Walking through a haunted Windows 98 jungle screensaver

Marina Fini’s latest exhibition is a otherworldly walk through iMacs loaded with fish, plants emitting startup sounds and sensors triggering fake birdsong

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The Secret Paths to Marina Fini
The Secret Paths to Marina FiniPhotography Marina Fini

To experience The Secret Paths to Marina Fini is to walk into the jungle screensaver that came preloaded on a Windows 98. “I like the idea of things looking fake but actually being real,” the plexiglass artist told Dazed last year. Fini is known for cyber-fairy bling and immersive one-night installations that look computer generated, having uncanny valley’d a seedy neon motel and a pop-up strip club at the past two Art Basels in Miami.

Her latest show is her first two-week exhibition. Presented by San Francisco-based art collective Open Color with art direction by Fini’s collaborator Sallie Falls, The Secret Paths is a massive indoor jungle where technology and nature are so entwined they’ve cross-wired our senses.

Fern fronds and palm leaves emit startup sounds when brushed. Meanwhile, sensors in the floor, where plastic hearts mark the spots, trigger waterfalls and bird song. Plexiglass marijuana, life-size, lurks among the greenery. Shrubs and vines battle Greek statues, furry pink chairs, and even a heart-shaped jacuzzi for space. Old school iMacs are the only signs of a human presence, but when you approach, their aquarium screensavers turn out to be real. Computers that haven’t been hijacked by guppies can only play nature videos on a loop.

It can all be a little unsettling. “It’s all about opposition, so I wanted that deep contrast of what’s fake and what’s real, and making people really reflect on their obsessions with technology and being in front of a screen,” Fini says. “I wanted it to be somewhat of a political statement and also a dark comedy-tragedy.” But it’s not meant to disturb – colour therapy and healing are “essential” to her art, so vegan raw food (served by “Goddesses” who also brandish flowers the size of a toddler) and reiki-infused plexiglass are there to ground attendees in non-virtual reality. We caught up with Fini the morning after the opening to talk inspiration from videogames, human extinction, and the eternal allure of iMac G3s.

What led you to develop the concept of this show?

Marina Fini: The idea kind of came out of nowhere, in a way, but basically I used to play this game Secret Paths in the Forest and Secret Paths to Your Dreams on my purple iMac computer when I was 8 to 12-years-old. It was such a pivotal game for me, because of the nature elements in it and this interactiveness. Basically, the game consists of you collecting stones in different scenes and you have to follow puzzles in each scene to get a crystal, and then when you collect all the crystals, it makes a necklace for a girl in the game that helps her overcome her fears and obstacles. So it was a very empowering game. And then Secret Paths to Your Dreams was a dream-builder Kid Pix where you have a stamp tool of gifs and it’s just really cute. I actually still have the CD-roms from the games, and I had my old iMac set up at my old studio, and I would play it all the time and have friends play it, so it just became this semi-permanent installation at my studio.

And I thought, what if I made a giant version of my studio in this space, and just make it more like a forest? Beyond that, it also has to deal with my dichotomy of nature vs. synthetic, and our obsession with technology and screens and being in front of the screen and behind a screen, and also our detachment from nature in relation to that. How we see nature in our computer life, like how we preprogrammed computers to have nature backdrops and screensavers ever since Macintosh came along. It’s always been this thing of, be in nature but still look at a screen. I really wanted the installation just to be a digital forest but in real life.

Why do you think people are so obsessed with looking at nature on their screens?

Marina Fini: I think it’s honestly our roots. Our organic roots crave natural life and especially plants. From the beginning of time, we were living in nature with nothing but our natural resources and crafting scenes from the materials we found. We didn’t have all of the luxuries that we have. I don’t want to call it luxuries, but I feel like we’re such a lazy culture, and such a throwaway culture, that we we don’t really think of where things go and where they come from. I really think it’s our sole calling to crave some sort of organic matter in our reality, because most things in our rooms are pretty synthetic. At our core, we crave what grows from the earth, and we treat the earth like crap, so we just need to maybe figure out our shit. (We have an) obsession with incorporating certain things, because of what we came from naturally. We’re naturally synthetic and synthetically natural.

“I feel like plants are going to take over and the earth will fuck us all” – Marina Fini

I got a bit of a menacing vibe from the installation. I felt like you were showing us a world where all the humans had died off but all the Macs were still running and plants had taken over everything. Was that something you wanted to create?

Marina Fini: Yeah, definitely post-apocalyptic. I actually wanted 15 screens, so I wanted it to be even more intense, so people walk into the forest and there’s all these screens and all these real plants, and just abrasive almost – I don’t know where to look! I definitely wanted it to be abrasive but also calming, and also people don’t want to leave and want to chill because it’s so amazing to look at.

I feel like in the end, plants are going to win. I feel like plants are going to take over and the earth will fuck us all. And our destruction won’t be nearly as bad as we think, but I feel like the karma is going to come back to humanity. It’s like we’re totally taking over, and we think we’re the best species ever, but it’s not that it will be like that forever.

I think that’s a good note to end on. Anything else you want to add?

Marina Fini: I would love to tell Apple they should bring back these colourful computers. I think that’d be fucking awesome.

The Secret Paths to Marina Fini, which features video art by Aleia and Valeris, neon by Meryl Pataky, and iMac aquariums by Jake Harms, is on at San Francisco’s Heron Arts until July 29. The exhibition can be viewed during open gallery hours or by appointment at kate@weareopencolor.com. The closing event is July 29 6-10 p.m

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