The group exhibition Evidentiary Realism identifies an ongoing trend in contemporary art, as well as in broader cultural circles, that takes up “evidence” as a material or animating subject matter. Characteristic works deal with social structures that exist to perpetuate crime or to hinder it, to represent or claim authority over certain groups through data or data representations. The exhibition is complimented by a website that includes more than a dozen texts and a handful of artworks not in the Berlin show (Evidentiary Realism was shown in New York earlier this year).
In its programmatic essay, curator Paolo Cirio coins “Evidentiary Realism” not as a style or a genre, but rather a certain impulse or tendency that rejects poststructural aesthetics in favor of “the real,” of forensic, documentary, and investigative aesthetics. “Reality today,” he writes, “can only be fully apprehended by pointing at evidence from the language, programs, infrastructures, relations, data, and technology that power structures control, manipulate, and hide.”
Cirio says that this tendency “pushes the boundaries of what can be seen beyond sight,” building on the tradition of historical realisms, where artworks become “advanced learning tools” for the development of social knowledge and inquiry. More than descriptive graphs or visualizations, such works fundamentally question the overall use of sophisticated tools for data visualization (think of Facebook’s Big Data-driven “social graph” as a totality of technologically-mediated social relations). It’s less about how we look at data, and more about how our data look at us.