Smack in the middle of Gagosian Beverly Hills right now is a 12-foot cube, its front-facing sides looping snippets upon snippets of moving images. It’s a relentless yet riveting parade of pictures; one moment, we get shots of summer—blue skies, kids by pools—and the next, various images of cats. They speak to a shared human consciousness, containing as they do familiar scenes, and having been pulled from a common source: television commercials.
Titled Denominator, the work is the latest from Urs Fischer, the Swiss artist whose profound fascination with objects and artifacts has been well-exercised across his practice. His new piece, he said, emerged from his enduring interest in TV advertising and how it has shaped our perceptions.
“In a way, commercials replace the entire imagery we have,” Fischer told Artnet News. “They create this giant vocabulary. It’s not even our imagery anymore. Our brains are filled with images and memories that are not ours.”
If that sounds slightly bleak, Fischer is not bothered. Denominator is less concerned about passing comment on cultural or mass consumption than capturing what the artist called the “experience of being exposed to these non-images.”
Work on the cube began in 2020, when Fischer and his team of collaborators started sourcing TV commercials around the world (notably via YouTube), gathering them manually as there is no library or archive that collects these ads. The heavy lifting of sorting and making sense of this aggregated content, though, was left to a machine-learning model, the same one Fischer used for his 2018 work, PLAY.
The A.I. was trained to deconstruct these commercials, grouping and sequencing their discrete shots by color and motif (like burgers, say, or cars). These visuals are then displayed in dynamic layers, based on preset variables, across LED screens installed on the sides of Fischer’s towering cube.
As expected with machine intelligence, the resulting “motion patterns,” in the artist’s words, offered some interesting constellations of images, but also drew some inexplicable connections.
“With everything you create, some of it is good, some of it is not so good—it just keeps on churning,” he said of the A.I., further likening the model to an “alien landing on the planet and trying to understand the structure that underlays whatever it’s exposed to.”
In some ways, Denominator presents a spiritual successor to Fischer’s “CHAOƧ” series (2021) of digital sculptures, which juxtaposed miscellaneous objects, from eggs to chairs to parkas, in surprising ways. His new work travels down a similar path in attempting to locate humanity in the artifacts it’s produced and will ultimately leave behind.
“It’s pretty crazy,” he noted, “the amount of technology and invention that goes into the simplest things.”
For the viewers of Denominator—his “visual experience essay”—Fischer is hoping to offer new, sweeping ways of gazing into our collective media and human landscape. It won’t always make for the most serene of experiences, however.
“What’s interesting is most people are used to seeing edited content, so they might come in and say, ‘What am I seeing now? Why are you showing me such a mess?’” Fischer said.
“But,” he added, “I don’t mind this chaotic part.”
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