For nearly a decade, artist Julia Christensen has studied how upgrade culture—the perceived notion that we need to constantly upgrade our electronics to remain relevant—impacts institutional archives and operations, long-term scientific research, and our personal lives. This exhibition exhibition follows the trajectory of her ongoing endeavors at the intersection of art and technology, from an e-waste processing plant in India to her meetings with scientists at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) to discuss concepts that transcend obsolescence. Featuring nearly fifty artworks from multiple bodies of work, Upgrade Available also includes works recently completed in dialogue with LACMA’s Art + Technology Lab and JPL’s Innovation Foundry.
ArtCenter Exhibitions and LACMA Art + Technology Lab present Julia Christensen: Upgrade Available at the Peter and Merle Mullin Gallery at ArtCenter College of Design. The exhibition, scheduled to open on April 3, was postponed due to the Covid19 crisis. Until the physical space reopens, we’ve erected a virtual experience offering visitors a glimpse at select works from Upgrade Available and the ideas animating the show.
Julia Christensen: Upgrade Available is made possible through a generous grant from the Pasadena Art Alliance. Major support for the project is provided by Creative Capital, LACMA Art + Technology Lab, and the Guggenheim Foundation, with additional support from Fulcrum Arts, the Wexner Film/Video Studio, Oberlin College, the MacDowell Colon, and Emina Darakjyy. Christensen’s work at JPL for The Tree of Life and Proxima B design projects is facilitated and funded by the LACMA Art + Tech Lab and the Fulcrum Arts AxS Incubator. The exhibition is accompanied by the recently released book (of the same title) published by Dancing Foxes.
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With her ongoing photography series Technology Time, Christensen exposes the material consequence of upgrade culture with images of heaps of outdated batteries, microchips, USB flash drives and cables found at toxic electronic waste dumps around the world.
In a large-scale installation titled Burnouts, Christensen utilizes discarded handheld devices to display animations of constellations that have been “retired” from the study of the night sky due to light pollution.
The series Hard Copy investigates the phenomenon of collecting and keeping recordable media such as VHS tapes and floppy disks despite the fact that they are inaccessible due to obsolescence. While these media are kept with the intention of upgrading them to newer media formats, more often than not they linger in the attic until the original owner passes away, leaving others to sort through the memories.
We Share Our Pictures consists of ten triptychs of digital drawings of images sourced from found slide collections from the 1970s; one collection belongs to the artist’s family, the other procured from strangers’ estate sales. Each set of drawings contains two images from the strangers’ collections, and one from the artist’s family collection—without any indication of which image belongs to which collection.
During her fellowship at the LACMA Art + Technology Lab (2017), Christensen developed two series of photographs exploring how technological obsolescence impacts institutional operations. Archived Obsolescence and Smart Buildings display how institutions struggle to keep step with upgrade culture by documenting the range of media stored in institutional archives and the multiple generations of obsolete technology physically embedded in LACMA’s buildings.
Christensen met with a group of scientists at JPL to envision two long-term space mission concepts that transcend technological obsolescence. Using one such concept, The Tree of Life, the artist has envisioned a communication system designed to outlive typical technology using unlikely components: a set of living trees on planet Earth in communication with a small satellite (CubeSat) designed to operate for 200 years. Datasets describing the tree’s health and the CubeSat’s operations would be transmitted between Earth and outer space as sonic frequencies, effectively causing the tree and spacecraft to “sing” in a 200-year duet.
For more information about Julia Christensen’s LACMA Art + Technology and JPL collaborations, please go to: lacma.org/lab/project/upgrade-available.
Julia Christensen: Upgrade Available is accompanied by a recently published book, also titled Upgrade Available, published by Dancing Foxes Press and available for pre-order now. The book features Christensen’s writing interspersed with her artworks, and conversations between the artist and fellow artists Ravi Agarwal and Cory Arcangel; Lori Emerson, associate professor in the Department of English and the Intermedia Arts, Writing, and Performance Program at the University of Colorado at Boulder; Jessica Gambling, archivist at LACMA; Rick Prelinger, archivist and professor at UC Santa Cruz; Bobbye Tigerman, curator at LACMA; and linguist Laura Welcher, director of operations at The Long Now Foundation.