Soft Power 

role: curator, exhibition designer

year/location: SPRING/BREAK Art Show, NYC 2021

collaborators: Cezar Mocan

Soft Power, a solo exhibition of Cezar Mocan’s work, was part of SPRING/BREAK Art Show in NYC. The exhibition was a further exploration of an ongoing project by Mocan that investigates the history of landscape documentation and how that aesthetic has been co-opted by Silicon Valley for its own gains.

Soft Power included a live simulation, aluminum dibond prints and custom printed acrylic cutouts.

Throughout the exhibition, three “agents” in the live-simulation were taking photos of the landscape around them. The photos, with information about the location and weather conditions, were uploaded instantly to a website created by the artist. 

Soft Power at SPRING/BREAK Art Show NYC Press Release:

Soft Power is a solo exhibition of a body of work by New York based artist and recent graduate of NYU’s Interactive Telecommunications Program, Cezar Mocan. At its core, Soft Power is a commentary on the history of Western, landscape photography and painting and that aesthetic which has been co-opted by Silicon Valley for its own uses. The exhibition will contain both a digital simulation, displayed on a monitor and a series of photographs taken inside of that digital simulation and printed onto dibond.

Soft Power calls attention to a devastating history of Western landscape documentation (be it painting, writing, or photography) which has historically been used as a way to assert power over a place and a people. There is a direct tie between Euro-centric westward expansion and the pictorial erasure of histories, cultures and peoples. The lack of signs of human life in these forms of documentation is by design: it aided the propaganda campaign that fed notions of Manifest Density. These same tactics have been used, since the beginning of personal computers with Microsoft Windows XP's bliss.png, by the tech industry as a way to strengthen brand identity -- what could be more desirable than unrestricted access to the beauty of nature, anywhere, anytime? -- while continuing to erase human labor under the cover of "user-friendliness".

Soft Power is a geographically varied, expansive and bucolic digital landscape simulation in which a group of three humanoid “agents” walk on mathematically determined paths -- one agent is programmed to only walk West, while another is programmed to follow the direction of the wind -- and take photographs of their surroundings at predetermined increments in time. These photographs are then uploaded, in real time, to a website that visitors are able to access from their own devices. For the exhibition, the curator, Lizzy Chiappini, has selected a grouping of seven photographs to print at high resolution, which will be displayed as “natural” landscape photographs. In doing so, Soft Power will subtly draw attention to the overtly perfect and succulently beautiful photographs and nudge viewers to look harder: are these real photographs? Which will logically lead to the question: what are “real” photographs?

And this is the question that lies at the core of Soft Power’s connection to the SPRING/BREAK Art Show’s 2021 theme HEARSAY:HERESY. Visitors are given a view of the project’s digital simulation, where on a monitor they can watch, in real time, as the three agents walk throughout the landscape, picking up their phones (a gesture we are all too familiar with) and photographing. They will then see a grouping of those photographs displayed on the wall as real landscape photographs. The viewer will be implicated in the analysis of the work and therefore, the classification of the “truth” of the images. Mocan’s work acknowledges and draws attention to the violent history of landscape photography, while also subtly spreading rumors about the believability of the photographs hung in the exhibition.