Body Paint series, the edge of the recent


Since they decided to work together after leaving university in 1996, Japanese artists duo Sembo Kensuke and Yae Akaiwa, known best as exonemo, have quintessentially embodied the craft of traversing hybrid media practices, conceptually probing and pulling at dualistic boundaries, interfaces and interstices. Through the timeline of development of their practice, adaptations in understanding the place of media of our lives over the last twenty years may be perceived, from their first messing with software to bending hardware circuits, to using analogue when people generally were adopting digital, to various experiments with sound and video processing, movie-making using GPS, participatory performances using ASCII and Buddhist symbols, crafted installations, sharing their Internet Yami-Ichi model internationally and most recently the use of paint, along with video, to readdress issues of corporeality and materiality. Acute observers of trends (from within the circuitry of media) their works consistently comment on our relationship to technology, with all its ambiguities and compulsions. Latest among these manifestations is their Milk on the Edge exhibition at the hpgrp Gallery in Greenwich in New York where they have been living since 2015, based at the NEW Inc, incubator established by the New Museum. The show includes works from their “Body Paint series” (shown in Ars Electronica in 2014) as well as new works made using heavily painted LED screens. The end result falls somewhere between video art and painting, but it is its underlying codes that speak volumes. Something here is being muted. In an interview with Rachel Lim at about the exhibition they have commented: “It seems like everything is going back to the square frame in the timeline of social media. In spite of this, experiments in software art and interactive art have tried to go beyond the frame itself. I think the frame or the border of the frame is the intersection of the recent reality. That’s why we are trying to paint on the monitor to test what we can feel from it. That boundary is the edge of the recent sense of reality.” In their artists’ statement for the exhibition they further expand on this position: “What unreliable interfaces our bodies are! Today, constantly connected to the world via technology, our bodies are expanding their borders, and trying to touch the world beyond the frames provided. The boundary territories just beyond the screens, and vague new borders are marked by the spray of foul milk.” Here, exonemo are maintaining a position as new media artists from the trajectory of the mid-nineties whilst allowing themselves to be viewed – naked and neutered – within the frames of the painted frames of the gallery, artificially subdued controlled constrained constricted and – on a new level – contemporary. This has shades of “Blue Man Group” meets “Butoh dancer” twinned with something phantasmal: like a human data shadow contained within its spectral abstraction. In the interview they also comment on how they are perceiving the previous boundary lines between media art and contemporary art as disappearing, with contemporary artists adopting media but remaining contemporary (whilst media artists blur into art history or subsume their non-linear selves within the lineage and frame of the gallery). It is clear that exonemo know what they are doing. If at some point they are selling, they are not selling out. Bronac Ferran


exonemo – Body Paint series