Tommy Hartung and R.U.R.
By Patrick Rolandelli
July 9, 2018
Last June Eazel attended the private closing reception for R.U.R., Tommy Hartung’s inaugural exhibition at C24 Gallery in Chelsea. Several times that month we had passed by the ominous display in the gallery’s window featuring colorful masks reminiscent of the 1980s horror movie genre. The display had piqued our curiosity and we were surprised when we learned the exhibition was addressing power relations in society and related issues of male dominance.
Upon stepping into the gallery we turned to look closer at the vinyl masks, set at eye-level atop two black tripods—one painted bright yellow with dayglo orange hair, the other with pastel purple skin and blueberry hair—they stood before a screen showing a series of new media figurations amid the likeness of our faces as captured by cameras inconspicuously observing us through the eyelets of the masks. In the background we could hear Olympic Gold medalist Aly Raisman reading her court statement to recently convicted former USA Gymnastics National Team doctor, Larry Nassar—the pitch of her voice downshifted slightly. The experience had this DIY surrealist aesthetic to it—to borrow language from the exhibition’s press release.
After checking in with the front desk we wandered around the gallery taking in the broad range of the exhibition’s featured artworks—from traditional sculptures, to painted theatrical props, to interactive digital screen art featured on a row of monitors down the center of the gallery.
As Hartung would later explain, the themes of Karel Čapek’s 1921 play, R.U.R., served both as the inspiration, as well as the conceptual basis for his exhibition in three acts—The Viewer, Touch, and Silent Siege—with the front, center, and back sections of the gallery dedicated to exploring these themes, respectively.
We were in the back of the gallery where Silent Siege consisted of video feeds embedded around a large viewing area as part of a performative work about data collection and the nature of consent when we noticed one of the gallery assistants beginning to gather the group and direct us toward Hartung near the entrance of the gallery where he was to begin his talk.
During his presentation we learned the imagery of the exhibition was meant to counter the modern era’s romanticized concept of technology—that it was alluding to a dystopian future disillusioned with modernism. And true to Čapek’s play, Hartung unpacked how through his use of multiple mediums—from stop-motion animation, to digital photography, to traditional sculptures—he was seeking to question the degree to which the spirit of modernism has truly served the greater good.
There wasn’t enough time to sit down with Hartung after his talk, so we arranged for a follow-up conversation with the gallery director and catch up with him a week later.
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