“All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace”


at the Palais de Tokyo


A quiet, placid atmosphere filled the rooms of the group show “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace.” The sculptures, installations, and video projections on view evoked a present tense where technology has imbued every aspect of human life, and therefore reshaped the mechanisms of our affections. As a sort of prologue to the exhibition, which was curated by Yoann Gourmel, a 1967 poster displaying Richard Brautigan’s poem “All Watched Over by Machines of Loving Grace” conjured a cybernetic Arcadia—a “forest” or a “meadow” in which “mammals and computers live together in mutually programming harmony.” Minimal and elegant, the works suggested the harmony longed for by the American writer—but just on the surface.

A set of interconnected bulbs transforming emotional data flow into light pulses—the bulbs reacting to algorithms that predict “future feelings” through the analysis of users’ interactions on social networks—compose Mika Tajima’s installation Meridian (Future Sentiment), 2017. Accompanied by two translucent lamplike sculptures whose light variations translate the fluctuations in the price of gold as well as data pulled from Paris-based Twitter accounts (Meridian 4 and Meridian 6, both 2016), the work subtly criticizes the way digital technology affects and reconfigures human emotions by exploiting the immense source of online information.

Beautifully arranged in a single room were various works by Danish artist Marie Lund and Portuguese artist Pedro Barateiro. Standing amid the space, Lund’s concrete sculptures made by molding the insides of jeans legs (Attitudes, 2014) were placed in dialogue with her coppery shapes evoking gigantic shellfish or half-organic, half-artificial prostheses (Vase, 2017), the installation appearing like a visual manifestation of Brautigan’s “cybernetic forest.” Nearby were eleven cement-covered wooden blocks by Barateiro (Rumor [Workers], 2015), which possess gently curved shapes that reproduce the smile-like arrow from Amazon’s logo, resembling aseptic, minimalist furniture. Scattered around the sculptures were mugs, T-shirts, and caps integrating the same corporate symbol. The digital economy epitomized by the American e-business giant, Barateiro seems to suggest, has seeped into the objects we live with, violating the intimacy of everyday life.

One of the strongest works in the show was Marjorie Keller’s Objection (1974). This 16mm film consists of a rapid succession of shaky shots showing home goods, silverware, furniture, and other items noted on a list of possessions that Keller had made for an insurance company, while the artist’s family members (who never appear on-screen) are heard indistinctly speaking in the background. The work conveys the power of technology—specifically the camera—to reveal the way in which objects can take on their own lives by connecting with their owners’ memories and emotions.

The exhibition also featured a video triptych by Isabelle Cornaro (Celebration, 2013), a site-specific installation by Lee Kit, six animated short films from the French TV series “Marie Mathématique” (1965–66), whose protagonist is a fifteen-year-old girl living in 2830, and an unsettling installation by Michael E. Smith. Composed of four sculptures (one of them a garden table with two dead, PVC foam–filled fish attached to its legs) and a found-footage video, Smith’s installation evokes a post-Anthropocene world populated by hybrid, techno-organic life-forms: a place where technology doesn’t limit itself to controlling and “watching over” organisms, but gradually penetrates their tissue, redefining them at the cellular level.