Cooling the Babylon Matrix Meditates on Consumption, Entertainment

Taia Kwinter, Staff Writer

A busy weekend of Senior Studio shows closed with College senior Lily Gottschalk’s Cooling the Babylon Matrix, a remarkable feat of installation, performance, sculpture and multimedia art. Utilizing many of the facilities in Philips Gym, Gottschalk created a labyrinth of spectacle, consumption and interrogation. The event opened at midnight on Saturday, just as Solarity’s Awaken the Wild event closed for the night. Although this planning was unintentional, the eccentric energy of Solarity’s attendees, as well as the number and level of inebriated students, played well into Gottschalk’s purpose and subject matter.

At the entrance to the gym two women stood behind a greeting table, which was neatly arranged with dozens of bottles of peroxide, astrological charts and color spectrums, small cutouts of maps and naked bodies, as well as shoe covers and latex gloves surrounding a framed picture of the artist in a wig with a stuffed tiger. The two greeters asked the visitors for their eye color, astrological sign, and to take a breathalyzer test, which they recorded on the various charts on the table in front of them. From this point the viewer was led on a winding path of aural and visual stimulation — positioned on ellipticals were iPads with a fake commercial for various designer brands; further down the hall the viewer could look into a conference room where three men in suits and sunglasses conversed and drew on a whiteboard, a PowerPoint projected on the wall behind them.

It was after this, and before the viewer entered the pool room, where the exhibit held the most comprehensible and apparent commentary, object placement and intentionality. The viewer was led to a hallway of squash courts, which could be directly entered or otherwise viewed from a balcony hallway one level above. Visitors were able to move freely through the rooms, each of which had a different organization and display. The first three each had someone playing on some sort of media device. In the first, a man in a clear box played Xbox. In another, a man dressed in grey boxer briefs and a large camouflage hat sat in an inflatable pool filled with blank checks and red Jell-O, eyes locked on an iPhone. In another room, a water gun lay on the ground pointing at three white panels, splattered with red paint and holes. In yet another was a formation of silver fabric with an animation projected on the wall; further on, various clips from The Daily Telegraph were projected with audio, showing alleged stories of fires, citizens having sex with robots and other local events.

Performance took multiple forms throughout the exhibit: those that incorporated individuals into the art, as well as other characters that moved through the exhibit and interacted peripherally or directly with the visitors. A news crew “reporting live from the grid” asked visitors about their plans for the night or opinions on random topics. A woman dressed in scrubs took notes on a clipboard, while in the natatorium a man with mock surveillance equipment surveyed the scene.

While the various installations and displays could be traversed at a somewhat fluid pace, the zenith of the show lay in the natatorium, the final destination on the exhibition’s path. Visitors entered the cavernous, humid space to an ethereal, hazy scene, where they perched on the bleachers or benches surrounding the pool, finally able to process and reflect on the various stimuli they had just encountered. In the shallow end of the pool four people swam, gesturing people to dive into the water, interacting silently and peacefully with one another while three lifeguards patrolled the water’s edge. On one diving board a woman in a gold bodysuit slowly twisted and moved, accompanying the playing audio of chanting voices and charms with an abstract form of dance. On the higher diving board a woman sat in a silver mermaid suit, gesturing calmly and occasionally throwing objects into the water. A string of white balloons ascended from the middle of the deep end, around which swam the artist, fully dressed in scuba gear and adorned with a long black veil, which trailed in the water behind her. Although she swam just under the surface of the water, she was only visible when a hand or piece of her veil briefly appeared above the surface.

The complexity of the entire production was profound, and could hardly be given full respect in a brief review. Outlining the entire exhibit even may not be productive, for the event’s entirety as a complex spectacle is more important than the specific role of any character. Yet of all the performance and displays, the hallway installations were the most arresting of the exhibit. The arrangements benefitted from the vacuum-like squash courts, where time seemed to suffocate in the room’s thick atmosphere. The spaciousness of the natatorium allowed for contemplation, even while the room’s heat and moist air furthered the eerie and somewhat stifling level of visual and physical stimuli.

Regardless of a visitor’s level of sobriety, each was inundated with modes of consumption, whether it surrounded the topic of fetish, media, seduction, fantasy or obsession. The spectacle remained incredibly subtle, however, in its frank and demonstrative production. The viewer could only engage in the commentary on these various cultural tropes by becoming directly involved. In order to be critical, the viewer had to be passive. As acquiescent receivers of Gottschalk’s artistic embodiment of our “one-click culture,” where visual and aural stimuli is thrust upon us constantly, the audience became part of the piece, even before participants were able to get into the pool.