The show runs in partnership with Melbourne’s Tristian Koenig gallery, where the LA-based artist previously showed a new body of digital paintings made from online sourced images and software manipulation.
The installation presents a combination of video paintings, webcam performances and paintings on linen and paper. Mainly taken from Google and Pinterest, the “colours, patterns, and skin tones are broken down and reintegrated” into new fluid abstract works that morph and layer.
Recently, Warner Brothers issued Vimeo with a Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) takedown notice, which is essentially a standardised letter explaining the incorporated entertainment company has the copyright to a film that has been illegally uploaded to the video hosting site. In this case, however, it was a false accusation, given the film was not the original but a machinic remix of the 1982 AI tech-noir cult classic Blade Runner. It had been entirely constructed by an artificial neural network called an Autoencoder rather than a film studio; a unique program created by Terence Broad. The artist and researcher taught the machine to watch the film and then reconstruct it from disassembled data. Its remix of Blade Runner —which ironically tells the story of a progressive form of artificial intelligence indistinguishable from mankind and fighting for its own autonomy —was so good at directing and reapplying the data it couldn’t be distinguished from the manmade original.
This story of re-programmed culture and the question of authentic output came to mind while wandering through the endless stalls and booths of the 9th Berlin Biennale (BB9)’s ‘The Present in Drag’ biennial, curated by DIS and recently opening in five different locations of the German capital, all programmed replicants of each other. Aside from a slight variation in accessories or interior décor, the motherboard was ultimately the same. Each work mirrored the next, seamlessly creating an uber-mindful glass army, all sipping spirulina juice whilst in downward dog dropping selfies on Instagram. It sounds like utopia right? At times, yes, there’s cool air and an outlandish philosophy being propagated through highly rendered 3D movies and Shutterstock footage. Softly one droops into oversized lounging bean bags among their exfoliated, shiny, contemporary counterparts. Could this be peace on urban earth?
Maybe. But is this really the art world at present –clean, conscious and business-like? The press release claims, “That as a theme ‘the present’ strikes a slightly desperate tone. Like a spin-call instructor trying to power through a massive hangover.” DIS would like to welcome you to the ‘post-contemporary’, a word that has been coined and repeated through various mouths in the last weeks; some slurred, some enigmatic, and others naively. Amusingly both post-’ and ‘contemporary’ have connotations of desperation to be noted as progressive and historically worthy; raising questions on whether the machine needs credit for its products.
BB9 makes one wonder whether every young artist’s dream now is to be part of a gaping macro-void living on chia seeds and Dom Perignon, while producing endless images of handsome rat-eating protagonists, brutalist glass castles in wild overgrown forests, or lusting after spiritual mayonnaise jars. As you walk through the streams of images, it all looks very familiar. The only thing to awaken you from the trance of a feeling of having been here before is the standardised message tone of not only yours, but hordes of other viewers’ iPhones. This may seem like a mundane observation, but at this point things start to become clearer. Is this new ‘site’ acting as just another contact point for accelerated new nihilistic consumerism; a sterilized commercial venture (trading only in petty ideological horror), with its airport aesthetic trademarks and start-up software sitting prettily in the background?
Writer and theorist Mark Fisher coined the term ‘Capitalist Realism’ in 2009. It’s a concept which takes the form of super-identification with capital, a position precluding any possibility for acting in opposition to it. Throughout the Biennale, many artists attempt to play the double-hand, suggesting, ‘Yes, I’m in the biennale and, yes, its DIS but really I find capitalism vulgar’. DIS has a very specific approach to valorized aesthetics, which they just about pull off through their incongruous musings from their collective online platform DIS Magazine. Mixtapes with titles like How to Fuse Trends & Alienate People are nestled between pieces on Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek’s ‘Accelerationist Manifesto’ and AngelaMerkel and Condoleezza Rice Scarves retailing at around $145 online. But in seeing this approach IRL it starts to grate on you. It becomes more desperate. You’re unable to just click yourself out it —when everything is ironic nothing is. Creative branding and corporate aesthetics with art becomes just un-political and integrated, they outline the tired, weak and ineffective politics that appears to lie at the heart of emerging contemporary art today.
Negation of site via the techno-void on and offline has been vital in this leap of acceleration and formatting of cultural imagery/products in today’s hip youth dichotomy of capital and culture. Subversive realms began glitch-ing and fading away through the process of standardization; when post-internet artists started surfacing across art fairs in 2012, offering fixed technocapital the chance to conjoin seamlessly within aesthetics of neo-contemporary culture. It offered a hybrid-leftist consumer a muted form of anarcho-capitalist freemasonry: satiric in gesture, but adaptive, gratifying, and seemingly homegrown. This way, one is not just crassly buying into capital when loving capital-progressive aesthetics.
Anarcho-capitalism is enacted through peer-to-peer foundations like infamous trend forecaster K-HOLE, or open-source groups (online) such as Ikea made fashion, ytinifninfinity, or the ever-wearable Vetememes rip-offtrend. One could argue that artists like Debora Delmar Corp. or Nik Kosmas are in opposition to the semi-corporate cultural accelerationist aesthetics of DIS Magazine. In BB9, DDC’s mint smoothies nods toward ‘greenwashing’ —a PR tool which gives your product a green sheen that doesn’t live up to its actual ethical standards. This could be seen as antagonistic in relation to the ‘cultural capital’ accumulated from events like biennales. Kosmas’ garish structures also offer a healthy foundation for simple training sessions, including a power rack, squat rack and weight rig used once a week for a 75-minute training session at the price of 10€. Both functional sculptures have a certain proletarian persona through their principal efforts of self-oriented and wellness-via-viewer interaction. But one wouldn’t dare say this may not align with DIS in the glass halls of the Akademie der Kunst. It’s too precarious. It’s too crass to speak of political alignments post-1968. We also saw how badly it turned out for Artur Żmijewski when he invited Occupy demonstrators in 2012 to occupy the Biennale —it was dubbed the very last gasp of air for the movement by Noah Fischer in Field Journal, as well as the worst Biennale (to date) by many young contemporary artists, alienating both art viewer and activist with its vanilla statement-making.
This lack of radicality aligns with the dis-innovation of the internet at present, as it becomes tamer, less diverse, more grounded and more homogenous. The dream started to fade along with the ready acceptance of ‘post-internet’ as a genre with which to be affiliated —last summer no one would be seen petrified in it but now the label is one worn with brazen pride. LA-based artist Petra Cortright is the best example of this shift. One of the first digital artists to enjoy commercial success, she credulously and ironically just renounced the internet in a recent interview with Amuse:
“I think the Internet is becoming this really gentrified place. Today’s forms of social media feel more like people’s personal brands. Now it’s just people promoting their shit constantly and it makes stuff on the Internet less weird. Everything feels more censored.”
It’s a curious statement from the artist with one of the most commercially endorsed artist Instagram accounts, from sunlitNike crop top selfies to endless shots ofready-to-wear Elyse platform shoes and #Avene skincare moments. Self-motivated plagiarism, unity and peer enthusiasm seems to be the Kool-Aid of choice for the BB9 —offering sites of contact where inevitable capital extraction seeps into the daily use-value both on- and offline. That’s either through prosumerist data collection —likes, shares, tags —or, in extreme examples, of hand-in-hand partnerships like Cortright’s with Adidas Sportswear or Stella McCartney, all creating an endorsed product for the creatively-aligned consumer.
The line-up of young artists involved in BB9 seem to have every intention of becoming part of this system; living comfortable and unified lives, but not in any revolutionary sense. In fact, many of the artists at BB9 address the home as a place of purity, untouched or tainted by others. In the future everyone will have his or her own pod, sterile and homely. The well waxed lyrical “no-man is an island” adage comes to mind when looking at these weaponised cannons for a better future, from Timur Si-Qin, M/L Artspace or åyr. Their installations point limply to some critical afterthought of community but their impotence sits neatly and cleanly between white-walled islands, cushions and pot plants —then the words “No artist is unique” sink in.
Is it so passé to be subversive now? Better to be programmed, productive and sold than join the legions of unemployed artists stalking Instagram hungrily everyday, watching and lusting after this hyper-capital form. Confronted with unemployment, high rents and health insurance, one would rather be an Art Bot than take the risk of a failing career in today’s political and economic climate. Young artists today often have no money of their own, no other assets barring their nomadic user-ship and, in that position it’s difficult to progress physically or culturally because fear is always sitting a little too close to the free bar. Yet, nothing matters (really) and nothing exists (really) to this generation, in this virtual day-to-day. Life is a constant ebb of pixels, and why should we be called on to exist within society? The neo-future seems more like no future. The time of the community has now gone and we live in a state of dualism ruled by the individual and the Ego but that doesn’t always rescue us from the lonely nights of the Self.
Like Terence Broad’s new machinic director, these artists have fulfilled the task at hand; to replicate cultural capital for the masses by the masses but this does not mean they cannot do anything else. To quote Blade Runner’s Dr. Tyrell of humanoid slave manufacturer Rosen Corporation, “More human than human is our motto”. When it comes to the 9th Berlin Biennale and the slew of emerging and emergent artists it represents, one certainly questions the point of humankind and its posited salvation. On walking out of KW, a young blonde girl hands me a little white envelope. I smile, take it and carry on walking. Inside the small package there’s a single card with blood-red ink that issues the typed message “it’s your timing” –soft, personal and comforting but ultimately mass-produced.**
Artist Aram Bartholl will present a Speed Show in Los Angeles, the first of the series to be held in the City on the evening of February 18.
In 2010Bartholl initiated the series of Speed Showsin Berlin. Its set up is an exhibition that can take place anywhere in an internet cafe displaying for a moment (or evening) works that already exist online, leaving the job of the curator simply to find a good harmony of things to channel into the cafe space.
“A lot has happened since 2010”, as Bartholl, who aqnbinterviewed in 2013, states in the press release. He talks about how manifestos work and interestingly seems to be writing one as a press release that undoes a worded relationship between screens, the internet and artists.
Together/ Alone is a large group show focussing on the artist book as “a record keeping device”, as something that offers a “rooted connection” to all that is material and kinetic, and as something that may resist channels of usual art production and consumption – if it wants to. An artist book is its own entity.
Four partitioned video pieces are located in the center of the gallery, installed on a free-standing kiosk. The main gallery space is filled with the sound coming from Yung Jake’s music video piece ‘Both’(2015) which sits at the exhibition’s natural middle. The video plays panoramically between two flat screen television monitors, oriented vertically on the wall. It’s a reference to it’s initial release in September via Yung Jake’s personal Snapchat, available in two parts and requiring two smartphones to be viewed correctly. The video follows Yung Jake and two woman companions through a variety of lively party scenes, cutting between places and people, non-sequentially playing out like a contemporary advertisement for Hypnotique brand liqueur.
The kiosk is bookended by Hirsch’s paintings ‘Ann Mirsch’ (2015) and ‘50 Shades Wedding’ (2015) on one wall and Musson’s mercerized cotton canvas ‘Black Bisector’ (2015) on the other. Mounted directly across from Yung Jake’s ‘Both’ is the kiosk that houses Musson and Hirsch’s respective webcam pieces, ‘How To Be A Successful Artist’(2010) and ‘Physical Contractions’ (2015), creating a unique triangular dialogue of success. Hirsch’s video piece and paintings all reference marriage and procreation. Musson performs as ‘Hennessy Youngman’, an invented vlog persona instructing his viewer on how to succeed in art (being both white and ambiguous are key). ‘Black Bisector’ comprises the shreds of several Coogi sweaters to create one huge composition as iconic as those worn by rapper Biggie Smalls himself, while Yung Jake’s opulent music video reminds us that he’ll take both, specifically when he can’t decide between “two bad bitches”. Also included is Yung Jake’s ‘Hypnotiq and Cîroc Bottles’(2015) wall-hung sculpture, made from found metals and digitally manipulated liquor bottle vinyl wrap transfers. It’s a mash-up of digital and physical spaces referencing the drinks’ history of promotion and advertising in hip-hop music and culture.
Installed directly opposite is Ripps’ ‘Unidentified Person 2 and 3, Sotheby’s Contemporary Curated Auction Party’ (2015) – a contrasting diptych of two portraits pulled from grainy surveillance footage and then UV-printed immaculately onto brushed aluminum. Ripps’ ‘dump.fm’(2010), a seemingly endless voyeuristic view into an online chatroom, is simultaneously entertaining and frustrating. The viewer has no control over pace, content, and can in no way interact. This frustration is complemented by Cortright’s video ‘banksi unbrush ponitaeyel’ (2015), which plays beside Ripps’ piece, showing the artist trapped in a corner by an endless barrage of colorful digital interference. It’s a reference to Cortright’s early video works posted originally to YouTube and serving as defining works of early online video art where the artist digitally manipulates her own face via webcam.
Casey Jane Ellison’s ‘It’s So Important to Seem Wonderful Part II’ (2014) utilizes a separate room to house a three-channel projection with accompanying sculptures and a smaller video piece at the room’s entrance.The moving images most prominently feature a crudely animated 3D self-portrait of the artist that glitches and meanders alongside the audio, obviously out of sync. It amounts to a sense of discomfort and fascination as the artist carries her monologues at a stand-up comedy pace.
Site-specific art is historically the anti-gallery practice. It is art created to exist in specifically one place. At its most refined form, it is a rejection of the commodification of art. This theme plays out conceptually in The Real World as the viewer is confronted with works that exist both in ethereal sites online, and within the commercial gallery itself. The exhibition title could be a tongue-in-cheek reference to the ‘real’ world as we know it becoming ever-more digital, or an obvious nod to the 3D pieces included in the show. It feels more as if it comes full circle, back to the digital origins of these six millennial artists and their website-specific works. **
For an exhibition called Catfish, running at LA’s Anat Ebgi from September 11 to October 24,it’s only natural that deception would be a key component. Here, we’re met with the very literal definition of an internet catfish, someone who creates a false persona to be used on social media websites, in the fictional story at the beginning of the show’s press release. It tells of an online romance that wasn’t what it seemed. This narrative sets the stage for artists Petra Cortright, Kate Steciw, Letha Wilson and Margo Wolowiec to confront and explore the contemporary availability and ambiguity of the image in the visual internet age.
In the same way that a catfish might compile and re-organize common online imagery and data to create a fake identity, the four artists use this readily available content as primary material, taking it a step further into the realm of sculpture. All of them are working within tactile media and explore this convergence of digital and physical existence uniquely.
Cortrights’ pieces complement the works of the other artists and are spaced evenly throughout the show, almost pacing and propelling the viewer through the works. While the others explore the hands-on approach of shifting ethereal data into the physical world, the LA-based artist offers movement and a more concept-driven approach to the internet experience that is methodically more “hands-off”. With her video piece ‘mainbitch‘, (2012) placed precisely in the middle of the exhibition space, Cortright attempts to illustrate the inability of a visible woman on the internet to escape the male gaze. Further driving this point home, the video is displayed on an iPad with a front-facing camera, creating the meta experience of watching someone being watched while being watched yourself.
Steciw’s heavily gestural C-print, dibond, and wood framed sculptures exist on the wall as seen in ‘Composition 028e’ (2015) and as a free-standing wheeled piece entitled ‘Composition 028aaa’ (2015), asking the viewer to look at, around and through the multi-layered works. Utilizing run-of-the-mill stock photographs, she composes digital collages of different images of the same thing but then abstracts them to the point of unfamiliarity. This re-mixing of banal internet imagery is similarly explored by Wolowiec in her complex textile pieces. Using readily available Instagram content, which she gathers from the geotag feature of the image-sharing app, she digitally distorts the files into aesthetically pleasing composites that are then printed onto various fabrics which she ultimately hand-weaves together.
Meanwhile, Wilson’s concrete and unique C-print amalgams force photography from its familiar representational two-dimensional plane into a sculptural existence, where the landscapes that the photographs show are returned once more to their original state as three-dimensional locations. Fraught with imperfections and the unpredictable texture of drying concrete, specifically these imperfections create miniature caves and fault lines across the surface of ‘Joshua Tree Concrete Bend’ (2015). In ‘Kona Lava Black Slash (Steel)’ (2015) Wilson has cut a rectangular hole through the face of the work through which the gallery wall is visible, further adding another physical dimension to her photographs. These works accomplish their task of translating digital imagery into a tangible material.
The curatorial choices further enhance the show’s concept by mimicking the narrative in the beginning of the press release. We begin with a very formal and recognizable digital collage printed onto silk by Cortright. As we continue through the works of Steciw, Wolowiec and Wilson, formalities become skewed and abstracted. The exhibition ultimately ends on another of Cortright’s pieces which takes the form of a large digital painting printed onto anodized aluminum, book-ending it on an abstract note. The contrast between the beginning and end of the show leave the viewer to wonder, “where am I and how did I get here?” It leaves you hanging in the most sensible way possible, it is called Catfish after all. **
DAM Gallery is hosting the Porn to Pizza — Domestic Clichés group exhibition at its Berlin space from a preview on September 4 until the closing on October 24.
The group exhibition bases itself on the acknowledgement that the 4Ps of domestic clichés—porn, pets, plants, and pizza—have left their realm of domesticity and started to exist in the virtual space of the internet.
Inviting over 20 international artists to participate, Porn to Pizza — Domestic Clichés play with today’s domestic spheres and personal comfort zones, revealing “how daily life has changed with the internet and how the conflict of the “real vs. virtual” invades our personal comfort zones”. Some of the participating artists include Petra Cortright, Kate Durbin, Faith Holland and Angelo Plessas.
“I was listening to happy hardcore and Britney Spears remixes till 6 AM”. That’s a quote from Petra Cortright via DIS magazine, one of many snippets of interviews pulled and put together to make up the content of the PETWELTpress release. Accompanying the Berlin exhibition, in random order across fonts and sizes, these insights offer an introduction into the chaotic world of Cortright’s playful though pertinent persona that’s emerged and moved out of YouTube and into the gallery. This time showing at Société, five films spanning as many years between 2009 and 2014 present a brief retrospective of sorts, where a development becomes apparent while a certain stasis persists.
Across multiple video projections on the wide gallery walls across several separate spaces, ‘Sparkling I’ (2010) and ‘Don’t Warp With Door’ (2014) appear side by side in the first. The former film is set in a garden, where the artist – ever present in all of her webcam works – is surrounded by plants and trees. As Cortright moves in and among the branches they turn pink, sparkles following her motion as they then become black points that disappear into the sky. The viewer is drawn into a hypnotic fantasy world before a return to domesticity in ‘Don’t Warp With Door’ beside it. This time the artist is in a room, with a digital satin painting of her 2011 Night Heat series to the left and a white door to the right. Cortright is dressed in the black and white product of an AW14 Stella McCartney collection and video collaboration, as the door closes, bending in and out into glitch as her legs do when she walks away.
The glittering soundtrack of the previous room is intersected by a dance mix from the following where ‘Main Bitch’ (2012) is screening. Dressed in pink, wearing a long pink wig and some bunny ears, Cortright’s appearance is as lurid as the music in the background of her suburban setting. It’s heavy electronic music – early millennial Russian ‘lesbian’ duo t.A.T.u.’s ‘Ya Soshla S Uma’ (‘All the Things She Said’) among them – that’s played through blown-out speakers. Cortright’s preening movements of tousling her hair, lighting a cigarette and checking herself out are delayed by video effects while being interjected by shots of her shoes and bare corners of the empty room. It’s one of the few videos that features more than one shot.
At the other half of the Sociéte space is the sensual and motion-blurred video of ‘Bridal Shower’, originally commissioned for Frieze London last year. Here the artist dances in what looks like a makeshift wedding gown from a childhood playing pretend, while smoothing makes Cortright’s movements, slowed down and sped up, almost a pleasure to watch. Rose petals fall from the sky to a track produced byNightcoregirl and edited from the high res porn animation of Affect3D’s Girlfriends 4 Ever teaser, setting the erotic and objectified undertone.
As in ‘Main Bitch’ Cortright plays out a certain role within a setting that is contrary to the last video on show, ‘When You Walk Through the Storm‘ (2009). With no setup or costumes, it returns its audience to where her work began, as the artist sits in front of her webcam, waving her hand effortlessly back and forth and followed by simulated water that blurs her face. It’s a relapse to the simple gestures of Cortright’s early days. Expanding on the tools and drawing on more direct and secure movements, PETWELT points to Cortright’s stronger grasp on her chosen media and their influence on her work through time. Yet even now, as more a performer and less a cam girl, it’s clear that the image may have changed but the effects remain the same. **
Meanwhile, the exhibition title points to the time both the Mexico and London galleries have been running as they move toward the tricky five year mark of an independent gallery’s typical life-span, as explored by Arcadia Missa co-owner Rózsa Farkas in her aptly titled essay ‘Five Years’ in last year’s Appendix publication. Here’s to being the exception.
The exhibition takes the notion of family as its theme, exploring this complex concept through painting and sculpture, with Cortright’s paintings depicting the interior architecture of a home and Fornieles’ sculptures rendering home decorations.
This process of taking something sacred and feeding it back in “its mediated representation”, the questioning of the idea of family or its attributes, is the troubling intention of the artists.
Whether it’s self-mediation via user software, an “extremely normal” fashion line or an auto-tuned to the hilt boyband singing love songs to their computer, there’s no doubting a fairly decent cross-section of consumer culture via art.
As one of the first net-based artists of her generation to make significant headway in the major art world with her recent Frieze London film commission, Cortright’s works, across webcam videos, flash animation and paintings on aluminium, silk and polyester, are potentially some of the first to request viewers to “check the internet for pricing.” Drawing from the internet, working on her computer and utilising only the tools and default settings made available through them, her practice is as inventive as it is concentrated on “avoiding invention while championing reuse”.
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 Burkeand 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”, artistJennifer 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.
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. **
Frieze Art Fair runs in London’s Regent’s Park annually in October. The fringe events happen elsewhere.
Header image: #fuckfrieze: Scenes from JD’s Neuliberal London. Image courtesy of Jesse Darling.