A new show at Honor Fraser, Los Angeles intends to survey and build solidarity across ‘glitched’ bodies operating under vastly disparate social conditions
In her 1985 essay ‘A Cyborg Manifesto’, feminist scholar Donna Haraway refashioned the cyborg – an amalgam of animal and machine often coded with feminine and non-Western characteristics and designed for exploitation – into a positive figure of liberation, by claiming that we are all, already, cyborgs. In 2020 writer-curator Legacy Russell gave the glitch a similar treatment in her book Glitch Feminism: A Manifesto, urging queer, nonwhite netizens to embrace the system error as a metaphor for the body, one that can be deployed to guide liberatory thinking, organising and artmaking in both physical and digital spaces. Published 35 years apart, these texts form the conceptual cornerstones of an eclectic exhibition.
Featuring 22 artists and just short of 50 artworks arranged cheek by jowl across three rooms, the show intends to survey and build solidarity across ‘glitched’ bodies operating under vastly disparate social conditions. It succeeds in yoking these expressions of glitchiness together under the common reality of human-induced climate failure, which will cause, the show implies, extinctions, ruination and, one hopes, the revaluation of existing binaries of domination: normative / glitched, productive / unproductive, human / nonhuman.
The otherwise unwieldy requiem for Earth’s flora and fauna is anchored by the abundance of death in the room. One sees representations of bones, limbs and silicone flesh, flies, spores and browning leaves, motifs of exhumation and preservation, and a smattering of calcified, slack and tattered materials. Don Elder’s relief sculpture the mammoth in the room (Zed) (2021–22) – a mammoth skeleton cut from plywood and Styrofoam and adorned with e-waste and plastic detritus – presides over the main gallery, a dreary allegory of species extinction. Marianne Hoffmeister Castro’s video The Quiet Ones (2021) captures closeups of dead mice whose beady eyes and stiff paws are being cleaned in a laboratory setting. Andro Eradze’s video Raised in the Dust (2022) shows taxidermy animals in a forest at night, their petrified faces illuminated by the glow of cacophonous fireworks.
Obsolescence is another kind of death. On a tiled platform in Chris Velez’s installation lignes de fuite (lines of flight) (2023), a silicone hammer lies on its side. Soft, pink and hairy, Velez’s flesh-hammer is both a cyborg and a glitch – a perfectly unproductive body. On a cardboard box nearby sit Blair Simmons’s sculptures made of old smartphones buried in lumps of cement (among the listed materials: data, memories).
In the revisionary spirit of Haraway and Russell, We Are They flips the negative figure of death on its head. Although the exhibition materials explicitly reference Russell’s 2020 book, the show points behind its back to an earlier essay Russell published in The Society Pages in 2012, in which she compared the glitch to an orgasm, writing, ‘A petite morte of the physical self can be easily mirrored in the metaphor of the digital “glitch”’. That joy can be found in ‘a little digital death’ seems to be what the exhibition ultimately suggests: the climate itself is glitching, and the breakdown is bringing us closer to freedom.