We found Black Cat by following trampled rose pedals in the snow. ‘Good god, what a romantic,’ I thought. Though in the snow amidst all the footsteps there was also something tragic: so many feet decimating such soft expression. Anyway, following the trail we arrive at a quaint and minimal gallery portioned out of a very old building in Toronto’s west end. The Black Cat is an ancient store front with distinctive features, and we are now here at Long Gao’s exhibition, Limitless, Boundless, and Forever Beautiful. Sweeping through this pleasant facade of a time gone by – unique glass work framing from above – groups mingle before an effulgent mandala of red rose pedals. I make my way through the crowd, past the parallel projection of pinned rose emojis. “She loves me, she loves me not” : this vibrant circle expresses that kitsch trope of boyhood uncertainty. This is “the ephemerality of love within the context of digital technology,” put simply by the artist’s statement. The rose is dried out dust, but the love endures. The love fades and the rose emoji lingers forever after in global semantic networks. Your children’s children’s children will see that rose, in the same way that historical figures’ intimate letters are read throughout the succeeding centuries, without an ethical thought. That is, so long as a solar flare doesn’t wipe out every microchip on Earth some day. When’s the last time you reread the transcripts of a failed relationship?
And of course we arrive at the simulacra.. “We live in a world where there is more and more information, and less and less meaning,” posits Baudrillard. There is indeed a dark side to this work: despite the J-pop aesthetic, and all the cute and bubbly feelings this intersection of the virtual and the real connotes. The work is so vibrant and so pop, and yet it deconstructs our sense of the real. Is a virtual flower meaningless? Or can Gao’s hybridizing of the virtual and the real produce emblematic expressions out of this paradox of meaning? Gao’s reification of the virtual is a vivid reflection on the flat surface of our global village. It is a compelling case for the striving of real emotion and feeling in our online wooing. Are we being sincere? A virtual bouquet is certainly cheaper. What does a certain combination of imagery evoke? Our expressions he seems to affirm, are meaningful: whether entangled in our olfactory bulb like the flowers, jotted down on paper, or in their trans-human form produced in these instantaneous electro-reflections. These symbols are the vernacular of the 21st century. “The secrets of the Egyptians, were also the secrets for the Egyptians themselves,” says Žižek. It could be that we’ll never fully grasp the depth of our own symbols. As McLuhan predicted, it seems we have come full circle, hot and cold media intermingling in a frenzy of interwoven expression. Emoji are now standardized by Unicode, like any other alphabet: there is even a committee where the standard is in flux. They ask one another, “Do we need a squirrel emoji when we have a chipmunk?” Do these new media at least function in part to transcend conventional languages? These ideograms are, to my mind, neo-hieroglyphic images. I think this type of work draws us into that notion of a return, somehow incumbent to McLuhan’s electronic age. I am reminded here of the tautological Stein, “A rose is a rose is a rose.”