When I open the link to "A Mystical Staircase" I already have countless tabs open in several browser windows. Each tab has been assigned a logo, letters or symbols and pictograms that reference the real world: envelopes (the paper kind only bills come in now), blue boxes, red play buttons, shopping bags, rectangles with the corner folded down. In "A Mystical Staircase," the digital references to physical objects—tarot cards—serves as a curatorial tool. You have a question on your mind? Choose a card and it will present you with a randomly selected artwork—video, image, or sound—by one of 24 international artists included in the show, the third in a trio of projects by curatorial duo Francesco Urbano Ragazzi, following "The III Internet Pavilion" at the 55th Venice Biennale in 2013 and "The Internet Saga," inaugurated on the occasion of the 56th Venice Biennale in 2015. "A Mystical Staircase" is also curated in collaboration with 63rd-77th STEPS.
In a common form of tarot reading, you talk through a question or problem. In "A Mystical Staircase," the idea is to ask a question and have an artwork answer it for you. Artists and writers have long been drawn to all things occult, but art is not often summoned to answer questions so directly. More often, it is used to ask them. The association between tarot cards and digital communication technologies is immediate—they are the same shape and size as phone screens. The design and layout of the page, I find out later, also mirrors online tarot card reading sites, with their bitty patterns and awkward combinations of colors and fonts. All the images and videos are in portrait format. But these tarot cards, like all tarot cards, are not like the internet at all really: no one asks search engines proper questions anymore.
I choose my first card. Eva Papamargariti’s video Descending staircase with hands on it plays for a few seconds before it loops, a skinny screensaver. There are disembodied hands attached to a spiral staircase, also disembodied, detached from any other kind of structure. It’s a disturbing combination that (one hopes) could only be experienced in this computer-generated scenario. When I click my only option—“return to deck”—the cards have been reshuffled. I choose another. Artist Sarah Abu Abdallah’s voice begins to play, a kind of oracular speech that is rooted in the personal. In A Delivery Card, her voice is slightly unclear, she speaks over herself and becomes increasingly distorted by another recording. “Let’s discuss the problem. Let’s dissect it.” She offers questions and then answers them: “What is it that hurts you?” “You imagine hostility where there is none.”