Reality or not? Cécile B Evans at MODAL Gallery, Manchester

The School of Digital Arts (SODA) at Manchester Metropolitan University presents a video installation made in CGI, exploring the fabrication of culture and reality

In Western culture and philosophy, dichotomous thinking prevails and permeates every aspect of our perception. As any other field, the discourse on digital culture has often been based on the ideal opposition between “material” and “immaterial” and, consequently, a false conception of what is “real” and what is, instead, “virtual”.

Actually, there is evidence that real and virtual are two faces of the same coin – and we experience this encounter on a very daily basis: from our online self and its effect on our perception of our body appearance in real life, to online communities that actually are part of our loved ones, not to mention algorithms that constitute bubbles in social media, continuously exposing like-minded people to each other, emphasizing their ideas through a “confirmation bias” (and actively affecting, as a result, our society). Therefore, what is real? And what is not?

Cécile B Evans, Reality or Not, Modal Gallery

Exploring the blurred boundaries between these two “realities” has been, in the last several years, at the core of Cécile B Evans’ artistic research. Their last work, Reality or Not, could be viewed as the acme of their conceptual path: the piece consists of a video installation made in CGI, which tells the story of a group of students from a high school located in the northern suburbs of Paris who take part in a radical experiment. Refusing the linear narrative, the storyline connects different realities – a group of girls are asked to participate in a reality TV show only to reject their own reality; meanwhile, a statue rages against their role in the world and a hacker uses a live-stream to run an anti-imperialist bling-ring. What Evans is staging goes beyond a “representation” of reality: it is a site of production of reality. Why is it revolutionary? Because it changes the whole traditional representational paradigm that constitutes art practice itself to a paradigm of production of reality. The “experiment” staged in the story significantly aims at appropriating the reality that surrounds the students and modifying it independently. By doing so, Evans call into question the very concept of reality in a society increasingly crowded with alternative digital worlds.

Cécile B Evans, Reality or Not, Modal Gallery

Running until March 24th at the Modal gallery within SODA – School of Digital Arts at Manchester Metropolitan University, the show Behind the scenes with Cécile B Evans: an interactive exhibition of film, reality and youth displays this work as never seen before. Reality or Not – a co-production that involves SODA, Fondazione MAST & Museo d’Arte Moderna di Bologna; Lafayette Anticipations in Paris; Singapore Art Museum and La Fresnoy – Studio national des arts contemporains in Tourcoing – is shown in a “behind the scenes” version. Consistently with the red thread of “reality production”, the project delves into the production of the work itself, exhibiting a breakdown of 5 scenes from the finished film, each accompanied by a commentary from Evans and various team members. “We are so proud”, stated Valentino Catricalà, curator at the MODAL Gallery, “to show the new work of Cécile B. Evans and to have collaborated with them in producing it. I think that this is another step that makes MODAL one of the most interesting galleries for art and technology.

Reality or Not”, underlines Catricalà, is “Evans’ most ambitious project to date in terms of scale. They really tested the limits of SODA. I would recommend this to anyone who wants to be inspired by one of our greatest artists in their use of CGI”. And the exhibition staged at MODAL is perhaps the best way to experience it, following the making process and entering that virtual (yet real) dimension.

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Laura Cocciolillo
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