Date of Completion


Thesis Type

College of Arts and Science Honors


Art History

First Advisor

Pamela Fraser


Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Ken Okiishi, contemporary art, spectacle, Debord, technology, virtual world


The two artists Ken Okiishi and Felix Gonzalez-Torres--though separated by a generation--both use physical objects to signify the loss of human presence, connection or connections. Both instill meaning into familiar physical objects such as candy, clocks, or television screens, and both are able to provoke feelings associated with the kinds of presence objects can represent – without that actual presence. Gonzalez-Torres worked during a time when digital technology was not yet an existent medium, while Okiishi worked during a time in which the technological world and its social effects are central to his work and message. In fact, a central point of his work gesture/data is to replicate our dependent relationship with technology and how people interact with the virtual world. This world is only available by viewing through a screen; it is unreachable, unlike the tangible objects, that we can physically feel, via which Gonzalez-Torres’ works often confronted viewers.

These two artists demonstrate stark, pivotal generational differences: a world and society before technology, art before digital technology (Gonzalez-Torres), and the effects and experiences of art in a world engulfed by such technology entirely (Okiishi). One relies on physical interaction, and the other responds and relays the effects of infinite, intangible spectacles. Both speak to the importance and meaning of presence, or being, and what part that presence or absence plays in art experience during these juxtaposing time periods: before and after the Internet.

In his 1967 book The Society of the Spectacle, French theorist Guy Debord wrote, “in societies where modern conditions of production prevail, all of life presents itself as an immense accumulation of spectacles. Everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation”.[1] Gonzalez-Torres’ and Okiishi’s artworks both could be said to exemplify this idea of evolution and generational transformation, but in Okiishi’s work, there is an increased disconnection, to the point that everything may be mere representation. This raises the question: has art changed with technology? Have we lost actual experience to mere representation?

[1]Debord, Guy. The Society of the Spectacle. Buchet-Chastel, 1967