1999 saw the release of two vastly different visions of the future: symbiosis in eXistenZ and the Wachowski Brothers' fear of enslavement in The Matrix. One Portland art gallery is still debating. Is all this technology stuff uniting us or tearing us apart?

The Eyebeam in Objects show at Upfor Gallery reflects on the internet, communication, surveillance and biotechnology through peep holes, flatscreen TVs and iPads on the gallery walls.

Photo by Mario Galluci
Photo by Mario Galluci

Eyebeam, a New York non-profit, works in the tradition of 9 Evenings to combine art and technology. To bring that topic to Portland (lest all these tech start-ups fail), Upfor's curator Roddy Schrock commissioned seven Eyebeam artists to create physical works of art to display during October.

Walking into the white-walled gallery looks especially like a trip to the Apple store this month. Addie Wagenknecht's 3-D printable gun chandelier The Liberator hangs from the ceiling, a circular mobile with white handguns on it's limbs. Visitors gazing up at the piece seem magnetically drawn to lifting their hands like they'd grasp the firearms. It's a pose that recalls collective revolutionary propaganda and Cronenberg's Videodrome all in one.

On the opposite wall, A Person May be Unaware of Being Photographed in a Variety of Situations is a collection of domestic objects displayed in the style of a shadowbox. Placed on a low shelf, a miniature TV makes viewers bend over to watch the text and surveillance video that's playing on its little screen. A dated pair of wire rim glasses and a coffee mug on a doily suggest an eerie nostalgia for when people thought their homes were safe from prying eyes.

Photo by Mario Galluci
Photo by Mario Galluci

The remaining works include media as contemporary as e-readers on moving mounts, as historical as vintage telegraph machines and as political as collages of cut-up flags. Despite their highly varied materials, every piece enters that '99 futuristic debate. Collective consciousness, modes of communication and national loyalty are all in question.

It might be an old debate, but this installation also begs more modern questions about queer visions of the internet and the murky realm of genetic privacy too. With galleries like Upfor dedicated to emerging technology just as much as the traditional First Thursday mainstays, here's hoping that some artists (like the standouts at Compliance Division) go the way of Eyebeam soon.

GO: Eyebeam in Objects is at Upfor Gallery, 929 NW Flanders St., upforgallery.com. 11 am-6 pm. Tuesdays-Saturdays, through Oct. 31.