Spotlight: Artist Yucef Merhi Turns the Digital Physical in Installation Focused on Hacked and Intercepted Government Documents

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What do you need to know: Yucef Merhi is truly a contemporary multi-hyphenate – artist, coder and academic researcher. A leader in digital and new media, his work has explored such technologies as facial recognition, artificial intelligence, virtual reality and even retro gaming consoles. In 1998, Merhi created his first signature “datagram”, a type of artwork that makes visible the digital movements of hacked information. Merhi’s most impressive datagrams are installations in which visitors can enter spaces plastered with laser-printed sheets of data (often depicting newsrooms). This week Bonnier Gallery presents Merhi’s latest datagram, Kingpin (2022), in a separate booth at the Untitled Art Fair in Miami Beach. Kingpin contains printed sheets collected from a US Treasury Department database containing information on companies and personal information of individuals associated with international criminal organizations. The name comes from the Kingpin Act of 1999, which authorizes the President of the United States to freeze the assets of major narcotics traffickers, commonly referred to as kingpins. Merhi will also have another datagram available, tête-à-tête (2022) organized by Adriana Meneses as one of the highlights of the fair.

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Why we like it: Merhi’s artistic practice, specifically his datagrams, is reminiscent of the work of artists who deal with institutional criticism, such as Hans Haacke or Walid Raad. The viewer often loses sight of the breadth and scope of available data, but by creating a physically immersive installation, the process of discovering and exploring the data becomes a phenomenological experience. It also introduces visitors to Merhi’s signature system of spatial arrangement, in which the artist creates a basic online data transmission protocol; once the data is collected, the information is printed and arranged in a geometric pattern, resulting in a dense mass of text that he applies to almost every surface of the exhibition space. At a time when the publication or leak of classified documents and information has become a cornerstone of national and international events, Merhi’s work can be understood as an artistic intervention that invites viewers to explore and learn about previously private information and draw their own conclusions.

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By gallery: “We are very honored to be a part of the Untitled lineup this year and even more proud to present Yucef’s latest datagram, Kingpin. A pioneer in the field of digital art, Yucef’s works have explored a number of different mediums, always with the intention of influencing change towards compassion. Datagrams are no exception. On the surface, using hacking as a tool to create art may seem subversive, and to some extent it is. However, Yucef has always presented datagrams only as tools for education and a means of informing about current issues. I am very grateful that he will have the opportunity to share it on such a big stage next week.” Grant Bonnier

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View the interior of Yucef Merhi’s installation at the Bonnier gallery booth below.

Yucef Merhi, Kingpin (2022).  At The Bonnier Gallery, Booth B34, Untitled Art, Miami.  Courtesy of The Bonnier Gallery.

Yucef Merhi, Kingpin (2022). At Bonnier Gallery, Booth B34, Untitled Art, Miami. Courtesy of Bonnier Gallery.

Yucef Merhi, Kingpin (2022).  At The Bonnier Gallery, Booth B34, Untitled Art, Miami.  Courtesy of The Bonnier Gallery.

Yucef Merhi, Kingpin (2022). At Bonnier Gallery, Booth B34, Untitled Art, Miami. Courtesy of Bonnier Gallery.

Yucef Merhi, Kingpin (2022).  At The Bonnier Gallery, Booth B34, Untitled Art, Miami.  Courtesy of The Bonnier Gallery.

Yucef Merhi, Kingpin (2022). At Bonnier Gallery, Booth B34, Untitled Art, Miami. Courtesy of Bonnier Gallery.

Yucef Merhi, Kingpin (2022).  At The Bonnier Gallery, Booth B34, Untitled Art, Miami.  Courtesy of The Bonnier Gallery.

Yucef Merhi, Kingpin (2022). At Bonnier Gallery, Booth B34, Untitled Art, Miami. Courtesy of Bonnier Gallery.

Learn more about Yucef Merhi here.

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