In 2018 American Artist premiered Black Gooey Universe in Brooklyn, a viscerally heady and moving exhibition that reveals historical erasures and future potentialities of blackness in computation and digital cultures. Take Mother of All Demos (2018), one of the works on display, in which Artist stages a seemingly nonfunctional computer workstation partially covered in viscous bitumen. It is as if the keyboard has been tarred, or an opaque black ectoplasm is seeping out. The installation addresses a 1968 computer demonstration of a graphical user interface (GUI, pronounced ‘gooey’) that inaugurated a transition from the black command-line computer screen to the now dominant white screen of folders and documents. For New York-based Artist, this technical transition indexes vast dynamics of antiblackness in the US, bound to America’s history of slavery, which runs like goo through Silicon Valley products. At the same time, Mother of All Demos speculates a renewed functionality of blackness on the computer screen, as an operating system outside the logics of white supremacy and racial capitalism. How to use Artist’s black ‘gooey’ is challenging to discern, as the work is not interested in pragmatic solutions. Instead, blackness is encountered as something broken that demands the epistemologies of the interface be rewritten.
Across installation, sculpture, net art, publishing and organising, Artist brings radical black politics and thought, along with a sharp yet playful conceptualism, to bear on technology and power structures. Their approach is often materially minimal, philosophically rich and strikingly emotive, with a formal attentiveness and discursive nuance that is most impressive. This is concisely evident in their decision to legally change their name to American Artist. Such an act is at once a demand to access a category often reserved for straight white cis men but also a claiming of anonymity. Their deft reconfigurations of technical, national, racial and personal protocols offer glimmers of political autonomy, what Artist has also described as ‘dignity’. In short, American Artist’s practice is committed to liberation, be it political, conceptual or aesthetic. I can’t think of anything more necessary and needed in American life today.
American Artist lives and works in New York. They are currently a resident artist at Abrons Art Center and a 2018–19 recipient of the Queens Museum-Jerome Foundation Fellowship. American Artist recently completed a residency at Pioneer Works and last year held their first solo exhibition at Housing (all in New York).
Zach Blas is an artist and writer based in London. In 2018 he presented work at the Gwangju Biennal; the 68th Berlin International Film Festival; Abierto x Obras, Matadero, Madrid; MAXXI Rome, Los Angeles County Museum of Art and participated at Creative Time Summit in Miami. Blas is also a lecturer in the department of visual culture at Goldsmiths, University of London.
From the January and February 2019 issue of ArtReview, in association with K11 Art Foundation