The size of the works, and their placement around the room sit somewhere between a museum and your grandmother’s home. Both sentimental and anonymous, the works range in material and content from masks, a cigarrette packet, empty bottles, miniature paintings and figurines and other objects.
With new systems and infrastructures come new ways of organising information, new ways of thinking, of coming together. In light of this notion, AQNBeditor Jean Kay, and Video in Common (ViC) founder Caroline Heron visited London’s Assembly Point, with an event called ‘At the Backend’, last Friday, May 6, to contemplate the theme of the Peckham gallery’s three-week Tableauxprogramme, in a very literal interpretation of its dictionary.com definition being, “apicture,asofascene.”
‘At the Backend’ followed on from the ‘The Future Is Here, It’s Just Not Evenly Distributed’ screening at Berlin’s Import Projects in March by considering AQNB‘s forthcoming website upgrade, and the questions and developments that emerge when reformulating the categories, formats and frameworks for presenting information to an international audience. We examined the work of some artists within our global network that somehow addressed or embodied these semiotic shifts that come with networked communication, and its influence on community-building and identity-formation.
These included AQNB/ViC editorial video commissions by two Berlin-based artists —’ASMR-tist’ Claire Tolan discussing her practice born from the YouTube community concerned with the Auto Sensory Meridian Response phenomenon, and Anna Zett talking about constructing and editing narratives around an initial claim into video. Helsinki-based artist Kimmo Modigcontributed a video—consisting of outtakes from sessions leading up to a work presented as part of curator Valentina Fois‘ The Utopia Internet Dystopia pavilion at last year’s The Wrong biennale —especially for AQNB, as a response to the affective labour and techniques of YouTube celebrities.
Los Angeles-based collective Encyclopedia Inc.shared two videos that illustrate a widely varied approach to their ongoing interest in uranium. The symbolic and physical properties of radiation becomes the sole anchor of a responsive, research-based practice that eschews any drive towards a single identifiable aesthetic or mode of working.
Ashley Angelus Ashley presented a live reading of her religious poetry via Skype from her base in Philadelphia. That was followed by a Q&A where she discussed her shapeshifting practice and still-evolving sense of self in an often oppressive digital regime that has negatively exposed her as an artist, writer and person too young. Ashley continues to actively evade identification while exploring the parallels between, and ritual practice of institutionalised religion and popular culture. Meanwhile, collectives like Johannesburg’s CUSS Group passively confuse and elude classification within global (see: western) internet convention, by promoting misinformation through inaction when it comes to readings and representations of their work outside of their own self-presentation. Taking footage appropriated from artist-musician Dean Blunt‘s 2014 ‘DEF Freestyle‘ single and re-presenting it in a pop-up exhibition from the back of a car as part of their Video Party series in Johannesburg, Geneva-based co-founder Ravi Govender discussed the groups disinterest in regulating the distribution of their work and identity outside of their own context, in opposition to the hyper-constructed artistic identity of an artist like Dean Blunt. Rather than try to be understood within a proscribed informational system, CUSS Group dismiss its authority entirely.
Below are the full videos, excerpts (and video stills) of the films and readings presented in their running order:
Claire Tolan: ‘Thinking Systems (ASMR)’ (2016) video. [6:55 min]
Berlin-based artist Claire Tolan discusses YouTube-born phenomenon ASMR (Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response) and how it informs her art practice. From mixing ASMR sounds on the radio to organising live ASMR Karaoke events, Tolan’s work and interests are centred on how strangers come together online and communities are formed alongside new technologies.
Anna Zett: ‘Theory of Everything’, p.1 (2016) video. [7:02 min]
Berlin-based artist Anna Zett talks about gathering empirical evidence of the attitudes and perspectives surrounding her chosen subjects, including dinosaurs, boxing and the brain. Prior to her most recent video work, ‘Circuit Training’ (2015), Zett’s impressive “modern research drama” ‘This Unwieldy Object’ (2014) saw her dealing in the construction of raw data into meaningful narratives along existing ideological lines.
Philadelphia-based artist Ashley Angelus Ashley seeks to reconcile her religious poetry with the social experience of exploitation and oppression. Taken from the position of what she calls a “sexually androgynous Catholic woman”, Ashley presents a live poetry reading via Skype, covering the stigmatization of gender nonconformity, ritualized humiliation, the sex industry, internalized misogyny, and biological control.
LA-based collective Encyclopedia Inc. –Carlye Packer, Googie Karrass and Nicholas Korody –is a research-based project that interrogates the inherited western idea of an object in isolation. In a continually evolving, process-driven practice that questions notions of art and information as self-evident, the group has produced publications, videos and installations reflecting a conceptual approach to the lived reality of ecological enmeshment, with uranium at its core.
Kimmo Modig: ‘KIMMOTALKS’ (2016) [9:26]
Helsinki-based artist Kimmo Modig deconstructs the languages and systems surrounding labour and production by both mimicking and destabilising an audience’s conception of capital flows in its various forms. Modig performs his own anxieties and sense of precarity in relation to the existing lexicons of communication media –like video, marketing and sound design –thus laying bare the oppression and authority implicit in the restrictive social paradigms they reinforce.
Cuss Group: ‘Video Party #4’ (2014) [8:22 min]
Johannesburg and Geneva-based collective Cuss Group –Ravi Govender, Jamal Nxedlana Zamani Xolo, Lex Trickett, Bogosi Sekhukhuni and Chris Mc Michael –have been working as a dispersed group of artists and practitioners on the margins of not only a South African art market indifferent to video as a medium, but a globalised online network of artists still focussed on traditional Western economic centres. But instead of applying for impossible access to these systems and flows of information, Cuss Group passively evade legibility within existing colonial structures surrounding art and aesthetics.
The artist has invited contributors to take part in readings, presentations, video works, performances, and conversations addressing the theme of social and environmental catastrophe that the show-at-large also alludes to.
The event takes the apparently inevitable and overdue earthquake — often referred to as the ‘Big One’ — set to erupt along California’s San Andreas Fault as a starting point. Participating artists and collectives include Nicolas Bermeo & Jon Weisburst, Hannah Black, Brandon Drew Holmes and Encyclopedia Inc. who are asked to consider “faults, locations of a rubbing against each other of two masses, two bodies.”
Protected under Los Angeles’ historical preservation codes, 9800 S Sepulveda Blvd lies as a vacant testament to 1960s Los Angeles, one where the junction of freeways, air travel and mass mechanization correlated with greater personal and economic mobility. The nine-story building was designed by Welton Beckett, the architect responsible for the Capitol Records and Theme buildings, as part of a larger development skirting the LAX airport. It is this backdrop of surplus modernism that provides the setting for the 9800 group exhibition, occupying eight floors of the empty building with more than one hundred artists’ works, performances and site-specific installations including Rachel Lord, Zoe Crosher, Khalid Al Gharabali + Fatima Al Qadiri, Sam Lipp and many more.
As part of the show, nearly every floor is taken over by a certain curator or organization. Three spaces are particularly noteworthy, starting with J. Shyan Rahimi’s curated lobby and basement titled If I Did It that alludes to varying displays of concealment, deception and entrapment echoing the title of O.J. Simpson’s memoir. This narrative is loosely drawn on the ground floor with a text-based piece ‘Burning Questions?’ (2015) by Tracy Jeanne Rosenthal mounted on multiple acrylic panels describing her descent into a web-based pop-up subscription service. Above her work hang video pieces by Simone Niquille depicting distorted, digital masks of Britney Spears and other pop icons. Further on, an installation by Sean Raspet vaporizes synthetic sugar that, when inhaled, creates a sensation of sweetness deep in the throat.
In the basement, the scale of the work grows more ambitious. A videogame by Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch’s Witness 360 + Fitch + Trecartin Studio allows you to fly as a drone around a Masonic Temple and, in another room, Doug Rickard’s selection of banned Youtube videos depict an underbelly of illicit behavior across the globe. Yet perhaps the best illumination of the relationship between concealment and malfeasance is a room occupied by an installation by Encyclopedia Inc. featuring an overlapping audio soundtrack of Arabic and English. These recordings were ostensibly used to justify the evidence of Iraq’s acquisition of uranium concentrate ‘Yellowcake’ in the lead-up to the United States’ 2003 invasion of Iraq. For a selection of work rooted in the concept of questionable motives, it is the best demonstration of an illicit intent lost within the process of the dissemination of meaning.
On the fourth floor, is a selection of much more modest works curated by Parisians Pierre-Alexandre Mateos and Charles Teyssou. As opposed to the other floors, Mateos and Teyssou’s exhibition includes no Los Angeles artists, instead focusing on relational works with instructions, performances or non-classifiable activity. The opening night featured Luis Miguel Bendaña and a room ringed with Maraschino cherries in small communion glasses, as well as a performance by Puppies Puppies consisting of a massive yellow python meandering about a central room. In one corner office, French designer Item Idem has set up an installation of a stack of LED lights, which capriciously turn off when the door is opened. In another darkened corner office, internet artist sstmrt’s soundtrack plays into the empty room, a sequence of bronchial coughing, wheezing, sobbing, urination and possibly even sex. This soundtrack, combined with the office’s outlook of Sepulveda Blvd and onto the tarmac of LAX, projects a visceral impression of Los Angeles’ ceaseless urbanity, one of both musing alienation and diffused impersonality.
On the rooftop, Matthew Doyle’s sound installation ‘SSB[39!], Leq i.i.d.’ (2015) utilizes the data generated from decibel meters monitoring community noise levels around the airport. Developed in collaboration with Sam Wolk, the program uses permutations of the data with the input of a rooftop microphone to sends impulses of white noise across three speakers on from there to the sun deck, creating particularly cacophonous blasts when Santa Ana gusts hit the building. The embrace of this noise data network, with its variable streams, vectors and paths, is in many ways a recognition of the arbitrary functionality of Los Angeles and its lost modernist promise. 9800 S Sepulveda Blvd, as a relic of a uniform spatial awareness, has been replaced by the ubiquity of other forms of uniform connectivity, a dialogue that 9800 successfully addresses in spite of its bewildering scale. **