Anri Sala’s solo piece, Mixed Behavior, stands towards the back of a darkened, padded room at the Art Institute of Chicago’s modern wing. Beyond the placement of the vinyl text or allocation to the new media gallery, there seems to be little curatorial premise. Sala describes his recent work as ‘exhibition specific’ rather than site-specific, and Mixed Behavior is no exception. Sala is control of the space.
One may be initially overtaken by a soothing comfort like that of a long, nighttime drive with one’s father smoothly in command of the car. The medium sized room is dark, carpeted and the walls are padded. Two large erect speakers frame a suspended screen. A video plays on loop of a DJ in the foreground spinning tracks on New Years Eve with fireworks exploding in the background. Atmospheric rain unites the lone man and his sound with the sky as he is forced to work under a tarp, prostrate to the turntable.
While Sala once again accomplishes what he does best, bending time and space and demonstrating everyday, commonplace subjective dissonance, he fails to reach capture the attention of so many people. I stood in the gallery for 23 minutes (enough time for the video loop about 3 times) and observed 15 people enter and immediately leave. Only two spent substantial time inside.
However, my conflict with Mixed Behavior comes from my honest love for Sala’s commitment to simplicity and clear comment on passivity. Just as the sky belongs to no one and everyone, the environment of the digital and Internet is a common object engaged by all. Fireworks are experienced passively, atmospherically, nearly sans choice for the city’s residents. Techno music takes a further step away from this kind of passive experience by not only being a part of the digital landscape, but directly rendered from it. Aside form the DJ’s mixing, the hand is completely erased and therefore natural identification with the object is also muted.
Sala’s DJ brings forth his anxiety for this dual environment that includes both physical and digital worlds. Sala directly addresses this split experience of the contemporary individual, but completely does not engage the contemporary individual. Is there no other way to make comment without isolating the subject he wishes to examine? Mixed Behavior has all the seduction and flavor of a macho and masculine abstract painting. It certainly borrows from that scale.