Liberty Battson: Truth Sleuth
Truth Sleuth, a solo exhibition of works by emerging South African artist Liberty Battson is currently running at Everard Read, Johannesburg. Battson’s work is inspired by Modernism, and in particular, Modernist theories around the role of abstraction in the pursuit of ‘truth’ and ‘true art’. The artist uses statistics as a numerical indicator of ‘the truth’. For almost two years, she has focused her research on Google and tracked what users wanted to know about most.
Battson tracked the frequency of searched terms and noticed that globally topical issues, such as ‘xenophobia’, ‘ISIS’ and the ‘refugee crisis’, were searched as frequently as ‘aliens’, ‘fidget spinners’ and ‘Instagram’. The global Internet user’s interests constantly oscillate between the socio-political and the ephemeral as the user chooses what is relevant or search-worthy. For example, in three consecutive months, ‘Zuma’, ‘zombies’ and ‘Zimbabwe’ were the most popular search terms respectively. In tracking which terms get searched from month to month, and recording the differences in the data, Battson aims to reveal something closer to a ‘truth’.
Battson was interested in the accuracy of Google in reflecting the burning questions of the individual. In addition to her paintings, a video produced by the artist, capturing over 100 people interviewed over a period of three days, will be screened as part of the exhibition. The subjects were asked what they wanted to know the truth about, and their answers were recorded, indexed and assigned a colour by the artist.
Statistics are not only the subject matter of her work, they also govern the abstraction, as the order of colours and lines in the work represent the search patterns on the Internet.
The data not only reflect current affairs, trends, and politics, but also the human experience of the Internet age, where the average person has access to Google. What we choose to search through Google is highly personal, often deeply private, and reflects the minutiae of an individual’s daily life. Perhaps these Google search terms present us with the most ‘truthful’ representations of our society, reflecting our secrets, dreams, and desires.
In this new body of work, Battson has taken her notion of tracking data represented as stripes a step further. Inspired by Abstract Expressionism theory on the physical effects of colour on the viewer, and pioneered by artists such as Mark Rothko, James Kelly and Barnett Newman, Battson challenges the viewer to stand before her work and feel the colours before them.
Truth Sleuth runs until September 30, 2017.
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