Route 1: R for Replicant
Route 1: R for Replicant is the first exhibition in an annual series to be drawn from the 101 Collection based in San Francisco. This exhibition aims to investigate contemporary image production by exploring the issue of how images shape and challenge our understanding of reality, and more specifically our understanding of American identity.
PARTICIPATING ARTISTS: Eleanor Antin, Jennifer Bornstein, Juan Capistran, Bruce Conner, Mario Garcia Torres, Rodney Graham, Colter Jacobsen, Tim Lee, Daniel Joseph Martinez, Kristen Morgin, Catherine Opie, Raymond Pettibon, Allen Ruppersberg, Mark Soo, Ron Terada, Jeff Wall, Ian Wallace, James Welling.
The starting point of the exhibition is the Voight-Kampff machine, an imaginary mechanism of interrogation used to distinguish humans from replicants (or androids), proposed by the American writer Philip K. Dick in his 1968 novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? and later visually represented in Ridley Scott’s 1982 science-fiction classic Blade Runner. The Voight-Kampff test involves a series of questions intended to elicit emotional reactions in order to detect a capacity for empathy. The test’s result becomes ambiguous however, when it is conducted on an experimental replicant model whose artificially implanted memories allow her to generate empathic responses. The metaphor of the test thus suggests the possible interchangeability of the artificial (memory) and the real (experience), and ultimately questions the very notion of existence and reality. If the replicant is not merely a simulation of a human but rather a being that experiences an alternative reality, then perhaps images do not provide replicas of reality, or fake realities, but alternative realities that might or might not be experienced.
Featuring works that comment on contemporary image production through interventions related to history, narrative, memory, and experience, the exhibition proposes an investigation of the “materiality” of these images by tackling the issue of what images can or cannot make visible. “Materiality,” in the context of this exhibition, does not refer to the works’ physical presences through print, drawing, or film, for instance, but rather to an understanding of images recycled and accelerated to the point of seizing their own means of production becoming actual things, interfering in real life, affecting it, and even altering it. Using various strategies, whether playing with iconographies, borrowing cinematic imagery, commenting on popular culture, referencing and reconstructing history, reorganizing existing objects and images, or storytelling via documentary, the artworks in this exhibition create new meanings beyond their connections to existing realities. History and stories, documentary images and staged images, actual locations and invented scenes are all parts of the same regime of truth. The structure of the exhibition is intended as a kind of variation on the Voight-Kampff machine. Artists/artworks, audiences/artworks, and artists/audiences operate as both inquisitors and suspects. While artists examine American identity by proposing alternative realities, audiences’ perceptions of received ideologies are challenged, and the notion of reality and truth become uncertain through image interpretations.
Whereas the humorous title of Dick’s novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? upholds the traditional assumption that androids are machines and run on electricity, the renaming of androids to replicants in Blade Runner, given the latter term’s associations with microbiology and genetic engineering, redefines them as alternative beings, different than humans. This redefinition of their characters actually points to a constellation of inquires regarding identity: the identity of the replicants, of us as readers and viewers, and of human beings in general. Pushing these inquires a step further, this exhibition questions not only the identity of America as presented in the works, and the identities of today’s artists as image makers and cultural producers, but also our own identities as consumers and observers of the visual culture that we encounter in our daily lives.
Route 1: R for Replicant was curated by Xiaoyu Weng. Weng received her M.A. in Curatorial Practice at California College of the Arts (2009) and holds a B.A degree in Art History and Art Administration from China Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing (2003). Her study at CCA was supported by the Asian Cultural Council Starr Foundation Fellowship and the Carmen M. Christensen Graduate Scholarship from CCA.