychedelic in their scope, and a level of razor-edge craftsmanship that’s reflected in the visual content inhabiting Robak’s videos. Each of his video pieces loop seamlessly, giving the viewer little footing on beginning or end. Some of the works deliberately display their “back-ends”, the electronic hardware used to drive the videos imagery (media players, power-strips, data cables, microcontrollers, and so forth) which in turn gives the viewer a peak into the logistics of the installation.
The first piece on the left, Drinking Bird (Seasons) (2015) is a vertically displayed video work mimicking the lock screen on a smart-phone. There’s an animated background that’s in constant liquid-like turmoil visually referencing real and invented Western calendar holidays. The time and date are kept in real-time and instead of a swipe or unlock button at the bottom of the screen, live news updates are parsed from CNN. Like the background, the news events are constantly changing, almost as if they’re attempting to find their visual purpose in tandem with the works liquid background imagery. What I found interesting in this piece is the fact that the news “never ends” or seeks to end, it’s constantly trying to identify itself in new pictures/content, unlike the looping seasonal background in Drinking Bird, it’s own timeline is constant and un-repeated. At times I found myself in agreement with the content of news event and it’s relationship to the liquid imagery, as if the news prompt had briefly got in sync with the works visual connection to cyclical-seasonal time. It was unpredictable moments like those where I found the work especially appealing.
Further down to the left is Newborn Baby (2015) in which Robak’s use of transparent video screens positioned in front of the same size (opaque) display screens enables him to work with seemingly tangible depth. The video is a horizontal triptych featuring a maelstrom of consumer grade content ranging from corporate stock photos and videos, screen test patterns, and animated graphic design elements. The use of the aforementioned imagery is standard procedure in light of contemporary (marketable) viewership. As the title implies “Newborn Baby”, one might envision this work as a device of protocol utilized for newborns to watch in order to prepare and adjust their vision to a world progressively dominated by screens. The video itself is a fluxing melange of tropical animals, food, signage/symbols, and catalogs of human faces, all embellished with abstract animation. All of these things suggest the current, endless stream of information our eyes has to face day-to-day. In Newborn Baby perhaps children are (or will be) born with this stuff in their faces upon exiting the womb, a harbinger of a screen-saturated future. At the base of Newborn Baby Robok has displayed the hardware that houses the content of his creation, a simple strategy at showing the stark contrast between hidden-back end and refined consumer-ready frontend.
On the middle rear wall of the front gallery stands a monolithic installation made up of twelve 55” screens in a grid of three rows titled Where’s My Water? (2015). This video exhibits a series of exquisitely rendered “pen cups” and other utilitarian objects found on desks. Each holder/cup is the center of attention during the length of the video, all are monumental and ready to receive or to be punctured by the tools that adorn the desktops among various tiers of workers. Like Newborn Baby, the video plays through a series of nonlinear sequences each one containing it’s own micro-story about each cup displayed. The grandiose display size of Where’s My Water? spoke of a scale in terms of “amount of work” and the lengths at which these objects are employed by it’s users, they solely exist to do work (for us) which is monumental within itself. The title seems to play on exhaustion and replenishment, in order to continue work efficiently one must replenish. The cups in the video, most of which could contain water are instead filled with a panoply of pens, pencils, gem clips, cooking utensils, tools, etc. As these tools are given to us before water, Robak is possibly telling us that nourishment comes from the tools themselves and the work we employ with them. The water however can wait.
Lastly in the rear gallery on the back wall is Butterfly Room (2015), a grid of ten rows and ten columns making up a 100 small screen video installation with all it’s electrical wiring flanking both sides of the work. Upon entering the rear gallery one might feel that they’re approaching something out of a cyberpunk novel. Playing on each screen is a seamlessly looping video of a bizarre organism conjured up by Robak’s imagination. Behind each screen is a Raspberry Pi microcontroller which is driving each of the aforementioned 100 videos. All of the computer generated life-forms constantly writhe about in an ether sustained by each microcontroller. This menagerie of organisms possibly tells a story in which small microbial life gestates in a computer-petri-dish, or they’re captured and collected solely in a virtual world to be displayed on a contraption like Robaks; a futuristic version of yester-years specimen cabinets. As life in the machine perpetuates (through videos games and generative simulations) our tendencies to breed, collect, and catalog living things will likely move into digital space as Robak has demonstrated to us in Butterfly Room. On both sides of the installation are two power strips displaying all the power plugs that are used to drive each unit, making visible the logistical power required in order to sustain a device of pleasure.
Indeed everything presented to us in Fake Shrimp is arguably fake, as whatever is digital is standing for it’s physical counterpart. What is real though is the fact that much of our reality is tethered to screens; Robak lands some well placed jabs at that and playfully does things within the screen that we can’t easily accomplish in reality.
images provided by Mitch Patrick