To quote Alexei Shulgin, one half of the artistic Russian duo behind Electroboutique pop-up, this exhibition is one of “deliberately mixed messages”. After a visit there, I am definitely inclined to agree. In his opening speech, Shulgin warned his audience not to be fooled by the seductive qualities of the artworks on display, all of which use live data, sophisticated custom electronics and bespoke software to comment on a capitalist society. We were also told that the exhibition has been designed so as to look less like an art gallery, and more like that of a shop, something which aptly befits the commentary on consumerism that runs throughout. 

“Creative consumption” is very much the buzz word of this exhibition: Electroboutique’s art demands that you stop being a passive art consumer but become part of the artistic process instead. This is re-inforced by the slogan “you are the artwork!” written on one of the walls. Throughout the exhibition, audience interaction is encouraged mainly in the form of “tele-portraits”, where the viewer’s face is depicted in different styles on digital mirror televisions. Commercial Protest consists of a television, video camera and supermarket trolley and in this piece, viewers encounter a mosaic portrait of themselves, painted in the logos of transnational companies. The supermarket trolley is there to emphasise the ugliness of the consumerist world, and this work explores the paradox of those who enjoy the benefits of a capitalist society whilst also protesting against it. Californian Ideology works along a similar ideological vein, as slow hypnotic animations are constructed from transnational company logos. The inspiration behind this piece comes from the idea that Silicon Valley was built by former Californian hippies.

Upon entering the exhibition, one is confronted by iPaw; a piece specially commissioned for the Science Museum. iPaw, as its name suggests, is an intriguing combination of a model dog, and an ipad. As the dog casually scrolls down the ipad, we are encouraged to think about the idea that as technology becomes more and more intelligent, the reverse effect occurs amongst its users. This idea is taken to the extreme here, as even a dog can use an ipad.

A favourite work of the exhibition was the ironically titled, Urgently!, which consists of LED display units coming out of a plastic recycling bin. The LED displays are connected to the Internet and show real-time news stories. This piece explores the idea that just as news stories become obsolete almost immediately; so too, does digital data. Another eye-catching exhibit is 3G International: a giant distorted iphone that has been moulded into a structure that vaguely resembles the Babylon Tower. Since the early 20th century, designers have drawn artistic ideas into product design, and this work links together nearly a century of dialogue between art and design. Shulgin and Chernyshev see 3G International as a monument to modern times; the iphone is our connection to the world around.

wowPod, an “interactive mediasculpture” which takes the form of a giant, distorted ipod, is advertised as one of the highlights of the exhibition. wowPod is an artistic interface for the viewer’s ipod, which can be inserted into the side of the sculpture, and once it has been, all the viewer’s mp3 files, videos and podcasts appear on screen in a new form. Whilst the idea of using your own data to create an artistic outcome may well appeal to many, for myself, this exhibit simply did not “wow”.

In my opinion, the most interesting and thought-provoking works of Electroboutique pop-up, were those that required the least viewer participation; such as iPaw and Urgently! These pieces rely upon ideas that speak for themselves without needing viewers to insert an ipod or wave at a screen. Whilst the tele-portraits are undoubtedly fun, their consumerist quality is a little too consuming. They entertain the viewer but do little to inform or educate, and as a result I find it hard to appreciate their artistic quality. Having said that, I do admire the ethos behind the artists’ attempt to constantly engage their audience, and if you are in any way a fan of electronic gadgets and like to take an active role in exhibitions, then Electroboutique pop-up is likely to appeal.
Electroboutique Pop-up, at Science Museum

“Creative consumption” is very much the buzz word of this exhibition: Electroboutique’s art demands that you stop being a passive art consumer but become part of the artistic process instead. At the Science Museum.