By David Finkelstein | March 11, 2015

Van McElwee’s Electric Pilgrims, Everyone is Everywhere is a video collage piece which places images of gawking tourists in front of a rapidly changing montage of locations: city centers, mountaintops, airports, shopping malls, bombed out buildings. Since both the figures and their locations are continually shifting, the effect is of overlapping masses of people who are enthralled by their ever-changing locations. The people are generally staring and pointing into the distance, and McElwee uses skillful collage techniques to enhance the feeling that they are “looking” at the setting, but the effect is not meant to be realistic. Along with the title, the images seem to refer more to cyber-tourism than the physical kind, and the unreal quality of the images strengthens this effect. The generically futuristic electronic score further alludes to the internet, and the way that it has given us a kind of superficial access to distant locations.

Some of the figures are oblivious to their surroundings, with their heads down or staring at their phones as they plunge forward. This seems to allude to the downside of the modern world: we have access to infinite experiences, but no one seems to be paying much attention to any of them.

In the last third of the piece, the screen is filled with images of spraying fountains, waterfalls, the bulbs from electronic billboards, snow, and other images of luminous particles. The music takes on a more spiritual tone, and it is as if the information itself is coming alive. (This is a frequent and bizarre delusion of technologists.) Instead of seeing the full figures of the tourists, the people become mere outlines and shadows, shifting through the landscape. In this disconcertingly dehumanized image, the real people are replaced by a Zen experience of abstract interchange, devoid of content. The images seem to refer to our contemporary sense of collapsed space and constant exchange in a complex and nuanced way, indicating the positive and negative sides of it, but it ends up finding a real kind of beauty in this vision of human beings as nodes in a constant, global interplay of energy and information.

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