Engineered by Germany-based art collective Omsk Social Club and UK-based artist Joey Holder, “Memeplex™” — a twelve-artist group exhibition at Seventeen, London — enacts a fictional story from a fragment of Omsk’s interactive online work The Wet Altar (2021), commissioned by Light Art Space. The written segment is of a nurse speaking to a patient in a “neutral” hospital. This dialogue served as the foundation for a collaborative sound piece conceived during their residencies at PACT Zollverein, a performing arts theater in Germany.
The caretaker’s glitching voice explains that “meme mites,” which are organic-shaped devices storing beliefs, are about to be implanted into the victim’s brain. Following an elaborate — and perhaps nonconsensual — procedure, they learn that the subject has failed the operation by not being “human enough.”
Despite man being regarded as God in multiple religions and as the most superior species by Greek philosopher Aristotle, we contain countless organisms inside our bodies. The exhibition convincingly signals that the subcultures of Skinwalkers, Therians, and Otherkins, who claim to have metamorphosed into animals, might share more traits with humanity than suggested by science.
In the show’s hallway, headsets allow listeners to hear the tale. Built around these is a multimedia installation across two interconnected rooms that seamlessly combines artworks and objects beyond authorship. This doubles as a set for an upcoming film, which manifests the disoriented patient’s perspective.
Entering the hostile gallery-turned-hospital, the first “medical room” radiates the sickening NHS iconic green, employed in hospitals to convey an immaculate sense of cleanliness. Meme plantations take place here. But only remnants survive: tubes with hair samples, silver kidney trays, and totemic surgical instruments. Shadowed by a corpse painting by Netherlands-based artist Katja Novitskova, a medical bed slowly pumps air into its mattress, emulating a breathing body.
Next is the “control room,” a gray area with computer diagrams where laboratory work is performed. The final “recovery room” discharges a specific Baker-Miller pink hue, used in US prisons to ease incarcerated peoples. Eerie golden lighting accentuates the reassuring atmosphere. The domestic double bed bears a tarot deck by UK-based artist Suzanne Treister, whose reading indicates the present energy: justice, the ace of pentacles, or the king of chalices. A handmade crochet blanket adds coziness.
But mutations emerge despite the homey atmosphere. UK-based artist Isaac Lythgoe blends textures in his sculpture Brains are the only thing worth having in this world (2021). Crouched down, with limbs wrapped in an ocean-recycled fabric, the creature reveals what look like nineteenth-century jewels. Along with UK-based artist Jack Jubb’s foggy clock painting atop the nightstand, these items harken back to a nostalgic era when effects and props were cruder.
Omsk fittingly describes the white cube as an “open pocket,” highlighting ideas we may be unfamiliar with on a daily basis. Vinyl renderings of fortified doors are affixed to the wall’s corners, provoking speculation about multiple escape routes. Incubating a fictional gateway, a muted TV plays Canadian director David Cronenberg’s horror film eXistenZ (1999) repeatedly, evoking a hotel lobby. Architecturally interactive elements variously evoke feminist science fiction, Mexican surrealist painter Leonora Carrington, and French philosopher and mystic Simone Weil.
As with gene complexes in biology, “Memeplex™” implies an overriding concern with groups of memes that reproduce each other online. The prospect of being infected by data is almost as terrifying as the show’s recurring reminders of distress, disease, and death. Yet the works are alive in spirit, transporting ideas within themselves and between audiences. As we question whether an unbiased agenda can exist, each viewer decides if they want to assume the position of a caregiver, a caretaker, or some combination thereof.