A one night only event that went on for longer. Replica Sentiments at London’s French Riviera features luxurious silk wall hangings of pixelated deluxe watches. Rolex. Panerai. Ferrari. Opulence compressed to Kb and filtered through spam into Fabienne Hess‘s terrifying collection of data debris. It’s junkspace in a folder, content catering to the artist’s habits, supposedly, but scraping a browser window full of ideas and images her eyes never noticed.
There are products for the rich and sentiments, feelings, for the poor. A crumpled paint on plastic announcing OH NO! hangs from a wall, the unequal reality of “crisis globalisation” tumbling limply from a wall heater in lowercase: chance. A French Riviera storefront window installation confronts passersby with emotion (“I am very happy”) robotically expressed, fed through an inbox and meticulously collated, edited and displayed on glass. There’s a mantra for August 11: We’re sorry to see you leaving. Or there’s this one from earlier: You are not phobic or autistic. I wonder if said subject is working from a browser history.
Like the artist’s Unknown Face Fragments series (2013) before it, the Replica Sentiments exhibition takes from the trash that most ignore and reinstates it as something one-of-a-kind, limited edition, an artwork, worthy. A brilliant exhibition text by Basia Cummings Lewandowska draws more insipid connections. Taking its title, We’re happy to help and some prompts from the spam calendar window, the writer tracks the history of unsolicited email to the naming of ground-up tinned meat as a portmanteu of ‘spiced-ham’. It’s miscellaneous matter that mirrors what Brad Templeton calls (as cited by Lewandowska) the “real-time multi-person shared environment” of early USENET messaging, now compacted into a “still unwanted, unsolicited – link to a world that is split by neoliberal claims to free markets and democracy, and a desperate politics of economic inequality, conflict, hunger and disenfranchisement”.
Hence the spam filter as a closing off and shutting out of a “more vulnerable, needier, poorer world”, where 419s from South Africa, Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Ivory Coast; Kazakhstan, Pakistan and India become a HELP ME! promptly identified and discarded by bots. Out of sight, out of mind. Hess’ Replica Sentiments, on the other hand, makes us look, listen; bringing an inconvenient reality out of the in-between and into full view as a reminder: “My friends are ground in spam”. **
Exhibition photos, top-right.
Header image: Fabienne Hess, ‘Chance’ (2014). Courtesy the artist and French Riviera, London. Photo by Kris Emmerson.
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