Superficially diverse but elementally connected –if for nothing more than their positioning outside of the official programme –a handful of things worth doing beyond Regent’s Park during Frieze week criss-crossed the London city map. In fact, geographical location had almost as much to do with an event’s significance as it did the event itself. Emerging art from the dynamic South London cluster started the week with Harry Sanderson’s Unified Fabric exhibition at Arcadia Missa and Jesse Darling’s play on the notion of Frieze event exclusivity with her Haus party –art as presentation and piss up –at the centre of it.
Closer to the well-to-do west but not quite there was Moving Image London, on the South Bank and in the Bargehouse and possibly one of the most exciting exhibitions by sheer volume and diversity of video works from across the globe, as well as the unforeseeably controversial National #Selfie Portrait Gallery huddle on the top floor. In the upmarket commercial district of Mayfair, the GCC art collective’s Achievements in Swiss Summit, its Rolls Royce joyrides and location at Project Native Informant assuming the pan-regional political pose of a Gulf Arab delegation. Wrapping up the week of outer-events and perceivably speaking to its artists’ proximity to making the leap to Frieze Proper soon, the Sunday Art Fair at Westminster University’s Ambika P3, literally down the road from the official site, showed interesting works from ripening, nearly ripe, artists set to complete the art market cycle.
But in the meantime, a moment for the underground. Down here a ring of sound and images has Harry Sanderson’s DIY render farm at Unified Fabric surrounded; the super computer and the labour behind it literally placed at the centre of videos looking at the problem of the image. Among them is Hito Steyerl’s ‘STRIKE’, exploring the artist’s position in relation to the screen and Clunie Reid’s ‘The More or Less of Miley Cyrus’, interrogating representations and their source in an uncomfortably familiar image.
Then there’s Darling’s Haus. As a relative outsider, the prospect of a Camberwell residence packed with strangers was an intimidating one to say the least, but appropriate to the invite-only setting of “post-fordist scene colleagues” the event consciously caters to. A house party but also a showcase of video works and performances, its gesture to a Frieze-emulating fake-exclusivity was realised by a guest list and actual bouncer with an entry stamp reading “neoliberal singularity”. Darling’s ongoing refusal to “frame” her work in the ‘white cube’, as she iterated in a recent aqnb interview, reflects the anarchic nature of London art as “gallery-as-brand-as-dj-as-person”, while one busting for a wee is confronted by a ‘performative’ toilet; a couch keeping the bathroom door ajar for your viewing pleasure. Precious privacy is mercifully granted a floor up with one that shuts but the option of keeping public, as a nudge to contingency, with an in-house camera inviting patrons to contribute toilet selfies, beneath a mirror with text that reads “PLEASE FUCK #frieze”.
Downstairs, Lead Pipe, a “metal band” featuring a shirtless Arcadia Missa co-curator Tom Clark on drums, as well as artists Charlie Woolley, Harry Burke and Paul Kneale, play among Leslie Kulesh’s artforum chain decorations, while a hand written poster on DJ Imran Perretta, aka Madboy Zimba’s deck (singular) announces studio visits around his corner of the lounge room (#fuckfrieze). There’s also the promised stack of “good” video art –the “bad” being screened in the perpetually rammed kitchen that I don’t dare enter –called The basis of all structures is the placing, very carefully, of two bricks (Faust was right, have no regrets) curated by Takeshi Shiomitsu. I’m not sure how ‘good’ The Armando Iannucci Shows episode called ‘Twats’ is in itself but the (homo)eroticised initiation of a young protégé into the business world by puffing on his first official phallus in Annika Larsson’s ‘Cigar’ suggests the commentary’s in the context.
The same could be said for the Frieze week art interactions in general, where perceptions of legitimacy are established by a series of ritual gestures and arbitrary signifiers determining social value. Achievements in Swiss Summit exposes said charade as a Gulf Arab “delegation” of nine artists –including Fatima Al Qadiri, her sister Monira, Sophia Al Maria and Khalid Al Gharaballi, among others –descend on Mayfair to congratulate themselves on their oblique accomplishments, buried in political jargon and described as “a High Level Strategic Dialogue”. What the specifics of that dialogue is, is anyone’s guess but it’s in the ceremony surrounding it that the empty concession to economic self-interest is exposed: a display case of glass trophies, proud symbols of accord, and large-scale photos of delegates in thobes, shaking hands, drinking tea and signing papers in the idyllic backdrop of a Swiss village. Here, ‘delegates’ exchange “cordial talks” and discuss a nebulous agenda, while visitors ride the Rolls in circles around the gallery to a looping recording of the collective’s official charter, hijacked from their Gulf Cooperation Council namesake. Meanwhile, in the same way that the chaotic Haus party in Camberwell knowingly celebrates what Darling calls its “post-fordist network of friendly/collegial affect & etc”, so too does the GCC hold on to its in-group interests of art associations, friends and family in a brilliantly-executed and pointless PR exercise.
Perceivably reflecting the outsider perspective of the GCC set –as an exhibition set apart by its location in Mayfair and its ‘delegates’ transplanted from the Gulf to the Swiss mountains –so too does the green triangular display of the Maraya Video Archive at the multi-level Moving Image art fair present a similar vantage point. It features video works by three UAE-based artists, Alaa Edris, Nermine Hammam and Karim Al Husseini under a title explicitly referencing the geopolitical nature of their presence. Between Edris’ expressionistic montage of pre-confederation British film documentation and personal footage in ‘Kharareef’ and Al Husseini’s poignant mixed-media narrative on the dispersal of his family’s Palestinian roots across the globe in ‘Dew Not’, the display not only illustrates their experience as unique but as a fundamentally, and problematically, alien one. It’s very proximity to Constant Dullaart’s stunning ‘Niagara Falls, Special Economic Zone PRC, HD VIDEO’ –a single shot video of said miniature natural wonder at China’s ‘The Windows of the World’ theme park in Shenzen focussed on an unaware couple posing for photos –exposes the problem of the artist as outsider looking in. Those issues of patronage and intervention it raises are echoed in the intrusion of a Mountain Dew delivery truck and a ship marked “UN” in Al Husseini’s video, pointing toward a type of occupation, beyond the Israeli kind and to a corporate and humanitarian one.
Hence, the Maraya Video Archive display’s situation between Cliff Evans’ play on Jasper Johns’ work of the same name, ‘Flag’, and Jonathan Monaghan’s CGI animation, ‘Mothership’. One, a digital simulation of its familiar stars and stripes made up entirely of drones, watching its audience and awaiting orders to strike. The other, a more insidious system of control realised in its ubiquitous popular cultural tropes and the entertainment industry’s art of emotional manipulation and propaganda by littering the surreal landscape with images of Marvel superheroes, London city discworlds and that flying ‘mothership’ propelled by a Fed Ex engine.
As anecdotal evidence of a world view externally shaped, Eve Sussman and Simon Lee’s ‘Seitenflügel’, a floor down, tricks my eyes into thinking its a large-scale projection of an iPhone interface from a distance but turns out to be a stylised view of apartment windows inhabited by the artists’ Berliner neighbours. More than an insight into our everyday voyeurism, said incidental confusion for a smartphone is a telling illustration of modern life as State control via the consensus rule of an inward and outward-looking screen. In some ways the National #Selfie Portrait Gallery, curated by Kyle Chayka and Marina Galperina subverts that system in 16 commissions from emerging artists. As a showcase of short-form video contributions based around the digital self-portrait, or “selfie”, artist Jennifer Chan mediates her recent feline phase, also performed on twitter, by literally drawing the ‘Cat Ears’ of its title on a pixelated shot of herself saying “my dick”, while ever-prolific Darling presents herself nude and in a sunbed, all Žižek quotes and apocalyptic self-obsessions vocalised through a pitched-up voiceover (“like me ya know I jus wanna look good naked”) in ‘Lil Icarus’. Paul Outlaw and Jennifer Catron literally devour each other, in the form of busts fashioned from food, in ‘Succulent’. Anthony Antonellis mediates himself, to himself, through his macbook screen, flesh fading into his keyboard, while Daniel Swan’s self is represented by the dazzling cover of a smartphone facing outward in Selfie Video Loop.
Pronouncing this form of self-mediation a “democratic artistic medium”, the N#SPG press release assumes the concept of liberal freedom –from political autonomy to access to technology –isn’t still a privilege afforded a lucky few, here demonstrated in a collection of works by EU and US-based artists only. Again, it’s a hard reality physically realised by their positioning on opposite ends of the same room and in view Al Husseini’s ‘Dew Not’. Meanwhile, a general public still hostile to the dynamic net art community, the consciously exhibitionistic nature of National #Selfie Portrait Gallery especially, was aptly summarised in a tweet by fellow ‘selfie’ contributor Petra Cortright. A link to the 700-plus comments (“each more LOL than the next”) on a Yahoo News article on the exhibition with the ‘narcissistics’, ‘not arts’ and ‘I could do thats’ liberally heaped on the resounding thumbs down from the Yahoo.com readership.
— Petra Cortright (@petcortright) October 27, 2013
This very focus on ‘real art’ and what legitimises it is a recurring theme on the Frieze Fringe, resonating through to the Sunday Art Fair as it establishes its place in the hierarchy of cultural value. The Ambika space is less ‘white cube’ and more “vast concrete construction hall”, speaking to the nature of the fair, down the road from Frieze London and showing artists just outside or halfway in to the big leagues. The ICA: Off-Site video showcase features Sophia Al Maria and Fatima Al Qadiri’s ‘HOW CAN I RESIST U’ and Martin Arnold’s unsettling ‘Hydra’ video loop, an animation reduced to its eyes, teeth and salivating tongue, making reference to the sexualised nature of children’s TV and resembling the creepy Cheshire Cat of Disney’s Alice in Wonderland. Katja Novitskova’s ‘Branching IV’ and ‘Approximation VIII’ digital print cut outs and Avery Singer’s acrylics on canvas, grey and ungraspable geometric forms, in ‘Exhibitionist’ and ‘Dancers Around an Effigy to Modernism’ keep things abstract, expressing a contemporary tension between overtly political art concerned with the exploitation behind image production –most explicitly illustrated by Harry Sanderson’s Unified Fabric –and a growing concern with lofty philosophical concepts, potentially in response to imminent environmental catastrophe, even human extinction.
That’s a possibility George Henry Longly attempts to counteract in his rather dazzling marble tablets that look like they could survive the ravages of time in a way that a MOV file won’t. Respectively engraved with “GHL”, “SORRY”, “Don’t be an Asshole”, among other things, and studded with gilded tubes of YSL “Touche Éclat” complexion highlighters and silver plated “poppers”, Longly speaks to said fatalistic outlook by evoking a sense of knowing what the problem is, being helpless in resolving it and doing what you do in the meantime. **
Header image: #fuckfrieze: Scenes from JD’s Neuliberal London. Image courtesy of Jesse Darling.