• LifeLike Review Review
  • Incommunicate (2001), John Slepian

Right now I could use some companionship. The schizophrenia that is July weather in San Francisco has made me highly vulnerable to depression and negativity. Considering the nagging allure of my nearby bed, it is a substantial accomplishment that I am sitting upright, typing these very words. Though I long for interaction and human contact, communicating in this state is an arduous task. The idea of encountering a nurturing and caring person sounds good in theory, but in this type of extended moment I am lacking the energy necessary to engage with another human. The companion that would be most suitable is one of the two stars of John Slepian’s video installation, Incommunicate, currently on view at New Langton Arts in the group show, Lifelike.

Unfortunately, my desired companion, a lipstick-wearing, computer generated and animated amorphous being complete with skin, one orifice, and apparently a sense of humor, exists only within the confines of computer and television monitors. Since I first viewed Lifelike, Slepian’s creations have intermittently made their way into my consciousness. I have vacillated between disgust and attraction as I have imagined having one of Slepian’s malleable blobs by my side to help me through this difficult time. As I expound upon the mass of my woes it would offer its wordless nurturing coo. And in the gravest moments I would find solace in its minimal anatomical attributes: warm (I presume) yielding skin, compact size, and a multifunctional lipstick adorned maw.

I must confess I was a bit shocked by my perverse yearnings, but my shame intensified when I read Berin Golonu’s review of Lifelike and learned that she did not experience such ruminations. Her piece presents a deftly written analysis of Marcia Tanner’s curatorial effort. Golonu references other current cultural activity exploring similar themes (the movie A.I., for instance), she provides lucid descriptions of a selection of the works, and makes a fairly accurate statement about the majority of works in the exhibition as applied to the title and curatorial objective.

After reading her review, it is quite clear that Golonu was in search of a more thoughtful and serious examination of some of today’s more questionable scientific endeavors, and not some lifelike relief from her own loneliness. The playful approach taken by most of the Lifelike artists does offer a quick and easy commentary, which seems to say, “this is what cloning can produce” or “see what happens when man interferes with nature.” The tone of this exhibition is evident just moments after summitting the staircase at New Langton Arts. The quasi-organic sounds emanating from several of the works and the prevalence of Legos quickly alerted me to the jocular tactics embraced by both the artists and the curator. Golonu’s assessment of Stephanie Syjuco’s faux scientific illustrations – “comes across as being slightly ridiculous” – clearly indicate that she was not willing to accept a tongue-in-cheek approach to the subject matter at hand. I would venture to say that Syjuco’s illustrations are intended to highlight the absurdity inherent in the relationship between humankind and technology. Though Golonu is not to blame for her interest or her desire to have such vital dialogues, I don’t know that an art gallery is going to be the setting.

As a reader and a viewer I am constantly in pursuit of impacting experiences. My own predilections are quite obviously geared towards narrative, as evidenced by the slightly superfluous initial two paragraphs of this review of a review. Clearly I have gone too far in my recounting of my fantasies, but I elected to do so if only as a suggestion. A brief anecdote can be a useful device to lure the reader into one’s piece. I gather that readers are not so interested in my life or anyone else’s specifically, but rather in the parallels of another person moving through an exhibition having an experience.


— Josh Greene's work has been featured in Surface, ArtWeek, ArtNews, ArtPapers, The Stranger, Seattle Times and The Seattle Post-Intelligencer. His recent work has included sending letters to a randomly selected San Franciscan and collaborating with eight members of his family.