Sometimes, art is fucking stupid. If you find yourself watching a film in a ball pit or a cupboard and you’re taking the whole thing super seriously then it’s time to think about your life choices a little. So let’s just assume that Canadian artist Jon Rafman has a sense of humour, because if he doesn’t, this shit is unbearable.
You can reduce most of Rafman’s work here down to video art presented in a variety of quirky ways. You end up watching a film in a ball pit, locked in a cupboard, squeezed into a couch, lying on a massage chair or perched on a bench in a teenager’s bedroom. The work deals with the deep web, video games, second life, virtual reality. The videos are dense, complex and layered in endless digital imagery, couched in twisting narratives.
The first room is where you find the ball pit and the cupboards. Round the corner is a live action film shot with a group of London teenagers and featuring a Tamagotchi encased in goo that splatters across the wall of a bedroom. In the backroom, there’s a dark maze lined with fake grass and dotted with classically-inspired twisted marble busts. Find your way to the centre and you’re treated to a five-minute journey up and over the maze thanks to experimental virtual reality platform Oculus Rift.
Finally, upstairs you find a massage chair. Look through the face rest and you’ll see a calming vista of night-time traffic. There’s also a waterbed that you lie on to watch a trippy film of people in a wave pool. Take that in: ball pits, waterbeds, Tamagotchis, video game imagery, virtual reality.
If you can get over all of that – and good luck to you there – the feeling you get from Rafman’s work is actually really affecting. The boundary between fantasy and reality is over-trodden artistic ground, but for Rafman, that boundary represents the blurred line between internet and real world. It’s about the dangerous obsession that rules all of our lives, the limits of a life lived online. It’s just a bit irritatingly presented.
It works best when he leaves the narrative aside. The virtual reality maze, the gentle undulations of the water bed, the calm of the massage chair – these works leave you with a feeling of being trapped in a digital world of your own making. This is your life online, but lived in real life. It might appear totally ridiculous, but it’s not as stupid as it looks.