Technology is the chosen vocabulary of artist Sondra Perry, whose body of works form an unapologetic discourse on race, class and identity.
Lauren Gee | Ed Francesca Gransden | 10 July 2020
In situating her practice in New Media Art, utilising computer-generated images, moving animation and avatars, Perry speaks in a language which is perpetuated by the racial biases present in our society. In creating art which interrogates how and why these biases manifest themselves in developing and existing technology, Perry addresses issues of access, productivity and efficiency. All of which she acknowledges, have been consumed by capitalism. Perry’s practice acts as a vehicle to challenge and resist this appropriation, using the screen and projection to craft a persuasive and honest resistance.
Most recently exhibiting her installation ‘Typhoon Coming On’ at the Serpentine Galleries (London) and the ICA (Miami), Perry treats the screen as an object of potential, resulting in an architectural feat. Her installation, comprised entirely out of screens and projections, comes together to house equally fascinating and futuristic workstations. Perry is constantly advocating for the connection between technology and the body, in particular the black body.
Sondra Perry, Typhoon (2018) © Courtesy of @visual.fodder
Skeletal to Perry’s practice is the symbiosis of blackness and technology, denying the assumption that the two exist as a juxtaposition. In making art that celebrates this union, she asserts that this relationship extends beyond theoretical discourse and is a living reality for many in her community. Formative to Perry’s understanding of technology, was her mother’s career in this field. Perry’s mother was immersed in this world, working in radiology as well as film. This influence can be seen in Perry’s ‘Typhoon Coming On,’ where she replicates her mother’s use of a three-monitor format.
Perry describes her work stations as precarious objects which reflect the precarity of the human body. Each station is equipped with specially designed seating for the viewer that resembles gym equipment. These stations create science-fiction-like ‘moments of being encircled inside of an embodied kind of architecture’. Once enveloped by these screens you are met with an avatar, a computer-manipulated image of Perry. This disturbing self-portrait reveals the power of the digital image whilst also accepting its limits; there were parts of the avatar that could not be altered such as the teeth nor parts of the body. It is in these glitches that technology and the individual are bought closer, made increasingly relatable through these inconsistencies. The curation of these moments dismantles technology’s affinity with anonymity, the interaction between viewer and screen here is inherently personal and human.
© Courtesy of the artist.
Perry also works to disrupt and undermine new media art’s expected and sustained connection to the future. Seizing an art historical lens, one of the walls of ‘Typhoon Coming On’ references Turner’s most famous painting, Slave Ship (Slavers Throwing Overboard the Dead and Dying (1840). Placing this Turner image onto an ocean modifier template, it becomes drastically abstracted, the same oceans in which slaves were flung overboard and at times martyred themselves as a form of resistance and liberation is made real by Perry. The wall renders the computer-generated waves infinite, making the sensation of drowning utterly tangible. The middle passage is a key preoccupation of Perry’s and she seamlessly blends it into the wider conversation on the politics of the black body. Her focus on texture and movement surfaces in the rendering of her own skin, a zoomed-in image which has been manipulated and highly modulated – producing a similar effect to Turner’s painting: an unsettling churning. This repulsion alludes to the way black and brown skin is depicted in the film, and how it is often altered, warmed up or made lighter to accommodate white audiences. Her own depiction of her skin is uncomfortable to look at, emulating an open wound, here connecting the piece to trauma and the repercussions of the systemic racial microaggressions that are present even in the creative sector.
In an interview, Perry states that ‘blackness is agile’ and this is clearly expressed throughout Perry’s work. Perry creates art where the imagination becomes an architect for a space without hierarchy. “Imagining is incredibly important because inflexible imaginations create terrible spaces for people to live.”
About the Artist
Sondra Perry earned her MFA from Columbia University (2015) and a BFA from Alfred University (2012).
Spanning the last five years, Perry has screened her videos and presented talks at institutions including the Vera List Center at The New School, The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, and The Artists’s Institute, New York, among others.
In 2017, she was awarded the Gwendolyn Knight and Jacob Lawrence Prize from the Seattle Art Museum, which culminated in the exhibition, Eclogue for[in]HABITABILITY.
Past Shows and Fair Booths
Perry’s solo exhibitions include, Typhoon coming on, Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London, UK (2018); Chromatic Saturation, Disjecta, Portland, OR (2018); Sondra Perry: flesh out, Squeaky Wheel, Buffalo, NY (2017); and Resident Evil, The Kitchen, New York (2016). Selected group exhibitions include, The Body Electric, Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN (2018); Family Pictures, Columbus Museum of Art, Columbus, OH (2018); Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today, Institute of Contemporary Art Boston, Boston, MA (2018); We Just Fit, You and I, Carpenter Center for the Visual Arts, Cambridge, MA (2017); Disguise: Masks and Global African Art, Brooklyn Museum, Brooklyn (2016); and Greater New York, MoMA PS1, Long Island City (2015).