Danielle Dean Wades Through Two Hollow Utopias

Home / Danielle Dean Wades Through Two Hollow Utopias
Danielle Dean Wades Through Two Hollow Utopias

At the core of Danielle Dean’s Performa commission, “Amazon (Proxy),” is the name Amazon, which entered the English language as the name associated with the fabled female warriors of the Ancient Mediterranean, before becoming the name of the world’s largest rainforest, and then, more recently, the trademarked name of one of most powerful corporations in history. In this commission for the 2021 Performa performance biennial, the artist makes a connection between the failed 1920s industrialist experiment in the Amazonian rainforest by Henry Ford, Fordlândia, and the internet giant that has made the word part of our daily parlance. The result is a curious reflection on our compartmentalized office lives, ruminating on the illusion of freedom such decentralized work as the Amazon Mechanical Turk once promised, when the reality is far from liberating.

The stage at the tony Amant Foundation was set with a pretty assortment of foliage and backdrops meant to evoke Brazilian fauna. But the whole scene — which evokes the scale, playfulness, and aesthetic of her past colorful installations and animations that often look like landscapes — felt too polite considering the overall message and content. 

At the center of the scene four cubicles are separated by clear plastic screens. The arrangement suggests an experiment as much as a workplace, and that tension is at the core of the work.

Various views from Friday, October 22 performance of Danielle Dean’s “Amazon (Proxy).”

The parallels Dean makes between the two supposed utopias created by two of the richest people the world has ever known sometimes work: One chilling line spoken during the performance, “Instead of rubber, we’re extracting human emotions” captures this perfectly. But often these comparisons feel superficial: The dematerialization of the Amazon workplace versus the construction of Ford’s little model city in the Amazon never quite feels like a very convincing comparison, visually or otherwise. The performers also spend too much time fidgeting about — as when they touch the artificial plants much like keyboards between intervals of typing — and make movements that appear completely unclear and seemingly unrelated.

Overall the performance isn’t as tight as it could be precisely because it fails to offer much clarity, preferring to wallow in the suggestions and allusions of this new virtual dystopia. The insertion of video testimonials by Amazon Mechanical Turk workers who complain about the promise of freedom that has since turned into a $50-a-day gig was a poignant addition, but that too came across as disconnected and unresolved. “Amazon (Proxy)” felt like staring at a browser with dozens of tabs left open but little way to meaningfully connect them.

But if the beginning of the performance starts slowly and is confusing, leaving us unmoored in sea of suggested associations, the end congeals into something more pointed, and one of the strongest lines is spoken then: “They’re paying us to train the robots; once the robots take over they should pay us to live.”

Where Dean really shines is here, when the Amazonian digital ecosystem falls apart. At this moment the parallels come into focus as the corporate collapse foreshadows the environmental collapse that is looming all around. Like Fordlândia — a spectacular failure that eventually cost the Ford family hundreds of millions of dollars — Dean appears to be wishing the same fate on Jeff Bezos’s digital juggernaut, and who can blame her? Where the performance misses its target is in suggesting that the way human workers are treated is the most horrific part of Amazon, as opposed to their corporate colonization of space and movement into the military space which are both far more disturbing in my opinion. The retail arm of Amazon, which hasn’t been the way it makes the majority of its revenue for a long time may be the target of critics like Dean, but the real spectre of Amazon is that the real money — the BIG money — is hidden by the illusion of selling books, gadgets, and other merchandise. The most insightful moment happens when one character (the one most visibly impacted by the deteriorating working conditions) says, “I’m still smarter than an AI, but for how long?” 

Ultimately Dean’s work touches on our own obsolescence as much as the utopias presented on stage. What happens when our own bodies and minds start breaking down? What do we do then? As the pandemic has proven, the failure of our bodies is not only very possible but very much real, as many of us have encountered new levels of exhaustion we never thought possible. It was beautiful to watch Dean play with these ideas and images in her performance, but ultimately I felt like I was only seeing part of a larger, more complicated story that was nowhere on stage. 

Danielle Dean’s Amazon (Proxy)took place at Amant Foundation (306 Maujer St, East Williamsburg, Brooklyn) October 21–23.

The Latest

Tschabalala Self Dramatizes the Struggle to See and Be Seen

“You can’t live in a house that’s built upon your back.” This is one of the more memorable phrases spoken by the scripted lovers of Tschabalala Self’s Sounding Board, what Performa describes in its promotional materials as an “experimental play.” That phrase, uttered by one romantic partner to the other, operates as guidance, warning, dictate,…

Reimagining Queer Presence in Grand Museum Rooms

A commitment to trans subjects, and their queer communities, is manifested as a holding environment made approachable by our concern, grounded in intimacy and legacy, enfolding any viewer who will stop, listen, and receive love.

Todd Chandler’s documentary Bulletproof looks at the many people monetizing the societal rot of school shootings.

As a free, powerful, and unpredictable woman, the witch has long been a crucible for mainstream society’s darkest fears.

In Philadelphia, a series of solo shows delves into the interdisciplinary practices of graduates whose work explores identity, familial bonds, political constructs, and nature’s fragility.

The artists released a risograph-printed booklet series Organizing Power, to assist in the arduous process of assembling a bargaining unit and negotiating.

From 1963 through 1968, Warhol produced nearly 650 films, including hundreds of Screen Tests and dozens of full-length movies.

Melvin Edwards, Maren Hassinger, and Alison Saar are among the artists kicking off the Destination Crenshaw initiative.

An SFMOMA exhibition raises questions about what it means when museum board members have ties to politicians who support border wall policies.

Source link

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.