Plaza at Night (2017), video and music, Ryan Lauderdale
Through the lens of capitalism, the night time is the antithesis of the work day; it’s when producers are given a few precious hours to consume. In this way, a city at night is the ultimate representation of consumption via leisure—lights draw peak power from the electrical grid; restaurants, bars, cinemas, and event venues fill up with patrons satiating desires. Perhaps this is why cyberpunk novels and movies are typically set in an eternal night, aerial shots of downtown skyscrapers creating mise-en-abymes of light that belie the bleak dystopia at ground-level.
For Tête-à-tête’s November exhibition, New York-based artist Ryan Lauderdale presents Plaza At Night, a disorienting video exploration of globulous bulbs and metallic lamps reflected against darkened windows. The imagery evokes what Lauderdale calls “the weird magic of artificial light” that makes nightscapes seductive and misleading. Lauderdale has chosen to pair his video with a found YouTube dashcam video of a car driving at night through the brutalist architecture of Empire State Plaza in Albany, NY, a hulking monument to Modernism’s failures to deliver on its utopian promises.
In recent years, Lauderdale has become interested in Vaporwave, a niche online music genre that explores the lifestyle aspirations of the ‘80s and ‘90s, when late capitalism’s promises still felt within reach. Vaporwave touches on a feeling of hopeless in the present. Artists dig through the vast archive of glossy pop songs to extract the core emotions and eagerness contained within them, resulting in songs that express nostalgia for a future that felt so close but never actually existed (and actually was very far from reality). Inspired by the genre, Lauderdale plays synth over a sample from the R&B song “Deja Vu” by Dionne Warwick. Editing out, but conjuring the feeling of, Warwick’s original lyrics “In a place I used to know, long ago, deja vu, could it be the dream I once knew, deja vu," Lauderdale’s reworking is like listening to the haunting memory of desire.