Project 35

Anthony Discenza - Recrudescence

opening Saturday December 2, from 4 to 7pm

Anthony Discenza’s installation is a meditation on humanity's relationship to technology and the irrational undercurrents that inform its supposedly rational operations. The project incorporates and entangles concepts, materials, and relations drawn from a broad range of contexts, weaving linkages between industrial technologies, divinatory and spiritual practices, geologic timescales, thermodynamics, pop culture, and computation (in the form of generative AI). For Discenza, these systems, their outputs, and their effects all function as materials that can be treated recombinantly.

The exhibition’s title, "Recrudescence", is a term describing the reactivation or reanimation of a dormant system; in organic biology, it refers to the reemergence of disease. Represented on a graph, it appears as a peak of activity following an extended period of quiescence. The deviation from a baseline state can be seen as an awakening, a return of something long suppressed. In the context of this exhibition, it suggests a series of simultaneous glances forwards and backwards. The glances—or perhaps visions—are anticipatory, yet also have already arrived. Like the demonic presences invoked in an occult ritual gone awry, they are already here in the room with us. 

This motif of an infernal summoning (with its associations of heat and combustion) provides an organizational index for material themes addressed in the exhibition: Discenza casts humanity’s use of fossil fuels in the terms of both a classic Faustian transaction and a kind of haunting. This proposition is not merely literary or metaphorical; in a very direct sense, all fossil fuel-based combustion represents a release of solar energy harnessed by biological organisms living over 300 million years ago to pull carbon from the atmosphere. That vast reservoir of energy, locked up for eons in chains of complex hydrocarbons, has been consumed at breakneck speed over the past 200 years of industrial development, allowing technological advancement to accelerate exponentially—at the cost of re-releasing that ancient carbon into the atmosphere.

Discenza teases out these associative threads with theatrical economy. Visible from the gallery’s exterior, a pair of green velvet curtains—recalling those concealing the ordinary human behind the façade of the omnipotent Wizard of Oz—frames a small desk and office chair. On the desk, resting in a cell phone cradle, sits a tablet of hand-polished anthracite—a metamorphic variety of coal, known in the fossil fuel industry for its energy density and high carbon content. The tablet and its placement echoes simultaneously the profile of a personal touchscreen device, a mineralogical specimen, and the polished mirrors used for scrying—a subset of divinatory practice employed by many different cultures.

Discenza extends his network of associative linkages into the arena of computation—in particular, the rapidly expanding use of generative and predictive AI models. These systems are frequently described in language that invokes natural or immaterial forces (the Cloud), but their existence relies on extensive physical infrastructures—vast server farms consuming massive amounts of electricity (in much of the world, electricity that is still produced from fossil fuels—roughly 40% of the electricity powering the internet is derived from coal sources). "Some Engines (Vessels)" consists of a pair of framed gelatin silver prints which have been produced by prompting the AI image generative model Midjourney to visualize complex computational processes as early industrial infrastructure. In response, the model output images of structures resembling a hybrid of blast furnace and alchemical vessel.

Another major waste product of the intensive computation necessary for AI models, social media platforms, cryptocurrency, etcetera is excess heat, which server farms and data centers require extensive systems to manage. A second wall-mounted diptych, consisting of a pair of salvaged industrial-scale heatsinks—machined metal blocks used for the dissipation of heat—functions as a metonym for the physical infrastructure and thermodynamic costs of computation. Meanwhile, on the other side of the wall, Discenza presents a single burning candle—an example of humanity’s earliest and still-relied upon harnessing of combustion.

Discenza closes the circuit of the exhibition with a small sculpture of a poodle cast from coal dust and resin, a souvenir from the heyday of America’s mining industry. In Goethe’s Faust, the demon Mephistopheles first appears as a black poodle before proposing his infamous bargain: Faust’s eternal soul in exchange for magical knowledge it would otherwise take many lifetimes to acquire. Within the matrix of the exhibition, such an exchange appears to be close at hand, though whether this moment lies in the near future or immediate past is ambiguous—on which side of Mephistopheles’ bargain do we stand?

- N. Hitchcock Lévy

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Anthony Discenza (American, b. Brunswick, NJ) is a multidisciplinary, conceptual artist, living and working in Western Massachusetts. His work employs various media including text, video, found objects, sculpture and sound. Through installations and public works he addresses ideas of artificiality, narratology and interactivity. His work has been the subject of solo exhibitions at the de Young Museum, San Francisco, CA; the Museum of Contemporary Art, Cleveland, OH; Objectif Exhibitions, Antwerp; and Et al. Gallery, San Francisco, CA.

His works have been included in exhibitions at the McNay Art Museum, San Antonio, TX; V-A-C Foundation, Venice, IT; Galleria d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea, Bergamo, IT; Aspen Art Museum, Aspen, CO; University of Michigan Museum of Art, Ann Arbor, MI; ICA London, London, UK; and Ballroom Marfa, Marfa, TX.

In 2020, Discenza founded lower_cavity, an artist-run residency program and project space located in a former papermill in the Pioneer Valley of Western Massachusetts.


Anthony Discenza

35 Discenza 4899
  • The Unhappy Perception at the Center of Every Ghost Story, 2023
  • Anthracite tablet, Herman Miller Eames office chair, IKEA
  • Bekant desk, tablet stand

Anthony Discenza

35 Discenza 4916
  • Some Engines (Vessel), 2023
  • Synthetic images as silver gelatin prints on fiber paper

Anthony Discenza

35 Discenza 4914
  • Cold Hands, Warm Heart, 2023
  • Pair of salvaged aluminum heatsinks, hardware

Anthony Discenza

35 Discenza 4926
  • Familiar, 2023
  • Cast coal dust and resin souvenir

Anthony Discenza

35 Discenza 4915
  • Invocation, 2023
  • Xeroxed excerpt of sheet music for Christina Aguilera’s “Genie
  • in a Bottle,” acrylic wall mount

Anthony Discenza

35 Discenza 4919
  • How Now, Spirit! Whither Wander Thou?, 2023
  • Paraffin wax candle, found steel candle holder

Anthony Discenza

35 Discenza 4935
  • Untitled (Sink), 2023
  • Anthracite object

Anthony Discenza

35 Discenza 4936
  • Untitled (tablet), 2023
  • Anthracite object

Anthony Discenza

35 Discenza 4939
  • Untitled (Slab), 2023
  • Anthracite object