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Pixel Paradise on Interconnectivity and the Fluidity of Meaning in the Technological Realm

Installation view of Pixel River (2023) (centre) by Sebastian Mary Tay and Merryn Trevethan. Image credit: Merryn Trevethan.

More a vivid sensory experience than a traditional exhibition, Pixel Paradise is a fusion of physical and digital mediums that resonates with our technologically entwined existence. The collaborative exhibition is the brainchild of Sebastian Mary Tay, a Singapore-based multimedia artist, and Merryn Trevethan, a Hong Kong-based Australian artist known for her abstract works. 

In an era where technology is crucially integral to our lives (the fact that you’re reading this on a device attests to this), it’s impossible to ignore the existential questions about our relationship with technology and the malleable nature of ‘truth’ in the digital age. 

Yet, despite our complex relationship with it, Trevethan explains that the exhibition is not just a critique of our relationship with technology, but also an embrace of it. Tay further elaborates that Pixel Paradise is an attempt to encourage discussions on human agency, subjectivity, and free will amidst our increasing reliance on technology. He notes,

“We must not lose ourselves—we must not lose our agency, our subjectivity, our deliberation, intentionality, determination, and free will. By doing so, we retain our humanness.”

Upon entering the space, I was greeted by a constellation of screens displaying the artwork—a series of animations, moving images and video art. Each demanded my attention; focusing on just one work was tough. The exhibition space is enclosed, devoid of windows and natural light, with the screens illuminating the space. In addition, other objects, such as mirrors and cushions, are part of the exhibition setup, subtly acting as interactive elements for the audience. 

Line drawings on the wall, in Trevethan’s signature style, underscore the screens. The untitled mural extends vertically, resembling a city skyline and circuit board trace, its placement playing off the room’s height to create a grand sense of scale. Looking at it, I felt minuscule. Then, as the exhibition door closed behind me, sealing off the outside world, I was completely subsumed within Pixel Paradise’s universe.

Impressions of interconnectedness

Intriguingly, wall text and artwork labels were absent in the exhibition space. Instead, it was entirely up to me to interpret the relationship between the artworks and the space they were housed in. I found this to be a smart move, as it encouraged me to immerse myself in the space fully. The absence of context invited me to take in the art instinctively rather than dissect the works for deeper meaning.

However, that isn’t to say that the exhibition lacks any depth—far from it.

Pixel Paradise is a myriad of interconnected elements—from the mural and moving images to animations and video work—that, when viewed collectively, create the impression of a circuit board. It was a nice touch that smaller details, such as the mirrors or the cushions scattered throughout the exhibition, were deliberately square-shaped as if to resemble a pixel. The cushions also came in red, blue or green, alluding to the RGB colour model in screen displays.

Distorting reality

While talking to the artists at the exhibition, their shared interest in society’s intertwined—and absurd—relationship with technology was the driving force behind the exhibition. Unencumbered by formal training in video-making, they took a playfully curious approach to their work. 

For Trevethan, the exhibition allowed her to experiment with her animating process. While she painstakingly created the animation, Accelerator (2023), which features rapidly morphing shapes, in Photoshop, the added complexities of the animations in Pixel Paradise (2023), a collaboration between her and Tay, pushed her to dabble with After Effects, a motion-graphics software. 

She admits that several errors occurred throughout but expressed that it was simply part of the process. Such errors were reminders of the human touch that created the piece, saying,

“We feel that the decision to use these ‘errors’ are an example of human agency, [with] human agency being one of the key notions in the creative practices and art-making.” 

Tay was curious to push the editing software to its limits; what resulted was video art that straddled the line between familiarity and abstraction. For example, in They Say To Just Go With The Flow (2023), the moving image features a body of water with water lilies. Here, a layer of compression artefacts (distortions that appear when digital files are compressed excessively) is blended into the water, with glitches appearing intermittently. We ultimately see a warped perception of the water. The work speaks to an ever-increasing difficulty in separating the physical and digital worlds and their subsequent distortion of reality.

Pixel River (2023), by Tay and Trevethan, is a moving image that depicts footage of a branch in a river, intercut with animations, video overlays and glitches. Presented as a large-scale projection, the exhibition’s central piece highlights our lingering influence on digital media. In an artist-like game of the arcade classic Pong, the work underwent a series of back-and-forths between the artists; their influence increasingly evident with each round of edits.

On the fluidity of meaning

Like a painting’s frame, the type of device displaying digital media can drastically change how it’s perceived. The artists used various devices—from television screens and projectors to tablets and phones—to fully highlight that effect.

It was interesting how works displayed on the larger screens felt more significant, regardless of their content; after all, large screens are often used to add a layer of credibility to what’s being presented. 

An untitled work featuring a video of a TV screen playing static—ironically shown on a tablet—demonstrates how content is perceived differently, depending on the device it is displayed on. I ponder whether I would have paid more attention if the TV screen in the video was exhibited instead, rather than this video of it. The tablet made the video feel less conspicuous, making me question if media art can be genuinely separated from its hardware.

Besides using devices to alter a work’s presentation, two of Tay’s work—They Say the Sky’s the Limit (2023) and They Say Every Dark Cloud Has a Silver Lining (2023)—demonstrate how easily editing can shape our perception of reality. The works feature the sky as a recurring motif, with glitches punctuating the moving image. What distinguishes the two works is their treatment: In They Say The Sky’s The Limit, our attention is drawn to the sky, the blue keyed out and replaced with a flickering pixelated background.

In contrast, They Say Every Dark Cloud Has a Silver Lining (2023) shows the opposite; within the cloud’s silhouette is a similar sequence of glitches. Like yin and yang, the works serve as visual foils.

A labyrinth of imaginings

Pixel Paradise provides a novel experience that transcends the traditional ‘white cube’ exhibition format. As I engaged with the exhibition, it became increasingly evident that the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts, and I think the show is best appreciated that way. The space was used to the exhibition’s advantage; its lack of windows, use of screens to light the space, and its indiscriminate placement of works all immerse its visitors in a labyrinth separate from the real world. 

The exhibition is best described as a funhouse mirror reflecting our relationship with technology. It plays on everyday occurrences—such as our technologically-induced short attention spans or our heavy reliance on technology—and visually exaggerates them within ‘Pixel Paradise’.

As the only visitor then, the silence between my conversations with the artists was palpable. The compact space and omnipresent screens only served to amplify the quiet. The absence of sound provided a contemplative space, amplifying every thought surrounding the theme that came to mind.

Being surrounded by so many screens at once felt strangely unnatural, despite how pervasive screens are in my daily life. The discrepancy between the familiar and the unsettling, and its resulting tension, is what makes Pixel Paradise such a captivating exhibition experience.


Pixel Paradise runs from 13 – 21 May at Comma Space, 51 Jalan Pemimpin Road #04-02. Opening hours are from 1 PM – 6 PM. The exhibition is only open by appointment from Tuesday to Friday. Click here for more details.

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