At the Musée d’art moderne, I’m holding a Dornbracht brochure for high-end bathroom and kitchen fittings. These German designers offer « Premium Solutions for Interior Architecture, » and at the Musée d’art moderne’s newest exhibition CO-WORKERS — Network as Artist, they collaborate with New York-based art collective DIS and designer Mike Meiré to present The Island (KEN). A sleek, fully functional kitchen-bathroom hybrid replete with sink, countertop, and a Dornbracht Horizontal Shower (with integrated drinking station), The Island is the exhibition’s centerpiece installation. Its aqueous luxury showcases an environment of « Ambient Intelligence »—the futurist (but also strikingly present) reality proposed and studied throughout CO-WORKERS.
In this reality, the uninterrupted flow of information from and among our devices has been developed to address our needs to such an extent that it’s grown familiar, so accessible and fluid with our surroundings that it feels like an extension of our own intelligence. Thus DIS has designed CO-WORKERS in reference to shared work spaces, airport transit areas, and technology showrooms—all places in which our experience is mediated as much by our own intelligence as by the digital intelligence all around us. Your sink knows when your glass is full, and that you want to take a shower, supine, without ever leaving the kitchen.
The Island explores this idea of « Ambient Intelligence » with a degree of unabashed cultural immersion that it doesn’t shirk the omnipresence of brands and marketing in our technological lives. In fact, it feels like a fever-dream hybrid of Apple Store and Bed Bath and Beyond. Banks of iMacs line the walls playing Internet culture artifacts and sleek, unnervingly saccharine « commercials. » Leaning against its mutant kitchenbath appliance is a flat screen TV. It plays a video of The Island in use where a fully clothed woman lies on the horizontal shower bed, getting soaked, smiling. Then she’s standing by the icy white countertop, cutting lemons. Back on the horizontal shower bed, she’s watching its integrated drinking station with glassy eyes, a cup filling with water, mint leaves bobbing on the surface. All of sudden she’s stroking wet lettuce, still on the shower bed, the line between kitchen and bathroom effectively destroyed. In a voice that sounds like it’s a millimeter from your ear, crackling with ASMR intimacy, the video’s drenched protagonist whispers:
Free and equal. With great structures spanning continents, or oceans. The utopian impulse has turned inward. It has become domestic. The last glimmer of that ambition is in renovating the bathroom, or maybe, the kitchen. Where there is water, the impulse to remake the world is strongest. Renatopia, the modest ambition, to perfect end-user plumbing. To build a private oasis in a planet-wide desert
The kitchen, the shower, the lemons, the wet woman, the wet lettuce—The Island and its video are absolutely ridiculous, but their ambiance is also jarringly familiar. The work reflects a particular, hyper-modern sphere of culture that most privileged Westerners have surely experienced before. This is « lifestyle culture, » but presented in a hyperbolic, museum-elevated form. You may recognize the feeling it evokes. The Island’s seductive technology calls to mind that time you found solace from airplane din in a glossy Skymall, the moment all of you life’s inefficiencies came crashing down around you at your local mall’s Brookstone Store, or, when you simply forgot to change the channel while watching an all-consuming infomercial.
This visceral, seductive space of capitalist engagement that Skymall, Brookstone, informercials, etc. evoke is channeled by The Island with hyperbole that can be received as satire, but considering the intrinsic hyperbolic quality of « lifestyle » culture, it’s easy to suspend disbelief. The work resonates somewhere in between the smirk-inducing « duh » of Chindōgu and their subtler, more seductive Skymall friends.
But seriously, what’s radical about The Island, and so much of the art circulating passing through the DIS community, is its unapologetic participation in cultural spaces that are as extensively branded as they are steeped in technology (see « The Critique of Critique, » written by CO-WORKERS curator Toke Lykkeburg). Collaborations between museums and brands are no new phenomenon, but where these efforts have often been inundated by a creepy dissonance, like Fox News interviewing a gender theorist, The Island exists comfortably as a strikingly generative intersection of the artistic and corporate. Whatever institutional critique it wields is compellingly submerged in its uncanny infiltration of popular lifestyle culture. With its wet lettuce-absurdity and ASMR-inducing lilt, it talks the talk. Dornbracht’s velvety brochure says it all:
The precision and high-end finishing of the work provides the new ‘product’ with a seriousness that inevitably results in a confusion of the observers’ customary viewing habits… The Island embodies a perfect symbiosis of design and art. Merging both disciplines reveals the aesthetic and atmospheric power of Dornbracht products, placing them in an entirely different setting. The result is a space that bursts the boundaries of conventional functional rooms and allows the viewer to see the (Dornbracht) world in a new way
By Chris Gortmaker
Vassar-Wesleyan Program in Paris
CO-WORKERS – Network as Artist
Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris
Oct. 9 2015 – Jan. 31 2016
The Island (KEN), Chris and curator Toke Lykkeburg. ©Thegazeofaparisienne