Visual Arts

Visual artist Michael Manning goes tech-wild at KC’s Bill Brady Gallery

HD flat screens show found footage in Michael Manning’s “Wild Fusion Vol. IV: Technoeconomicology” at Bill Brady Gallery.
HD flat screens show found footage in Michael Manning’s “Wild Fusion Vol. IV: Technoeconomicology” at Bill Brady Gallery. Bill Brady Gallery

Los Angeles-based Michael Manning is an artist on the rise.

“Wild Fusion Vol. IV: Technoeconomicology,” a dizzying installation of HD flat screens, power cords, wires, paintings and found objects at Bill Brady Gallery, is his fourth one-person show this year.

Blurring boundaries between the digital and the physical, cheap objects such as fake plants are juxtaposed with high-definition wildlife videos. While the installation is visually stunning, its message and purpose are ambiguous.

All of the elements of the piece are installed between two enormous 25-foot cement columns. Large canvases with washed-out abstract imagery are strapped to the columns by blue nylon cargo straps. The HD flat screens show found footage of horses running through the desert, satellite imagery and indecipherable abstract images.

A jungle of electrical cords hangs from floor to ceiling, connecting the screens to small digital video players sitting on marble-topped coffee tables (disappointingly, some screens have malfunctioned since the opening of the exhibition and no longer play their videos in full or at all).

Power cords emerge from baskets of fake plastic flowers. Part of the floor is covered in “God Rocks,” smooth stones with words like “Love,” “Hope” and “God Rocks” chiseled into them. Made by artist Jeff Baij, a series of small glass terrariums hangs from the ceiling. They are filled with white sand, small abstract sculptures and the remnants of burned incense sticks.

An old set of wooden wind chimes hangs within a futuristic looking Dyson Air Multiplier, adding an audio component to the visual cacophony of the entire installation.

Needless to say, “Wild Fusion” is visually overwhelming and chaotic. Its concatenation of diverse components doesn’t yield a single clear theme, unless creating a confusing mess of information is a theme in itself.

Manning’s work fits neatly into the post-Internet art movement, a phrase that has been championed by curators Karen Archey and Robin Peckham in a recent exhibition in Beijing.

In a nutshell, post-Internet art is heavily influenced by the chaotic nature of the Internet but differentiates itself from earlier works of “Net Art” by blending digital and real objects, taking things from the Internet into physical space and physical things into digital formats.

But post-Internet art and Manning’s exhibition are not just a reflection of the Internet in all its chaotic glory. They are also an indication of how our culture is beginning to feel about the “real” physical world, specifically whether it is any more or less real than our digital experiences.

It is interesting to note the religion-tinged components in “Wild Fusion Vol. IV,” specifically the “God Rocks” and incense sticks.

To a secular eye, the polished “God Rocks” are an extremely kitsch form of religion, an over-simplified reduction of theology into a gift shop trinket.

Similarly, while incense has been used by religions for millennia, today it also has the connotation of stoner teenagers, head shops and new-age bookstores.

But in a sense, post-Internet art is to our epoch as religious altar paintings were to the 1500s. Much like a painting by Hieronymus Bosch that shows us the unearthly realms of hell or the Garden of Eden, post-Internet art brings the immaterial realm of the digital into the physical gallery space.

Both genres revel in ecstatic, crazed, confounding imagery. But there are two significant differences: First, religious art aimed to clearly define the borders between Earth and other divine realms, whereas post-Internet art attempts to blur the line between the physical and digital worlds. Secondly, religious painting usually has a prescriptive moral lesson, whereas a work like “Wild Fusion Vol IV” offers no such grounding ideas.

To appreciate Manning’s “Wild Fusion Vol. 4: Technoeconomicology” is to worship before the altar of technology, in all its ecstatic, confusing splendor.

You shouldn’t look for reason within its imagery; whereas heaven and hell have well-defined purposes, our Internet was created for no specific single purpose. It is a sandbox playground, a circus of jokesters, endless archives, capitalist enterprise and anarchic violence.

You cannot read “Wild Fusion Vol. 4,” you have to gaze into it like a house of mirrors: It is made from worlds within worlds within worlds. If art is to have any relevance to our new technological realms, it will be through this pseudo-metaphysics and against the materialist realism of technologists.

But whether this digital ecstasy is a good development for our art or culture remains to be seen.

On exhibit

“Michael Manning — Wild Fusion Vol. IV: Technoeconomicology” continues at Bill Brady Gallery, 1505 Genesee St., through Nov. 22. Hours are 11 a.m.-6 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday. For more information, call 816-527-0090 or go to BillBradyGallery.com.

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