Vitrine Gallery’s Bermondsey Square space is a window display: white gallery walls behind full-height toughened glass windows. An unconventional space, it’s strangely appropriate for London-based artist Matt Welch, whose work is involved in the various interrelations between mass culture, subculture and the position of the subject within these structures. Unlike a conventional presentation, Welch leaves imperfections on the walls and glass – unfilled holes, excess filler and the residue of poor quality packing tape – showing decisions that have been made, changed and redacted. Rather than recalcitrant, these traces feel earnest, left there to bare subtle witness to the difficulty of the process of making and communicating honestly.
don’t we We run run things things?! takes its title from a line in Miley Cyrus’ ‘We Can’t Stop‘, which Welch has reordered into a stuttering query. It’s a question about autonomy, born from a bratty throwaway statement – “We run things, things don’t run we” – a rebellious attitude common in popular music, often attributed to the lineage of a punk ethos and aesthetic. Attempting to understand the social positioning of “counter-culture”, Welch acts as a researcher, bringing together seemingly disparate elements from contemporary and historical movements: online fetish videos, Nu Metal and proto-punk band Crass, alongside nods to arte povera, DIY culture and modernist sculpture.
A studwork construction at one end of the gallery – complete with touches of kitsch patterned packing tapes – sits somewhere between minimalist formalism and a support for a home-made skate ramp, whilst materially alluding to the anatomy of gallery walls but too structurally light to bare weight. A household roller blind hangs from the wall, its surface sliced a number of times and a Slipknot mask hanging from the chain. A literal gesture of “destruction” tied to a subcultural artefact, it becomes reminiscent of Cyrus-esque music video house party detritus, as well as bearing a striking resemblance to a Lucio Fontana slash painting. Alongside it is a video loop: a close-up shot of the “bubbles” being sliced out of Nike Air Max trainers with a utility knife.
Welch examines the catharsis we find in destruction, alongside the radical autonomy promised by DIY culture, both earnestly and objectively. On one hand there’s a sense of reminiscence; an understanding that the ideas of demolition and DIY, so often handed down to us through music, video or art, can feel liberating and empowering. But that is not to say that they hold revolutionary potential: Welch seems to recognise that these attitudes are now synthesised with late capitalism – we exercise our autonomy and dissent through the same structures that we think we are critiquing. The power of the avant garde – in its promise of newness and potential, catalyzed by adolescent rebellion – has mutated into the late capitalist desire for youth. Anti-authoritarianism turns to existentialism when the economic system sells you your own anarchist mantra: there is no authority but yourself.**
Matt Welch’s don’t we We run run things things?!, curated by Vlada Maria Tcharyeva, is running at Vitrine Project Space until August 17, 2014.
Header image: Matt Welch, ‘don’t we We run run things things?! (2014) @ Vitrine. Courtesy the gallery.