Through Oct. 23 at Foxy Production, 2 East Broadway, Manhattan. 212-239-2758; foxyproduction.com.
The Germans have a nice term to describe the tsunami of images that overtook us in the digital revolution of the 1980s and ’90s: Bilderflut, or the “image flood.” Sara Cwynar doesn’t mention this term in her six-channel video “Glass Life” at Foxy Production. (The show’s title comes instead from Shoshana Zuboff’s 2019 book “The Age of Surveillance Capitalism,” which describes how data-driven technology has infiltrated our lives and eroded privacy and healthy forms of social connection.)
Cwynar’s “Glass Life,” however, comprises a deluge of images and a recurring figure: a swimmer who glides between pictures, alluding to what it is like to live in a world virtually flooded with photographic images at every turn. Nowadays, algorithms “curate” the images shown to us, and “Glass Life” follows this logic. The video is deeply personal, functioning as an archive of Cwynar’s past work. It features images of news events, sports figures, entertainers, G20 political leaders and references to authors who wrote about photography like Berenice Abbott, Walter Benjamin and Vilém Flusser. It also showcases people and entities who have deployed images with surgical expertise: Marilyn Monroe, Ronald Reagan, Kim Kardashian, Google and, of course, the algorithmically driven “surveillance” capitalism referred to by Zuboff.
“Glass Life” beautifully captures what it is like to spend your life scrolling through images designed to arrest your attention, and the fatigue of living in such a climate. I was exhausted after watching this 19-minute video. Not too tired to check my Instagram a few minutes later, though.
Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller
Through Oct. 23 at Luhring Augustine, 531 West 24th Street, Manhattan. 212-206-9100; luhringaugustine.com.
As a critic, I’m always jealous of the joys that artists get from making a work, while I’m limited to the different pleasures that come from taking it in.
In their show at Luhring Augustine in Chelsea, Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller, the well-known Canadian duo, correct that creative imbalance with a fantastic piece called “The Instrument of Troubled Dreams.”
For years, the couple’s signature works have incorporated recorded speech and sounds into surreal installations: “Escape Room,” in the gallery’s rear space, looks like the workshop of some mad model maker and includes snippets of equally deranged audio. Cardiff and Miller’s “Instrument,” in the gallery’s main room, takes the sounds they have always used but lets the audience decide how to put them together.
In the center of the room sits what looks like a normal upright piano. Step up to play it, and you notice a strip of classic Dymo tape stuck above every key: “Wind Gusts” or “Cat Fight” or “Police” read some; others say “Kerk Organ,” “Synth Track” or “Guitar”; 11 keys are labeled simply “Vocal.” Press a key, and the sound named above it echoes through the room.
Playing “chords,” you can combine a spooky vocal track (“she hid behind a secret panel in the wall; when the police came they searched through the whole house”) with equally spooky organ blasts and yowling felines. Or you can mix those same ominous words with a rustle of wind and a quiet guitar.
Full Dada cacophony can be achieved by playing many bits of text at once. Or your fingers can peck out a “melodic” sequence of sounds and words that almost tell a coherent story.
As you begin to perfect your “symphony,” you imagine taking on the creative mantle of Cardiff and Miller. And then you realize that playing the machine will never make you them; their brilliance lay in inventing it.
Through Oct. 23 at Ortuzar Projects, 9 White Street, Manhattan. 212-257-0033; ortuzarprojects.com.
In 1981, Joey Terrill made a series of tall, narrow canvases, titled “Chicanos Invade New York,” for Windows on White Street, a contemporary art series exhibited at a Lower Manhattan storefront. Painted with flat, high-contrast colors in a style that evokes a rotoscoped music video, the canvases present the Angeleno artist and his friends as fish out of water in New York and its art scene. Terrill rolls out tortillas in someone else’s loft; squints into a snowy squall outside the Guggenheim Museum; reads a copy of The New York Post with the headline “John Lennon Shot Dead.”
At Ortuzar Projects, a couple of blocks west of that storefront, the same triptych is one of the highlights of “Once Upon A Time: Paintings, 1981-2015,” Terrill’s first New York solo show in the 40 years since. Other pieces — a double portrait called “Not All Our Lovemaking Had to Smell of Poppers,” an extraordinary polyptych about the end of a relationship called “Breaking Up / Breaking Down” — take on alienation and belonging, or race and orientation, more baldly. In works from the ’90s and 2000s, Terrill adds more elaborate backgrounds or, working from photos, more punctilious detail. But the same beguiling tone runs through the whole exhibition, an inwardly turned combination of bravado, self-deprecation and vulnerability.
Stacy Lynn Waddell
Through Oct. 22. Candice Madey, 1 Rivington Street, Manhattan; (646) 675-8242, candicemadey.com
Stacy Lynn Waddell’s first solo exhibition of paintings and works on paper in New York mines the idea of gold for its material properties; its cultural value as a marker of veneration, including in art such as Byzantine icons or Gustav Klimt paintings; and its role in the emergence of global, racial capitalism in 17th-century Europe. The show by this North Carolina-based artist is appropriately titled “Mettle” — once a variant spelling of the word “metal” — but also an indication of resilience in the face of inhospitable situations.
Waddell cites three “golden ages” in the show: American, Dutch, and Malian. Two small tondos reproduce a painting by the famed 19th-century African American landscapist Robert S. Duncanson; Waddell burns the image into the paper using a variety of repurposed tools, embellishing the resulting sepia-toned “drawing” with blue pencil and gold leaf to catch the viewer’s gaze. A group of floral still lifes, based on 17th- and 19th-century Dutch vanitas paintings, are made by building up a gesso-covered paper to create a low relief, and then applying gold leaf to the entire surface.
A series of gilded portraits, based on photographs from the late 1960s and early ’70s by the Bamako-based, post-independence photographer Malick Sidibé, depicts young hip Malians who seem poised for a new era of global modernity — they crouch, as if ready to spring into action, or adopt power stances. As with the floral reliefs, the paintings require the viewer to slow down: One must carefully adjust one’s position, catching the reflections just so, in order to see the figures. The result is a lovely, almost human encounter — a process of viewing akin to getting to know someone as a fully dimensional being in the face of the often dehumanizing conditions of our world.