Jon Chambers’ quirky new media exhibition was a great match for Jeffrey Prokash’s gallery, The Milk Factory. RAZR: Left Over Mythologies of the Best Selling Clamshell Phone was, according to the artist, a salutation to a bygone time in history, when he had purchased his sexy, wildly adorable Motorola Razr phone. Prokash’s retro factory space, a former creamery, embraced both Chambers’ use of new media technology and his romance with the phone. RAZR included new and mixed media pieces, as well as found objects: a motion-sensitive Razr screen saver (RAZR LOVE, 2013) projected on the gallery’s main wall; a video tribute to a Razr TV spot (Seduction, 2013); 130 raw, unpainted plaster casts of Razr phones (Production at 1/1,000,000 Scale, 2013); and an actual David Beckham advertisement banner for the Razr (Razr Red Campaign: Desire Meets Virtue, 2013) that Chambers purchased on eBay. The Razr was marketed as a fashion phone, endorsed by famous sex symbols, and soon achieved its own celebrity status. “It was so desirable. It was the most sold-out phone in 2006,” said Chambers, when I interviewed him at his exhibition at TMF. He showed off his own Razr with unfading adoration.
At the center of the exhibition was Chambers’ sentimentality, as he aimed to create a specific moment in technology’s recent past. Indeed, the Razr exhibition was very much about lamenting and memorializing one of the first “sexy” phones. The Motorola Razr, though not nearly as sophisticated as smart phones now, was Chambers’ first love. To most of us, the landscape of affordable yet still fashionable mobile phones has changed radically since 2006. I remember 2006 as a time right before the dip of the recession; there were a number of attractive phones on the market, but not nearly so many as there are now. It was easy to be crazy about any “sexy” phone, and the standards for a phone to be sexy were not so high as they are today. Speaking in terms of phones, people are much less likely to be impressed by casual sexiness. Yet for Chambers, the intelligent micro-computers with numerous apps that most of the population possesses in 2013 simply can’t inspire the same magical feelings as the Razr once did.
RAZR was Prokash and Chambers’ first time working together, and it demonstrated that The Milk Factory, which has never exhibited any new media art, could be impressively successful at showcasing technology-based projects. The old-school characteristics of the creamery-turned-gallery created a charming contrast to Chambers’ infatuation with a lost technological era. The space itself combines a unique blend of domestic and industrial architectural details, while leaving plenty of room to spare for artwork and foot traffic. Unlike a typical apartment gallery, the open layout, which connects to a small yard where people gather and socialize, is not claustrophobic; there are subtle shifts in how every tiny turn and corners is utilized. Prokash, who acts as the gallery’s director and curator, is starting his graduate degree at SAIC this fall; his space has already gained critical interest and been invited to join the exhibition schedule for the Pilsen-based Artists’ Cooperative Residency and Exhibitions (ACRE). Chambers and Prokash’s partnership proved to be a persuasive one, a vintage space filled with sentimentalized technology, a love affair to take a viewer back in time.
RAZR: Left Over Mythologies by Jon Chambers was on view at the Milk Factory, 907 North Winchester Ave, Rear Apartment, from June 29–July 7, 2013. http://www.themilkfactorygallery.com/. All photos by Bryan Volta.