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Chicago-based artist Jan Brugger’s work encompasses digital and sculptural compositions that speak to the screen’s influence on the human body and mind. Brugger’s immersive installations, collages and videos stimulate bodily interactions with screens and serve as a wry commentary on the oversaturation of social media, the internet and post-truth narratives that are present in our everyday lives.
Devices to Stay Afloat presents a series of new work that visualizes our collective angst and makes literal the sensation of a shared psychological weight. Using water as both a visual and thematic backdrop, the works on view speak to the therapeutic and catastrophic qualities of the element and are punctuated by a series of metaphorical prompts: sinking, floating, rising, drowning, melting and crashing.
Brugger’s dadaesque collages–layered and complex–utilize visual media culture to suggest the structures of the unconscious mind. In a Jungian sense, perhaps they express a collective unconscious that is influenced by a psychic-gravitational pull by screens. Like a weight sinking, our eyes are glued, bouncing from one digital platform to the next as we tread water in this half-real/half-fantasy realm. If water is a symbol of our emotions, screens are our symbolic energy. In her series Treading Water, Brugger evokes the social and psychological disruption induced by the assimilation of new technology, where significant societal shifts occur when one world disintegrates as another takes its place, keeping us afloat, so-to-speak. In Egg Beaters, a body is seen suspended in water whilst remnants of an office environment populate the subterranean. In this dream-like collage, might we again consider the symbolism of water as it relates to Jung’s theory of the unconscious. As with bodies of water, we often only see the surface (which Jung states is a dimension that receives energy from the unconscious) but cannot easily see into its depths. By choosing to reveal what lies beneath, Brugger is suggesting that our collective experience should not be read simply at face value.
Other objects on view include sculptural ruins and a structure reminiscent of a glacier or a crashing wave, referencing the aftermath of some kind of downfall. Perhaps Brugger’s scenery suggests that of a “floating culture,” reminiscent of the post-apocalyptic Kevin Costner box office failure Waterworld, where devices to stay afloat are essential to sustaining life. Visual Waste, a new series by Brugger, presents documentation of a floating sculptural installation on Chicago’s Lake Michigan. As of June 2019, Lake Michigan’s water level has reached an all-time high–a growing potential for destruction and erosion as a result of one of the wettest springs on record, shorter winters and snow caps melting earlier than usual due to rising global temperatures. On the adjacent wall, the exaggerated sculptural glacier protrudes, amassed by remnants of technology. Glaciers, often a symbol for climate change, hold powerful emotional, spiritual and psychological interpretations attributed to changing conditions. Here, Brugger is calling attention to a global feeling of ambivalence, a technologically-induced haze that is the byproduct of the overuse of devices and the oversharing of media. Where we are simultaneously frozen and hypnotized by the weight of information technology, its spreading power and our collective compulsion to communicate our angst through the sharing of memes.
Woven throughout the exhibition, Brugger employs a necessary amount of humor. What might appear to reference memes or that of “shitposting,” the works on view call attention to the ways in which millennials have developed an absurdist internet culture, a neo-Dadaist movement where memes are used as a cultural gage, holding symbolic value which allows us to process the world around us because according to the artist, “the world is absurd and things don’t make sense.” By connecting to this satirical approach to viewing life, the artist lifts the weight, if only temporarily, to lighten our sense of hopelessness in a time of nationalistic attitudes, political anxiety and the various forms of “isms” and “phobias” that are running rampant.
As we continue to grapple with the daily reminders of social, political and climatic destruction, Brugger dives deep to gather our shared angst and floats it, bringing our collective unconscious to the surface. By looking to nature, the artist reflects on the ways we endure as a society and how those actions have a global effect on our comprehension of the world. Whether your coping mechanisms include internet memes or bad dystopian 90’s movies, Devices to Stay Afloat is a timely reminder to keep our heads above water and to try to see the humor amidst the shifting tides of our millennial anxiety.
– Alyssa Brubaker, Elastic Visual Arts Curatorial Resident