Body screen

Screen time. What’s your weekly average? My phone keeps alerting me to the fact my usage is increasing week to week.

I wonder when we will hit saturation point. The point where we are so absorbed by the screen that technology moves from being an extension of our bodies to rendering our bodies obsolete.

These artists consider what such a future might look like.

Charlotte Moorman

Charlotte Moorman performing Nam June Paik’s TV Cello at the Art Gallery of New South Wales 1976. National Art Archive | Art Gallery of New South Wales. © Nam June Paik Estate. Photo: AGNSW, Kerry Dundas

Well before YouTube and TikTok, Nam June Paik declared we were all on an ‘electronic superhighway’ where we could make and broadcast and become the image. TV was not for sitting in front of, passively watching, it was for manipulating, playing, participating and experimenting. For getting inside the screen.

Bill Viola

Bill Viola, Incrementation 1996.​ Art Gallery of New South Wales, gift of the John Kaldor Family Collection 2011. Donated through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program​. © Bill Viola

And here Bill Viola does just that. The artist appears crammed inside a TV. Each breath he takes is tallied on an electronic counter in glowing red numbers. This existential alarm clock is programmed to stop at 900,000,000 – 85-years of inhales and exhales.

Tony Oursler

Tony Oursler, Mo 2003​. On loan from private collection​. © Tony Oursler

But as physical and virtual space overlap and merge, do we still look the same? Tony Oursler thinks not. His strange figures suggest the way our bodies are distorted and contorted by our technologically driven times.

Discombobulated, nonsensical and alienated, Mo is all of us after our seventh consecutive Zoom meeting.

Justene Williams

Justene Williams​, Concord 2018​. On loan from the artist​. © Justene Williams and Justene Williams, Insight 2018​. Art Gallery of New South Wales, Contemporary Collection Benefactors 2019. © Justene Williams

We’re all guilty of checking our phone mid-conversation, mid-dinner, mid-meeting… Justene Williams taps into this sense of emotional disconnection. Not only is technology changing the way we inhabit our own bodies, but also how we interact with other bodies. How we can be right next to each other, looking at each other, and yet be completely apart, lost in virtual space.

Ed Atkins

Ed Atkins​, Safe conduct 2016 (still). Art Gallery of New South Wales, Mervyn Horton Bequest Fund and Germany Foundation Tour 2018​. © Ed Atkins

And finally, we arrive at saturation point. When our bodies inhabit the virtual entirely. Ed Atkins ponders the capacity of our computer-generated selves to live and to feel. What everyday emotions – such as anxiety, fear, hope, pain and love – will our avatars carry forward?