If you’ve seen the music videos, then you already know that Grimes has a penchant for animated digital avatars and tripped out cartoon futurism. As her current art show at Maccarone makes explicit, this is more than a cool way to make a video. It’s also part of a long-standing interdisciplinary experiment with the concepts of identity, authorship, and quantum hybridity.
A healthy skepticism is a good thing when encountering art by rock stars, no doubt about it. But this work is genuinely interesting, both conceptually and aesthetically. Selling Out is an online exhibition, which covers about 10 years of her practice — from prolific drawings, including her own original album cover art, to a suite of new AI-driven digital videos which are both and neither self-portraits nor music videos, but which include soundtracks and speak in the voice of an alter-ego.
Let’s back up. Grimes is musician Claire Boucher’s stage name, but in the parallel world of the art studio, the personage of Grimes takes further form inhabiting a digitally-generated fantasy universe. The show statement reads in part that, “Selling Out explores the notion of identity potential in the digital age: the ability to create, augment, and manifest ourselves outside of our biological limits.” In this case, having done so with Grimes herself, Boucher does so again with the digital avatar character of WarNymph, an invention of herself, her brother and art partner Mac Boucher, and the input of an AI program to inform and direct its consciousness.
The exhibition portrays WarNymph in a series of portraits and embodiments of mythological, futuristic, spiritual warriors. WarNymph also stars in a series of animated audio/visual “meditations,” of which a 30-second preview is streaming on the site. The spoken word and music is not far off from what you might expect in Grimes musical releases, syncopated, ethereal and intense and with messages aimed squarely at consciousness-altering. A further reference to her music comes with the inclusion of drawings portfolios representing both approved and discarded album art.
In perhaps the only note of cynicism on display, Selling Out is not only the overall show title but a specific piece in the show — a conceptual artwork that exists in the form of a signed contract in which Grimes sells a fraction of her soul, in both a Faustian sense and a more hopeful take on the idea that artists invest their works with “pieces of their souls,” to which the collector then has intimate but limited access.
For more information, visit maccarone.io.