City Gallery City Gallery

Past exhibition

Grant Stevens: What We Had Was Real

28 June–6 September 2014


Australian artist Grant Stevens finds a kernel of truth within the saccharine cliché. His computer-generated videos, which feature texts sourced from TV, movies, and the Internet, explore the way human psychology and communication are being shaped in the digital era. Stevens animates his words in mind-maps, cloudscapes, and night skies, accompanied by generic mood muzak.

Recalling relaxation videos and screensavers, Stevens’s works are at once laughably banal and profoundly true. Crushing (2009), for instance, collages generic accounts of bruised and broken hearts to a cheesy piano soundtrack. The artist pares things back to reveal the machinery of emotional manipulation, but also the human psychology that is prepared to be manipulated. The work pulls us in, and it is about how it pulls us in.

The highlight of the show is Supermassive (2013), an immersive four-channel video installation. Four virtual cameras negotiate a cosmos consisting of words clouds. Each cloud represents a category of thing, including self-affirmations, Indian-restaurant menu items, elements in the periodic table, and common prescription drugs. The work suggests, at once, a vast external world and a vast internal one. Critic David Pagel called the clusters ‘linguistic galaxies in the mind’s eye’.