Andrei Molodkin: Fallout Pattern

With the specter of alleged Russian cyber-espionage still haunting the current US administration, global paranoia reshapes itself, attuning to the hum of the server and the search engine. The old strategies of propaganda slither and re-form, and in these throes, the rise of sponsored fake news, misinformation on social media, and abuse of collected data all find their places as instruments in this new political landscape. Artist Andrei Molodkin looks to such sources as WikiLeaks for the sort of transparency our representatives no longer even pretend to provide. Against a backdrop of suspected Kremlin interference in American elections, and the resulting international tensions, Molodkin draws on particular documents that detail the impact of a potential US nuclear attack on Russia. The predicted fallout of such a strike forms the basis for his latest exhibition: the aptly named Fallout Pattern (February 9–April 6, 2018), on view at Rua Red, Dublin.

The building’s 10 tons of industrial steel hosts flashing projections that streak down from the ceilings of Rua Red’s Gallery 1. A barraging artificial soundscape heralds these images as they descend onto a platform, where they congeal in an unsettling atmosphere that is exasperated by severe pragmatic lighting. In dialogue with this central plateau are 12 symmetrically displayed cartographic drawings based on the WikiLeaks documents. Made with ballpoint pen, these drawings take shape through the meticulous stacking and accumulation of marks and manage to tire the arm just by being seen. In each of these blue and white abstracted diagrams, some contours seem familiar, recalling coastal geographies; intersecting and overlapping these forms are heavily drawn, aggressive curves that overpower any recognizable continental outlines.

Andrei Molodkin piece featuring the decapitated head of the statue of liberty laying on the ground with Russian landmarks in the background and the text

Andrei Molodkin, Fallout Pattern, proposal [courtesy of the artist; Rua Red, Dublin; and a/political, London]

Between their simple color palette, their TV static-quality, and the symmetry of their display, one could imagine these drawings as part of a backdrop on a science fiction film set—or a staged war room. Combined with the exhibition’s subject matter, the palpable anxiety conveyed by its projection and sound, and the space’s cold lighting, the viewer is left with the impression of being deep underground, watching as the doomsday clock moves ever closer to midnight. Appropriately, Stanley Kubrick’s similarly unsettling Dr. Strangelove (1964) was screened as part of an artist talk after the show’s opening.

Molodkin is a conceptual artist known for making political work steeped in crude oil and blood. Fallout Pattern, however, makes use of a more allusive and mysterious material: information, that ancient and most occluded of currencies. Actors with access to this currency constitute the world’s most powerful people; it follows that such access is above all overtly political. Fallout Pattern unfolds in tune with this proposition, and it is Molodkin’s interest in information’s political dimension—and in technology’s role in both the facilitation and the suppression of its distribution—that makes this body of work relevant to a contemporary political moment while avoiding throwback Cold War paranoia.

The sentiment that information is a currency with various degrees of political access is also loosely what brings this work to the particular area of Dublin where it is being exhibited. Rua Red is a good example of the sort of community-oriented arts center that emerged in suburban Dublin as a product of pre-crash Celtic Tiger economics. It was conceived to hold its own against the cultural hegemony of the metropolitan center, and by extension contribute to a wider ambition of sufficiently gentrifying the area (perhaps not in these terms) so as to lure capital from the city center. Since its opening in 2009, neoliberal aspirations of culture-led prosperity have fallen by the wayside, and post-crash Rua Red is relatively austere; still, the institution has maintained an ethos of engagement with its locality. Under new directorship since 2017, the center has partnered with the London-based art organization a/political for the duration of its 2018 program, and Fallout Pattern is the second exhibition to result from this collaboration.

Yet the choice to show Molodkin’s latest work at Rua Red seems to be based on a broad context of global interconnectivity, rather than on any specifically considered local one. In a sense, Fallout Pattern could have been shown anywhere—as long as it was somehow culturally “peripheral.” This looseness in location choice perhaps compounds the rather obvious sentiment that the advent of the Internet led to communities outside of major cities having access to important information—and with that, a cultural education. Molodkin, whether intentionally or not, has thankfully curbed this patronizing and banal notion by involving students from the local Institute of Technology Tallaght in what seems to be a genuine spirit of experimentation. In a socially driven and performative moment exhibited in Rua Red’s smaller Gallery 2, Molodkin has put researching “systems that enable the world to function.” As a result the space stands as a research lab in relation to the main exhibition, a control center through which an inclusive political engagement can be staged. The students’ processes and findings are actively updated over the course of the exhibition, the ambition being that this research will yield actual product, which will be relocated to the main gallery alongside the work already installed there.

Molodkin’s didactic approach to local engagement might run the risk of being self-defeating: the work not only takes information distribution as its subject matter, but in doing so might be said to flirt with the propagandistic functions of media. From this perspective, a manipulative aestheticization of politics—as seen on social media, in Russian-American relations and other contexts, taking form as fake social movements, content targeting, or the collection and misuse of data—familiar to contemporary discourse might be read into Molodkin’s own approach. Yet Fallout Pattern maintains an appealing integrity through the sheer idealism of its intent: what Molodkin’s work has that discourse in our political epoch does not is a vision and a dream outside itself. The result is not an aestheticization of the political but a politicization of the aesthetic—not always an obvious distinction, but, in the age of Cambridge Analytica and foreign intelligence Facebook ads, a critically important one.