Six hours before President Macron ordered the closing of every nursery, school, and university in France, in an attempt to slow the spread of the Covid-19 virus, visitors to Centre Pompidou were sparse. Within a huge dark space, the seven screens of Jeremy Shaw’s Phase Shifting Index (2020) glowed. In this thirty-five-minute operatic composition, a single voice narrates each of the installation’s seven high-definition videos. Seemingly archival, the audio narration speaks from an imagined future, outlining the alternative belief systems of the seven “Periphery Altruist Cultures” visualized on screen. Costumed and shot in period materials that suggest a precise moment in our high-capitalist twentieth century — lycra and VHS, for example — each group begins with spoken incantations of the artist’s scripted mid-twenty-first and early twenty-second-century ideals. “Quantum Moderns,” “Countdown,” “The Violet Lux,” “The Alignment movement,” “Reclaimers,” “Zero Ones,” and “The Cyclical Culture” dabble in machine DNA, quantum mechanics, spiritual transcendence, and radicality. The texts, all in English, are convincingly spoken, eyes locked on the camera/viewer, while a ribbon of English subtitles pins the words onto consecutive images, some in black and white, others in color: “Let’s take this journey together.” “Our spineless entities in digital placenta.” “Holding multitudes of evolutionary information.” “Gaining information for our synthesis.” Each group seems to aim for a sort of transcendence, physical or psychic. And while speaking, each collective is in movement, sensual, robotic, dancerly, gymnastic, yogic, or explosive. Soon their shared movements begin to pulse. “It’s kind of like we are rewiring ourselves,” a dancer says.
Slowly, simultaneously, Shaw’s screens fall into synch, language melts into rhythm, and each of these disparate bodies in motion begin to perform the same exuberant choreography. The audio narration slips into a pulsing bass, and flashing screens engage the place in your brain once entranced by tiny colorful pills at an all-night rave. Shaw cuts all seven screens at once, and a thin geometric landscape floats on screen, like the silhouettes of mountaintops in CMYK. The bodies are transcendent, erased. The exhibition is slated to close just days after France plans to reopen its borders, a moment in time projected to fall after the peak of coronavirus infections in France. Shaw’s is a hauntingly timely work.
I was late submitting this review to Flash Art because of the time I spent in line at the grocery store and the pharmacy, wearing a surgical mask and standing one meter from my neighbors. I also lost writing time setting up online meeting rooms so my three children can partake in “education at a distance.” My four-year-old son counted the phrase “we are at war” six times in Macron’s short speech on March 16th. But, as in Shaw’s work, there will come a moment when words will melt away and it will be bodies confined, bodies in motion, bodies succumbing, bodies surviving, bodies on a colored graph.