ABE SUGARMAN: ROCK BOTTOM 16 Mar 2023 until 29 Apr 2023 arebyte Gallery Java House, 7 Botanic Square London City Island E14 0LG
arebyte’s new exhibition Rock Bottom, by Abe Sugarman, transforms the gallery into an immersive game experience where the physical and the virtual collide. Set deep inside a cryptic ocean trench, a bottomless abyss that no light can penetrate, visitors embark on a choose-your-own-adventure journey composed of games, video works and sculpture.
The show represents the culmination of arebyte’s annual hotel generation programme, which is designed to mentor the next generation of UK digital artists during the critical early stages of their careers and whose 2022 edition was awarded to Abe Sugarman. The exhibition explores concepts of queer and jellyfish temporalities, where restarting and rejuvenation become the metaphorical pointers to introduce the narrative of survival.
The installation expands the gameplay into the physical space through life-size characters and theatrical props, encouraging players to become entangled in game worlds both virtual and physical. The gallery is divided into zones dedicated to different areas of investigation within the exhibition: Northern values and patriotism, the transitory Jellyfish life cycle, and reconciliation of the dual fear and temptation of the unknown. The exhibition explores how ecological disasters can form new bodily relationships with futures and survival.
Familiar and otherworldly locations, from the depths of the River Calder Valley to the Jellyfish Fields, reflect a time of instability, with unfolding crises of the environment, gender stereotyping and the silencing of cast-aside voices. Encouraging us to understand worlds we don’t yet know, Rock Bottom verges into science fiction in its imagining of major environmental change and exploration of the meaning of time at the bottom of the ocean.
Our protagonist’s descent into the darkest ocean trench reveals the inherent struggle towards escape when we truly hit rock bottom. When we interact with the characters that we find there, they reveal death drive behaviours and sentiments through strange conversations, actions, and emotes. It becomes apparent that within the struggle and darkness of localised and planetary pain, light and optimism will emerge through the rethinking and recontextualising of spacetime. The judging panel for the 2022 edition of hotel generation consisted of artist Danielle Brathwaite-Shirley, Head of Digital Arts Computing BSc at Goldsmiths Rachel Falconer, cultural producer Yinka Danmole and curator of Digital at the V&A Melanie Lenz.
This exhibition concludes arebyte‘s 2022/23 programme Sci-Fi which looks at fictioning and alternative futures through a series of exhibitions, live performances, online experiences and educational activities. Rock Bottom is accompanied by a booklet featuring texts by arebyte’s curator Rebecca Edwards, academic Jack Halberstam and artist Abe Sugarman. A programme of talks, online gameplay events and workshops accompanying the exhibition can be viewed here.
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