Janelle Monae is exploring the intersection between technology and surveillance in a new art installation she created in partnership with the women’s website Refinery 29.
Monae’s “What’s Your Frequency?” was unveiled earlier this week when the site’s interactive exhibition 29Rooms made its Los Angeles debut. The Kansas City, Kan., native is among several celebrity contributors to the temporary exhibit, whose eight-day run is already sold out. Demi Lovato, Margot Robbie, Emma Roberts and Jill Soloway also collaborated with the site to create installations for the exhibit.
A huge tent in downtown Los Angeles houses the 29 interactive spaces dreamed up by artists and brands. Monae worked for months with the Refinery 29 team to create her room, a space surrounded by mirrors and surveillance cameras, filled with mannequins chained together. Some of them have TV monitors for heads, and footage from the surveillance cameras occasionally plays on them.
“Being an artist, I try not to pass up any opportunities to create art that’s meaningful, that’s thought-provoking, and that’s exactly what this room is,” said Monae, a singer, songwriter and actress making her first venture into such physical art.
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“One of the things I wanted to touch on was mass surveillance, the weaponization of technology and cultural uniformity, and what does it mean when we’re at such a nascent stage psychologically and technology is advancing exponentially. How do we deal with that? It’s like we’re babies with chainsaws.”
She said she hopes her installation will stimulate conversation and questions about conformity and individuality, and surveillance and freedom.
Lovato’s room is a temporary tattoo parlor. Robbie’s is a mountain of trophies with inscriptions like “I don’t apologize for who I am” inspired by her new film, “I, Tonya.” Roberts envisioned a giant typewriter, Joan Didion quotes and pages of stories all over the walls. Soloway created a bathroom tagged in trans-positive graffiti where the stalls told stories from transgender people.
One room is filled with punching bags and boxing gloves painted with feminist slogans. Another invites guests to paint on paper lanterns. There’s a merry-go-round of disco balls, a human car wash and a room called “The Womb” that’s all cushy inside where visitors hear a woman’s heartbeat and calm, affirming voice.