Manchester-based artist Mishka Henner appropriates digital data to subvert perceptions of modern life. Search History, his second show at AirSpace Gallery, reflects on the artist’s interaction with image-rich technologies such as Google Earth and Street View, highlighting the way he adopts a contemporary toolkit to infuse numerous dialogues into one image. Similar to what you would expect from your own internet browsing history Search History samples topics, visuals, symbols and signs of the 21st century through a mélange of new and existing pieces.
Touching on the UK, US and Europe’s shifting industrial, political and societal climates the exhibition explores the way in which the digital, above all, has infiltrated our existence. IMG_01 (2014) does exactly this, pairing a silver gelatin print of five Australian field artillery brigade members in Ypres with a print-on-demand volume of digital code. By transferring a moment captured in 1917 into two disparate forms, the work points towards the fact that our understanding of past histories is much more disjointed than the original experience. While the image is still able to conjure human empathy, the book leaves us futilely seeking answers in reels of data.
This infiltration of the digital into our everyday lives, as well as a ‘loss’ of the human, is reflected in Your Only Way to Survive is to Leave with Us (2017). The piece comprises the slowed-down video footage of Marshall Applewhite, leader of the Heaven’s Gate cult, addressing his public prior to a mass suicide. A grim satire on the UK’s leave campaign, as well as the former encroachment of UKIP in Stoke-on-Trent, the video shows the power of the digital hypnotising its audience. This drastic overlap between fact and fiction is also found in Artefact (2011), a piece that uses found images to identify hidden abuses of power online. It does so by juxtaposing a low-resolution screenshot taken from within the Abu Ghraib prison with imagery from a virtual tour of a leading museum.
Two series that revel in the internet’s ability to disclose details on hidden spaces are Airspace (2016) and Coronado Feeders (2012). Both use Google Earth imagery to shatter illusions: Airspace shows the scale of weapons testing zones in the UK, while Coronado Feeders unveils the beef farming industry in all its corrupted glory through a vivid pit of excretion and chemical waste. Likewise, No Man’s Land (2011-2013) features communities of female sex workers captured at 50mph by Google Street View cameras. Joined together, these images form a fleeting voyage where the viewer becomes a bystander to corruption. Here, the private blurs with the public.
Refocusing the show’s attention on human conflict is The Last Post (2017), a performance staged live at Search History‘s opening. A sole bugle player recites the Last Post, only to be accompanied by a cacophony of looped sound. This sincere reflection on the incomprehensible number of military deaths poignantly disrupts the art show spectacle. Collectively, the works ruminate on abuses of power and, through Henner’s satirical touch, we are reminded that our sensibilities towards injustices have been dampened. All of this data is available to view online, and yet through its ever-increasing dissemination we are becoming more desensitised as time goes on.
Selina Oakes is writer based in Stoke-on-Trent and York.
Search History, AirSpace Gallery, Stoke-on-Trent, 18 March – 22 April.