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TOMMY HARTUNG: R.U.R.


Closing Reception: Thursday, June 21, 3pm*                                                                            *The artist will be present for a guided tour of the exhibition          

C24 Gallery is pleased to present R.U.R. a solo exhibition of new work by artist Tommy Hartung, marking his inaugural exhibition with C24 Gallery. Presented in three acts, the exhibition is a reinterpretation of Karel Čapek’s 1921 science fiction play of the same name (most noted as the first text to use the word “robot”). The original play is re-written through Hartung’s surrealist DIY aesthetic and stream of consciousness storytelling through photographs, sculptures, and interactive video installations. Dealing with themes of power, manipulation and male dominance, the exhibition is particularly timely in the wake of the #MeToo movement, and the recent investigations into recurring allegations of sexual assault and abuse of power.

Upon entering the exhibition the viewer is immediately confronted with the audio testimonial of Olympic Gold medalist Aly Raisman, reading her court statement to recently convicted former USA Gymnastics National Team doctor, Larry Nassar (Act One: The Viewer).  Her empowered words speaking out against systemic abuse play on loop:

“To believe in the future…is to believe in change, but how are we to believe in change when these organizations aren’t even willing to acknowledge the problem... False assurances from organizations are dangerous, especially when people want so badly to believe them. They make it easier to look away from the problem and enable bad things to continue to happen.”

As audio of Raisman’s testimony plays, hidden camera feeds record and reflect the viewer’s likeness back to oneself in real time, passively implicating the viewer into the video and tasking them with exploring the work as both observer and participant. Intercut with their image is stop motion animation indicative to Hartung’s unique style.

In contrast to Čapek’s original play in which human evolution is dictated and eventually halted because of the technical progression and reliance on robots, Hartung’s adaptation questions the idea of the “Robot Myth” as a blameless system that loses control, and instead asks the viewer to critique the motives of the maker. His use of multiple media addresses overall themes of modernism and forms hybrids of characters and nuanced allegory that are referential to Čapek’s play, specifically drawing connections to the female characters, who suffer under the ideologies of men. In the dominant feature of the exhibition: Act Three: Silent Siege, Hartung investigates these conventions of power, specifically referencing Larry Nassar and the years he spent deflecting allegations of abuse, protected by his position of power within systems created and defined by professional hierarchy. The large scale installation is a single channel movie that evolves and changes as live video feeds embedded around the viewing area allow Hartung to observe and adjust the picture remotely by capturing the viewer’s image and manipulating it on screen. The remote, performative element of the installation encourages the viewer to question the process of data collection and the nature of consent.

Hartung argues there is a direct relationship to the rapid progression of technology and the uncertainties that come along with the dehumanization of everyday life, work, and activities as human interactions become more and more steeped in technology, or “robotized.” The installations fully immerse the viewer through visual, auditory and sensory experiences, further blurring the lines between our unwavering cultural dependence on technology and the power structures that benefit.

 In the cumulative spirit of the exhibition, Hartung has inconspicuously offered the entire archive of his personal Facebook account. Viewable only at the time of purchase, the conceptual piece is a direct commentary on access, data collection, and the abuse of power. The viewer is encouraged to draw critical connections between tech moguls like Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook’s most recent investigations in privacy practices, as well as the company’s outspoken platform of “social good” referencing the impact of #MeToo and other social movements. Ultimately, Hartung states: “robots are machines created by men to put distance between themselves and their eventual victims.”   

Tommy Hartung has exhibited at Museums throughout the United States, including most recently The Whitney Museum’s Whitney Biennial 2017, curated by Christopher Y. Lew and Mia Locks; The Rose Museum, Waltham MA; The Jewish Museum, New York, NY and MoMa PS1, Queens, New York. His work is in the collection of: The Museum of Modern Art (MoMA), New York, NY; Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY; Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, CA; Rose Art Museum, Waltham, MA; Dimitris Daskalopoulos Collection, Athens, Greece.

Hartung was the recipient of the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Biennial Award in 2015 and the Painters and Sculptors Grant from the Joan Mitchell Foundation in 2011.

CLICK HERE TO VIEW THE EXHIBITION CATALOGUE