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“Black Mirror” Explores Our Dystopian World

From Wikileaks to border walls, a new art exhibition questions the promise of progress in our brave new world.

Miss Rosenby Miss Rosen
Artwork: Claudia Parducci WHERE TO RUN, 2007, Pencil, watercolor on paper 22×30 inches (detail).

We have reached a time when science fiction appears as fact, as prescient warning of the perils of human nature and its love for technology. “Just because we can does not mean we should” is the underlying moral of this realm of fantastical thought.

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“Imagination is more important than knowledge,” Albert Einstein hypothesized. “For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution.” But, of course, this was the man who signed his name to shore up political support for the Manhattan Project.

Kio Griffith, Ember Altered book, "Fahrenheit 451” “Fires In The Plain”, Fu Rong Wang cigarettes, 15 x 17 x 2 inches 2015

Kio Griffith, Ember
Altered book, “Fahrenheit 451” “Fires In The Plain”, Fu Rong Wang cigarettes, 15 x 17 x 2 inches 2015

Einstein’s belief is tellingly flawed. Evolution happens naturally; it does not need imagination to occur. “Fantasy, abandoned by reason, produces impossible monsters,” the painter Francisco Goya understood. Perhaps what is missing from the conversation is a discussion of reason itself.

One can logically proceed from an irrational premise—as so much technology does. The idea that technology is an “improvement” is presumptuous at best, and stems from acute cognitive dissonance. The underlying ethos of science fiction is to see into the future with the knowledge that the more things change, they more they remain the same.

This is where Black Mirror comes in. The British sci-fi show, now airing on Netflix, has become immensely popular for its pinpoint accuracy. It feels entirely too possible, knowing what we know now—and it almost always ends in tragedy. The show taps into our ability to use technology to oppress and exploit, dispelling any illusion that progress is inherently good.

Cole M. James, Manchego, Compiled visual experiences captured between 2011-2016 2min 36 sec 2016

Cole M. James, Manchego, Compiled visual experiences captured between 2011-2016 2min 36 sec 2016

Most people simply go with the flow, caught up in their own personal struggles, and unable to resist or even question the ways of the world. But artists by disposition are inclined to stand against the tide. They can’t help but reflect on the nature of life, of the conflicts and conundrums that drive them to create in an attempt to give voice to the unspoken.

In a world of Wikileaks and border walls, of a new Culture Wars that is redefining the way people think, act, and speak in the twenty-first century, every day the headlines bring us more horrific news—and most of it is far from natural disasters. The constant influx of violence fueled by reptilian impulses disguised by delusional faith and of destruction caused by indoctrination masquerading as education has brought us to this pivotal place. Think Malcolm Gladwell’s “Tipping Point” for the entire planet earth.

With so much dis/information streaming in through non-stop feeds, the artists selected for this exhibition reflected on ways to examine the intricate and complex nature of reality by doing what they do best: creating a silent comment that requires viewers to stop, look, and absorb.

Abdul Mazid, Untitled (Hijab), Cotton fabric and textile. hardened ,34 x 30 x 16 inche,s 2017

Abdul Mazid, Untitled (Hijab), Cotton fabric and textile. hardened ,34 x 30 x 16 inche,s 2017

Artist Julia Schwartz understands this and has curated Black Mirror, a group show now on view at Charlie James Gallery, Los Angeles, through May 13, 2017. The exhibition features a selection of painting, drawing, installation, photography, and video by Andrea Marie Breiling, Dani Dodge, Kio Griffith, Karl Haendel, Kenyatta AC Hinkle, Cole M James, Elana Mann, Abdul Mazid, Thinh Nguyen, Warren Neidich, Claudia Parducci, Thaddeus Strode, and Schwartz.

Conceptual in nature, the works ask you to meet them halfway, to step outside the cozy confines of your comfort zone and remove the sonic redundancy of life inside the echo chamber. Most people waver between outrage and exhaustion, and are ultimately depleted, rendered powerless, and ineffectual. Into this vacuous space, technology comes with its powers to distract and disinform.

The brilliance of these works is the ways in which they dispel the presumptions of technology. They offer no solutions. They maintain no pretense of authority or groupthink. Instead, they invite you to face the abstract, the unknown unknowns that underlie the “evolution” that Einstein hypothesized. They use imagination, not to “stimulate progress,” but to reflect quietly for a moment of emotional release.

Thinh Nguyen, Kiss Your Thin Lips Goodbye, Digital print, 36 x 24 inches, 2011

Thinh Nguyen, Kiss Your Thin Lips Goodbye, Digital print, 36 x 24 inches, 2011

We take so much in but how do we let it out? Invariably, there is the on-going cycle of cause and effect, on both our own lives as well as that of the world itself. Black Mirror reminds us that we have the power to act: to liberate ourselves from knee-jerk responses that avoid going beneath the surface of things and to resist political and cultural hegemony in order to restore our sanity.


Miss Rosen is a journalist covering art, photography, culture, and books. Her byline has appeared in L’Uomo Vogue, Whitewall, The Undefeated, Dazed Digital, Jocks and Nerds, and L’Oeil de la Photographie. Follow her on Twitter @Miss_Rosen.