London’s Auto Italia South East presents the Golden Age Problems group project, running at their King’s Cross location from June 21 to July 13.
The artist-run organisation –run by Kate Cooper, Marianne Forrest, and Marleen Boschen –has been commissioning and producing new work since its 2007 launch, aiming to provide a comprehensive framework for the development of new approaches to both the production and the presentation of exhibitions.
The new Golden Age Problems project explores this innovative approach with an exhibition of images and objects partnered with narrative presentations and a series of performance events, featuring the works of Forrest and Boschen, as well as those of Benedict Drew, Oreet Ashery, Olivier Castel, and Plastique Fantastique, among others.
It was at Auto Italia on a rainy Saturday afternoon, as I was skipping rope both under the gaze of, and while gazing at Shia LaBeouf, that I started to understand. Here I was, cursing my choice of shoes and awkwardly checking Twitter, and there he was, a Hollywood actor skipping next to his pool in LA while being live-streamed via Skype. The epiphany came as the skepticism and awkwardness began to fade, and I, along with the others in the room, tentatively had a go at skipping. Later, I might tweet about this, or dissect it in conversations with friends or in articles online; but for the time being, it was a moment of endorphin-flowing engagement in the middle of a thoroughly strange environment. It was a metamodern moment, in the sense that ‘The Metamodernist Manifesto‘ (written by ‘Shia Labeouf’) calls for optimism and magical realism in spite of –or in connection with –self-awareness, reaching for “the mercurial condition between and beyond irony and sincerity, naivety and knowingness, relativism and truth, optimism and doubt”.
‘Meditation For Narcissists’, to give the skipping performance its actual name, was the latest instalment in an ongoing project between LaBeouf, performance artist Nastja Säde Rönkkö and artist and Notes on Metamodernism co-editor Luke Turner. So far, the project has played out fluidly across spaces including social media, art galleries, red carpet events and auto-reply email exhibitions. The most high-profile, in terms of mass media coverage and audience participation, was the trio’s five-day residency in LA’s Cohen Gallery for #IAMSORRY, in which participants sat, one by one, in a room alone with LaBeouf and a prop of their choice. The echoes of this intensely intimate experiment that remain online oscillate between the extremely moving and the extremely disturbing. Creating a private space in the eye of a publicity storm, it was perhaps the epitome of all the work so far, plunging straight to the playful heart of both Turner’s metamodern outlook and Rönkkö’s physical boundary-exploring work with performance.
In a conversation with Turner and Rönkkö in a central London pub, it transpires that what’s been most surprising for the pair is the hesitance of most commenters to even call the ongoing collaboration ‘art’. “On a qualitative level,” says Turner, “that’s open to anyone’s judgement –but we had that discussion a century ago with Duchamp’s ‘Fountain’. Why are they having this conversation? Just say it’s art –don’t even say it’s art, just accept where this is operating –and then get into the interesting conversations.” Even discounting the fact that LaBeouf is new to the art world himself, it came as a surprise that the fact that the collaboration is an equal effort from the actor with two long-practising artists was almost entirely overlooked by the media. Turner continues, “legitimisation isn’t even necessary, it doesn’t matter. Shia is an artist because he’s making art. You don’t need any legitimacy to make art. But you’d think the media would at least look at the fact that we’ve been practising artists for a good while. It’s effectively saying that what we’re doing is not art, and I’ve never had anyone say that to me before.”
Could you talk me through the aim of ‘Meditation for Narcissists’?
Luke Turner: Justin [Jaeckle], the guy who was curating the whole evening, he approached us because his whole event was playing with those notions of identity capital and online personas and artists who are engaging with that. It seems to be something that’s really in the air at the moment. I was just reading Brad Troemel’s essay in You Are Here: Art After The Internet, and it’s all about how post-internet artists are using social media to promote themselves, but the promotion becomes the work. So it was really interesting to us to engage with this project because we’re approaching it from a similar but almost opposite perspective –because with someone who already has a public persona, we’re kind of questioning what that means, where identity and ideas of the self actually lie. With Shia it’s particularly interesting because he’s a method actor, and so he really inhabits those roles, and you do question, where is the true self?
Nastja Säde Rönkkö: That was the starting point, but then from the start it was quite clear that it wasn’t going to be a normal meditation session somehow, it had to kind of fit into Shia’s ritual or routine.
LT: There is a thing about when you go to the gym, you do these things looking in a mirror. Is it a narcissistic thing or do you go into yourself? It’s a kind of split between narcissism and, it sounds cheesy, but the cliched notion of finding yourself, some kind of enlightenment.
NSR: What was interesting in the performance was that I thought the meditation would be people skipping ropes with him, but it became watching him. So that became quite meditative, this circle watching him.
I noticed that too. He mentioned at the beginning that he was going to be watching his own digital reflection, and I realised that everyone in the room was watching him, not watching themselves, so it was more like a meditation for one narcissist, and for everyone else a meditation on his persona. Also, it felt like some of the apprehensiveness in the room was a result of awareness that Shia LaBeouf might be watching the participants. So that interplay of looking was really interesting.
NSR: Especially at the beginning, people were really aware of themselves and what they were doing, and they said, ‘oh no, I’m not doing it.’ But then there were some moments were some people just went for it, they got into this meditative space, they didn’t care any more, it was just them and Shia in the zone. I think that was really beautiful somehow; the atmosphere went from awkward into meditative, into something else.
I found the cross-media aspect of it interesting–there were pictures of him on gossip sites in the afternoon, under ‘Shia wears ridiculous shade of green’ or whatever. I saw that before I came down, and then I noticed that his tweet about the event had almost more retweets and favourites than attendees in the gallery.
LT: Yeah, it doesn’t conform to the media’s narrative. That whole thing of how something spreads on the internet before it becomes a reality, that’s something that really took place in our performance in LA, at the #IAMSORRY exhibition, because we simply issued one press release half an hour before the exhibition opened to a TIME magazine journalist, they posted it within 15 minutes and then it went viral. But it was still another half an hour after the exhibition opened before the first person came in, who was a journalist. And that morning there were mostly journalists, there was no queue, but there was buzz online. By the end of it, people were camping for three days to get in.
NSR: I think it shows in the reactions as well. A lot of the time people ask me, ‘have you actually met him?’ And they’re surprised when I have, because it’s somehow so removed from tactile reality. He’s somehow not real for people. I was surprised that I had that reaction, because we were in a performance together. But still, people find it hard to believe that it’s not somehow just online.
LT: Hollywood still tries to preserve that rarified atmosphere of the Hollywood superstar, which is really interesting to see how that, even with what we’ve been doing –and we’ve been very transparent and open about what we’re doing, it’s a collaboration using social media and performance art –but you get the mainstream celebrity media who are commenting on his outfit that he was wearing, the superficial elements of his persona. We weren’t sure how much they would engage with the actual art he was making. We also did this Out Of Office project…
NSR: Basically, a lot of people wrote about it, but no one actually emailed us.
LT: They even posted about it on JustJared. They’d paid paparazzi to follow him, they had the day’s photos, and they had photos of the business cards in amongst six or seven photos of him, you know, going to buy some milk –saying he left a mysterious email address, and ‘what’s this all about?’ They didn’t engage with it.
NSR: It’s almost that they don’t want that, they don’t want to go beyond.
What have you made of the media response in general –was it a surprise to you that it became a bit of a mainstream spectacle?
LT: There’s been some really nice pieces written actually by –some really perceptive articles, people writing about their own profession and questioning that when they went to the show. There were also reviews written by the general public, on Tumblr, who were in general not an ‘art’ audience, if that term means anything. People were writing really about their connection, their engagement. I think people in the art world don’t give enough credit to how people are able to get things in the art world on so many levels. Because they just got it instantly, this simultaneous irony and sincerity, apathy and empathy, these metamodern ideas that were going on in the exhibition. It’s interesting how the art press, or at least the established art press, are more…
NSR: Careful, they’re very careful.
LT: Very, yeah, quite conservative in their perception of what we’re doing. The media don’t know whether this is a media thing, the art world don’t know if this is an art world thing, and we’re playing in those in-between spaces.
One thing I think is brave about this project, and stands apart from other celebrities who have turned their attention to art, is that Shia’s not just using his celebrity status as a platform to make art; his public image is very much part of the work itself. Is that an outlook that he had from the beginning, that made you want to work with him?
L: Yeah, I think we were both quite wary, like everyone in the art world, because there is a whole thing going on at the moment –’celebrities in the art world, what are their motives?’ I met him first of all and straight away had that connection. We’re on the same wavelength. I trusted him right away, really, and that’s a very rare thing.
NSR: For me it was really interesting to get to know him, because I saw his films after I knew him as a person …I can’t really watch things the same way that I used to. Every time I watch actors now, I’m just thinking, where is the true self? What is the persona, what is the role?
Let’s talk about the theme of plagiarism. The ‘Metamodernist Manifesto’ is yours, Luke, and you recently changed the credit on it to Shia. What did you make of the response to it once the credit had been changed?
LT: It was an experiment really, just playing with ideas of authorship. The manifesto that I wrote was already intended to be kind of ironic, with preposterous language in the style of early modernist manifestos, and yet every one of those words has a meaning, and means something that I wanted to express. Some people, especially in the ‘States, took it as too sincere, maybe. Some people took it as purely ironic. But I felt it kind of completed it, having it as ‘The Metamodernist Manifesto by Shia LaBeouf’. It created its own uncertainty. Some people were incredibly patronising about Shia, saying ‘of course he doesn’t understand what these words mean, he was in Transformers’
NSR: It’s horrible, because he’s actually really smart.
Some people have also drawn comparisons between #IAMSORRY and Marina Abramovic’s ‘The Artist Is Present’ and ‘Rhythm O’. Was that in any way a deliberate continuation of the plagiarism theme
LT: It’s clearly a different thing. Just like the Rolling Stones have blues influences or whatever, it’s an influence.
NSR: The main difference that was largely ignored was that it was really one-to-one. When I think of Marina Abramovic’s work, everyone was looking at them; everyone was there together, people were hurting her and people were stopping them, so it was about playing with empathy. For #IAMSORRY it was one person at a time. I never saw [TAIP] in MoMa but I imagine it was a very different atmosphere.
LT: And #IAMSORRY was working in the context of what was going on, the social media, and in relation to celebrity and the ideas of fame. So the context was completely different. I don’t think anyone in the art world thinks it was in any way appropriated let alone plagiarised from Marina Abramovic, but it’s certainly there.
What was the aim behind the Out Of Office project?
LT: Well, people are very cynical about the term ‘post-internet’, and I particularly am not a fan of the term. As someone who’s been making work on the internet since the mid-90s, I think we’re not really ‘post’ now, and artists aren’t really doing anything that wasn’t being done back then –it’s just that the tools and the networks have changed. It’s trying to reinvent the wheel when there’s no need, or to create these neologisms to create a space for a group of artists. Every generation does that, and the internet has accelerated it, which I find interesting, but I have a big problem with the term post-internet.
We were playing with that –because the gif was a complete and utter cliche. You know, some of the comments people put on Twitter were like [laughing],‘now Shia LaBeouf’s a net artist, he’s discovered glitch art six years too late.’ Playing with the question of ‘does he know?’ But of course he does. We know that the glitch is not cutting edge. But what is cutting edge, in some way, is the whole project we’re doing.
The narrative of our whole project, one of the narratives, is of the Hollywood actor turning to art for deeper meaning, to find himself. That’s a romantic narrative, it’s also a beautiful narrative but it’s also self-aware. It’s sincere but it has that self-knowingness to it. So he was holding You Are Here: Art After The Internet.
I got the sense that it was pretty tongue-in-cheek from the fact it was hosted on postinternet.org [which has a homepage that simply reads “Not yet.”] and I was wondering what role the book played in that?
LT: Yeah, it’s tongue-in-cheek but it’s completely sincere. There are some great essays in that book…Sometimes you do things as an artist because you think something has a whole multitude of possible meanings and interpretations and you don’t pinpoint one.
NSR: Another layer is that he’s been papped coming out of bookshops many times, and they’re all quite evil and cynical, saying “oh no, he’s trying to educate himself.” Why can he not buy books?
LT: He’s completely autodidactic and it’s the most beautiful thing, to teach yourself and to have that desire to read and to learn.
You’ve said this is an ongoing collaboration, so are you working on more projects together now?
NSR: We have a few things, but we can’t really talk about it.
The event invites anyone aged 16 and over to be a part of the agency’s new commercial, to be featured on the Special Service website for a fee and selected tapes will be screened at a (free) ticketed event on April 29
That’s part of the opti-ME* project, a month-long exhibition and event series at Auto Italia opening April 26 and running to May 25.
The exhibition explores artistic agency and modes of production, inviting collaborators to occupy a
transformed Auto Italia space and use it as an experimental testing-ground for new work and proposals.
One of these collaborators is of course Special Service, an ongoing collaboration between Annika Kuhlmann, Julia Zange and Britta Thie, founded in 2013 and announcing itself as “a new model of a modeling agency” interrogating networks of image production in fashion.
Launched on July 26, Auto Italia‘s Recent Work by Artists is a collaborative project investigating the modern artist’s working space. Running until September 28, the exhibition features “installation, image production, office design, events and a catalogue” from Tim Ivison, Julia Tcharfas, George Moustakas and Rachel Pimm.
They explore working conditions that are always shifting, between the library and the studio, the geography and distractions that doubtless have a direct impact on their output. That’s no more apparent than in an exhibition with its concept founded in these creative processes, which in turn reflects the convergence of distinctions between production, consumption, economy and design, potentially rendering them meaningless. In turn, Auto Italia places itself right at that intersection by blurring the line between art practice and home renovation by landscaping a production space in the Auto Italia site, while hosting events and discussion within it, along with ongoing research “supplemented by refreshments and environmental control selected for productivity”. Clever.
The Summer 2013 edition of How to Sleep Faster by London collective and art space, Arcadia Missa, is now available. Issue 4 of the ongoing publication, which published its first in 2011, features a slew of some of the world’s most exciting artists, including Jesse Darling, Ann Hirsch, Paul Kneale and recent Auto Italia collaborator Huw Lemmey.
Via their Open Office (AM-OO) programme, Arcadia Missa explored precarity within immaterial labour, within the cultural lexicon of a much discussed and relatively popular ideology based around post-Fordism, including neo-liberalism, consumer agency, and “playbour” in a globalised economy. How to Sleep Faster‘s 4, builds on this critique by asking four related questions: “What now is a radicalised, networked, subjectivity? How can we build a commons through and from this subjectivity? Is it self-critical in its understanding of the ‘we’ it talks for? And lastly, how do, and how must, these subjectivities engage with globalised material realities?”
Auto Italia’s latest project Immaterial Labour Isn’t Working explores how digital technology is changing our political selves. Over four weeks, contributors including activist Mark Fisher, publishers Metahaven and artist Ben Vickers, will engage in a self-organised school of talks, discussions and workshops provoking debate on contemporary issues. For example: How does the internet shape our thoughts? How could freelance culture prevent a revolution? And is there a new aesthetic taking shape?
Produced by Kate Cooper and Marianne Forest, who currently run Auto Italia along with Huw Lemmey, the show extends on the group’s tendency towards live research projects and collaboration. Last year, an Institute of Contemporary Arts commission saw an exploration of television as a format through a live broadcast. This year at Tate Modern, artists joined forces with Leslie Kulesh and Jess Wiesner to create It’s like staring someone out who’s not even looking at you, a film to mark Barbara Hammer’s retrospective. It was while involved with these projects –moving from one institutional space to another without a base –that they began to think about immaterial labour and the idea that, in the context of digital networks and the recession, how artists work, connect and live in London has changed.
Now, as Auto Italia move into a new space in King’s Cross –donated for ayear by a building developer interested in supporting artist-run spaces –they also question their sense of autonomy in ILIW, the circumstances of ownership over their headquarters and, most importantly, what’s at stake. Specifically, what cultural capital artists have and what choices they can make in an economy that has little time or room for them.
How did you select the artists involved?
Kate Cooper:I think we’re always very open to people we start a conversation with suggesting other people to bring in and that’s the way we’ve always worked on quite big collaborative projects. We did want to get some unusual speakers in, as well, and we wanted to open it up to people slightly outside of our comfort zone about things we weren’t completely experts on. It was also about us not just being focused on artistic labour but actually trying to encompass all creative workers. I feel like we tend to do lots of different jobs and wear lots of different hats, so we didn’t want to keep it art-centric, we wanted to really open it out.
Why is there such an emphasis on talks and workshops, rather than a physical exhibition?
MF: We’ve actually got Metahaven in one of our talks and together, Metahaven and Deterritorial Support Group (DSG), have produced a visual commission for us as well, which we’ve got installed in the space. It’s a kind of a book project they worked on together.
What kind of organisation goes into putting on an Auto Italia event?
MF: The nature of working with someone collaboratively is not just about inviting someone formally. It’s about starting conversations. Obviously, we try to put together different people in different sessions and different dialogues, so it was about introducing them to one another and allowing them to exchanging ideas.
I mean, there’s also a lot of practical preparation that has to be done, in terms of admin, and we’ve had to move into a new space and do building work. We’ve had to think about how we want to document the sessions, so people are doing recordings and then Kate and I are running Auto Italia… there’s the whole Auto Italia side of it, which involves a whole other side of admin. It involves press, it involves thinking about other projects… so there’s a huge amount going on and it’s a huge conversation.
KC: I think we’re also excited with this project because of what conversations might come out of it, so we worked really closely with Alex Andrews to make this micro-site. We started to publish texts around some of these ideas and see what kind of space we could make online to continue these conversations. We thought we would commission new works and work with artists through the site as well, so we’re almost interested in it as active research and what that might lead onto. I think this whole project is setting out these ideas with a whole group of people that could hopefully lead to new ideas and new ways of working. The session coming up this weekend is with Metropolitan Factory and it’s all going to be around workplace organising. How you organise freelance creative workers and what that may look like. I almost feel like doing the project is the start if you like.
Would you ever call yourselves curators?
KC: I can’t speak for Marianne but I definitely still see myself as an artist and would never call myself a curator. I’m really interested in exploring what artistic practice is and what we give artists permission to do and for what to work. No matter who you are and how you call artistic work, there’s a huge amount of admin that goes into work, as a creative worker or artist, so I feel like that can be quite frustrating for anyone, really. The amount of labour that goes into these things is huge, so I think that’s one of the motivations for this project, to really talk about that. There’s this quote by Martha Rosler, where she says, ‘I didn’t realise I’d become the assistant to the artist called Martha Rosler’. It kind of sums it up, where she’s an assistant to herself, which is hilarious, so we do talk a lot about how much admin we have to do.
What about you Marianne?
MF: My biggest problem, with working out what my job is, is that I don’t know what my job title is and I don’t feel that confident in picking one. In a way, it’s nice and freeing but it can also be quite confusing and frustrating, to not be able to clearly define to people what it is I do. We get to do so many different things; one day you put a production hat on and one day you put an artist hat on. There are so many different types of production we’re involved in all the time. I think you just have to embrace it and just see it all as creative production, as much as possible.
KC: I think the way we work sums up this project a bit. We don’t have clearly defined roles; they’re something we have to invent. I think that’s systemic of our whole generation. We all have to invent our job titles, invent our roles, invent what work is when we’re not working or maybe we’re working all the time. Maybe what we were doing as students we didn’t perceive as work but in reality is work.
All of these questions, and why we’re so excited about this project, is that we want to work some of this out for ourselves as creative workers. One of my frustrations is everyone we want to work with all have full-time jobs. Weekends and evenings are times that we have to work with people. Most people have to do other things around their full time jobs and, likewise, we have to be very flexible. When we’re in a project, we don’t have much free time to be honest, so that’s something we struggle with as well.
With Immaterial Labour Isn’t Working, would you say that the premise is that there needs to be more infrastructure in digital contexts?
MF: The title of the project suggests quite a provocative question and the purpose of all the sessions is to really try and discuss these different contemporary working methods, whether it be working freelance or all these different things. It’s really looking forward, not proposing alternative futures but asking those questions of what the actions are that can be taken or what these different conditions mean. It’s been a provocation to invite certain speakers, as well, with their topics but there’s such a wide range of topics in the sessions, approaches and different backgrounds of speakers with different interests.
How have you found negotiating technology as a medium while critiquing it?
Kate: I don’t know. I guess this is what we’re working out. I mean, this is obviously one of the provocations of the project, like ‘how do we do that’. I also think that some of these ideas were in the film we made for Artissima last year, about what effect digital technologies have on how we produce images and how we perform ourselves. So I think we’re definitely committed to some of these ideas. This is part of the project, working this out and having a conversation, because we definitely don’t know and we’re still grappling with it as artist producers.