Monday, November 25, 2013

Tabor Robak, “Next-Gen Open Beta,” at Team Gallery, New York

Tabor Robak, 20XX, still, HD video, real time 3D, 10 minutes, dimensional variable

Being away from New York for two months is a funny thing.  You feel like you missed a lot but really you didn’t.  That’s the myth of New York, everyday it feels like there are all these must dos, but in the end you are really not missing out on anything.  This is true but there is something to be said about the amount and variety of so much art, good art, in one place.  I literally made a list of shows currently at galleries and museums as soon as I got back that I am just dying to see.   Never before has this list been so long and so full of potential visual/brain reward.  One of the top shows on this list is Tabor Robak’s Next-Gen Open Beta at Team Gallery, which I was able to see last night.  It is his debut there and it also signifies something else, a shift in what is and will be shown at top galleries in New York and elsewhere.

Robak works with computers and uses advanced programs, software and programming to make worlds and displays.  For this show, there are five discreet pieces that are essentially screens or a set of screens.  There is an overall dystopic tone to the show but each piece depicts something specific.  There is a two-channel video entitled Algos, which has you as the central player/eye, traveling on a never-ending roller coaster that zips and hurtles through abandoned cityscapes and a post-apocalyptic forest.  It is as nauseating as it is hypnotizing.  It visually stimulates the intended emotional response of this environment.  Another work is Xenix which has multiple screens placed in a way that recalls alter panel paintings.  The coloring and the prismatic detailing of imagined high tech weaponry is like a digital stain glass. 

A more abstracted work is his Free-to-Play, which is like those game apps like Bejewled.   Here, Robak has generated a set of icons and has them self playing, deleting and re-generating.  It is subtle and the shift of color and movement is like seeing an organism, or a slow moving colorful river.  It feels very alive somehow.

My favorite work was 20XX, which was alone in the back room.  It composites cityscapes and metropolis views in a strangely seamless way.  You believe it could be real even though you know that is impossible.  There are moments when there is a splash effect, as if you are seeing through a window and it is raining outside, you are moving but it all feels very calm and still. 

This might be the most impressive and surprising thing about this show and of Robak’s work.  One thinks that going to see a show with only screens and it being about the virtual, the future, technology etc. would result in visual cluster but it isn’t like that at all.  The works have this vibrant intensity but it is not harsh, nor does it feel like ‘new media.’  The word that I kept thinking about while looking at this is ‘painting.’  These feel like paintings to me.  Yes, of course there is a difference but the way that Robak treats color, form, space, and narrative cue is most definitely sourced from a same set of questions used by the traditional later.  This may be so successfully done because even with the animation or the movement, the idea and the place of the surface is key.  The way in which these works are constructed is masterful as well.  This is not so much about showing what technology can do but using technology as a tool to do what you want it to do.

I was nervous for Robak when I heard he would be showing with Team.  I was thrilled to hear it but I was nervous that maybe it was too soon.  Too soon for this form of art to be in this context.  I was foolish to ever be nervous after seeing this show and am excited to see other galleries of a certain caliber to step up to these new forms.  It is already happening, you can see it in the upcoming show announcements and in the conversations being had amongst friends.  Whether it is good, bad or ugly is still to be determined.  In the end though, as it always is, the cream rises to the top and Robak is most certainly one of the best of our generation.