Toronto’s one-year-old Museum Of Contemporary Art stands with an austere stature, highlighted in the absence of any other surrounding structures. An elegantly utilitarian building, the MOCA was originally an aluminium processing factory. Following its repurposing, many of the elements of the building lay bare. Most notably among these features are the internal support columns, which recede in circumference on each ascending floor as the gravity load declines. This too has been reflected in the MOCA’s logo, which transitions between a heavy and lightweight font face.
Curated by Shumon Basar, Douglas Coupland and Hans Ulrich Obrist, the MOCA’s latest exhibition “Age of You” reflects on how the individual is impacted by the information age. To this end, the exhibition primarily focuses on a notion of self and how selfhood is distorted, commodified and exploited under the forces of late-stage capitalism.
“Age of You” follows a publication that all three curators authored in 2015, titled The Age of Earthquakes. Handling similar themes as the publication in its investigation of the “Extreme Present,” “Age of You” proves to be both a terrifying and intriguing account of the “Extreme Self.”
As a whole, the exhibition draws on a major feature of contemporary capitalism: the primary Western commodity of our time is ourselves. It is “all your online behaviours, enriched data sets and millions of meta-data points.” Each piece responds in differing styles to this idea of the new “Extreme Self” as a commodified, warped and manipulated entity.
A highlight of the exhibition is without a doubt the screening of Sara Cwynar’s “Red Film.” Following her short “Rose Gold,” “Red Film” is shot in a similarly warm fashion with use of vintage cameras (or post effects to deliver a similar result). The film investigates what it means to be a woman living with the pressures to “conform and consume” under capitalism.
This is where Cwynar’s editing and scripting delivers its impact. Shots pile upon each other, stand next to each other with no seemingly logical order, and there’s an impression that there is no beginning or end to the film. Considering this, “Red Film” appears to reflect not just the consumerism of women under capitalism, but a more general and modern iteration of the “throw-away society.” The pace and positioning of shots seems to mirror the feelings of a suspended, permanent present. Fashion, diets, beauty and lifestyles women are pressured to conform to are exposed by Cwynar.
Alongside the more sinister interpretations of the “Extreme Self,” several pieces responded with almost comedic effect—pointing, perhaps, at the absurdity of living in the information age. Amalia Ulman contributed to the theme of relationships in our present age. Ulman points to celibacy, monogamy and polyamory before drily and pithily describing how each state benefits capitalism. Further on in the exhibition, Liam Young also claims over an image of a drone that “[t]he only job that is 100 percent future proof is hairdressing.”
My only major criticism of the exhibition is its handling of the theme of democracy. Titled “The End of Democracy,” the responses to this idea felt flat. While the topic had great capacity for debate within the scope of the “Extreme Self,” the pieces largely pointed their attention to voters. Pieces proclaimed bald messages such as, “the majority can no longer be trusted,” and “groups of people usually make dreadful decisions.” It seemed to point the discussion in the wrong direction.
The theme could have been the Cambridge Analyticas of the world—the organisations and forces that used baseless propaganda pieces to exploit voters’ emotions and undermine democracy. The focus would have perhaps been better aligned not with the outcome of a vote or an election but rather those actually undermining the democratic process by influencing that vote or election.
On the whole, however, the organisation, contributions and curation worked to shatter—for a time—my state of present and allowed me to consider how I am a victim of this “Extreme Self.”
The MOCA’s “Age of You” ran until Jan. 5th with several talks and performances ongoing throughout the remainder of the year.
View photos below.