Sprawl (Propaganda about Propaganda) is an attempt by artist group Metahaven and sound designer Kuedo to visualise the internet - placing an importance of viral videos, news, actual happenings and the internet jumbled next to and on top of each other. It is almost the antithesis of Allan Kaprow’s Happenings, exploring how recorded actions and thoughts are expressed and later rationalised.
As Juha van’t Zelfde, artistic director of The Lighthouse, correctly pointed out during the Arab Spring the internet became a weapon where viral imagery and videos would extend the impact of the protest meaning that the power of the online almost supersedes the importance of the protest itself. This exhibition visually expresses these non-linear narratives that we have to intellectualise and rationalise in our daily life through the composition of the film and installation.
As you walk in there are 4 pillars each one with a television on one side and a mirror on the other, behind the pillars a large blood red moon on a 20 minute loop sits ominously in the background. As well as providing a dramatic backdrop it is a reference to the Internet’s recent obsession with the amount of red Moons recently.
On each of the Televisions is a film that explores narratives in the media vs the internet and how propaganda is a part of modern life, with actions interpreted by different channels completely differently. The war in the Ukraine is a prime example, one that Metahaven explore through interviews with academics and journalists interspersed with News feeds from Russia, Ukraine and the West. On Russia news outlets there is a deafening silence of Russian involvement whereas on CNN, Russia is heavily implicated to say the least. The piece is cleverly apolitical and is simply commenting on how propaganda is a part of modern life, neither good nor bad, and how it reaches us. It also challenges our understanding and perceptions of events such as the rise of ISIS, the crash of Malaysian Airlines MH17 presenting opposing views without bias.
Layers of humour are added throughoutadding a layer of surrealism and the fantastic, with random scenes of people dancing, fighting, memes and unrelated clickbait headlines floating over highly significant interviews and long landscape pans. This playful chaos is reflected in the room itself: audio is synced with certain TVs, and off on others, mirrors reflecting your own confused face back at you placing you the viewer as the part of the artwork too.
It is a resounding success for Metahaven and Lighthouse, and is conceptual art at its very best. It is designed to be uncomfortable, immersive and overwhelming – something you have to work at to understand. It took me about 20 minutes to understand the experience, but was completely worth it. However, even more confusingly, the whole exhibition is really just a flyer for the actual piece which is a website: sprawl.space.
So, really when you think about it this whole piece of writing is redundant adding to the non-linear nature of the piece, reviewing an experience that isn’t actually the art piece and I will be directly contributing too once I have posted online.
My head hurts, and I’m glad it does because this piece deserves to be thought about and considered. Definitely one I will be revisiting and exploring online further.