lundi 23 février 2009

Dispersion (ICA, London)

Hito Steyerl, Lovely Andrea, 2007

Henrik Olesen, some gay-lesbian artists and/or artists relevant to homo-social culture V,VI,VII, 2007

Maria Eichhorn, 'Film Lexicon of Sexual Practices (Breast Licking)', 1999-2008

Anne Collier, Folded Madonna Poster (Steven Meisel), 2007

curated by Polly Staple:

Dispersion presents seven international artists working with photography, film, video and performance. All deconstruct and re-mix found images, investing them with personal narratives and using them to explore the contemporary landscape of information and image distribution. Today’s endless worldwide archive of found images, from art-historical icons to consumer ephemera, provides these artists with their raw material; while systems of economic exchange, from the art market to the internet, offer a constant reference point. Many of the works exhibited in Dispersion employ idiosyncratic ordering systems, revealing a subjective yet anthropological approach to their material. Exploring hierarchical codes of the visual lexicon, and informed by feminist and gender politics, several works foreground the psychological realm of sexuality or subcultural networks. How ‘ways of seeing’ both form and define subjectivities, shape memory and morality, and participate in the formation of new identities both within and beyond the dominant culture, are common themes. All of the artists in Dispersion explore how identities are constructed rather than given, and how—through investigating the politics of representation—it may be possible to achieve what could be called a ‘critical’ image.They highlight networks of dissemination, the relations between private life and the public sphere, and allude to the secret life of images and the order of things.

Maria Eichhorn’s work often performs an acute deconstruction of the system—economic-social-art historical—employed to construct an image or exhibition scenario. In Film Lexicon of Sexual Practices (1999-2008), exhibition visitors may request to view one of eleven 16mm films from Eichhorn’s developing archive of sexual activity. These three-minute films are influenced, however, by conceptual strategy rather than any pornographic code. A screen-printed wall text details an excerpt of the lexicon, accompanied by textual definitions, and each film presents a close-up view of one of the lexicon’s terms, including both sexual activities and body parts. The unemotional, minimal perspective renders the actions either abstract or clinical. Mouth or Eye, for example, conjure an evocative Surrealistic dream-world, whereas Breast Licking verges on the comical in its precision and Cunnilingus is almost medical. Shown in a neutrally lit room, with the projectionist always present to screen the films, the setting suggests a desire for transparency and a heightened awareness of both the content and conditions of representation, with the viewerimplicated in a contract of exchange through their choice of film and their interaction with the projectionist.

The way in which sexuality is organised within Western capitalist social systems, so that desire becomes categorised within the rule of law, is a constant theme for Henrik Olesen. some gay-lesbian artists and/or artists relevant to homo-social culture V, VI, VII (2007) consists of a set of wood and paper panels (three of which are shown here) carrying an encyclopaedic array of postcards and photocopies from art-historical sources. Olesen’s project presents a studyof the homosexual and homo-visual from the thirteenth to nineteenth centuries, his selective rationale in turnpedantic, intuitive and absurdly revealing, his editing highlighting historical vagaries and repetitious gestures. Olesen’s framing turns grand paintings and classical imagery into documentary evidence to be worked over, and the boards have the aura of both the school room and a crime-scene investigation. But the artist’s studied casualness—the low-budget display, cheap photocopies and crossing out—belies a forensic attention to detail. The viewer’s reading of the work replicates Olesen’s role as researcher and archivist, and echoes our own experience of information as montage. Olesen is ultimately interested in a critical investigation of the archive, suggesting potential strategies for the reinterpretation of images and social codes.

Seth Price’s Digital Video Effect: “Editions” (2006) consists of six of the artist’s previously editioned video works, re-edited for low-cost, unlimited distribution. Home-movie footage shot by the artist Joan Jonas in the early 1970s (of fellow artists Robert Smithson and Richard Serra and the dealer Joseph Hellman) is juxtaposed with fragments from a video by artist Martha Rosler (which itself lifts footage from TV advertisements); as well as reportage from the aftermath of Ronald Reagan’s shooting in the 1980s; stills frominternet death sites; and a digital animation clip of a rolling synthetic black ocean played on repeat. Price creates his own field of distribution: both through his reworking of his own films alongside those of others; and through the dispersal of the product itself as an unlimited edition. The production and reproduction of culture and value are shown to be infinitely malleable. Meaning is formed through the constant fluid connections between points—strategically reworking and updating material— and the artist’s manipulation of highly charged material demonstrates the collision of value systems caused by a surfeit of information. The title Dispersion is taken from an essay by Price, reproduced in the book accompanying the exhibition.

Anne Collier explores the recycling of images through acts of appropriation—photographing film posters, album and magazine covers and photographic test plates. The subsequent image groupings form a subjective lexicon of popular imagery, alternately suggesting biographical history and a nostalgic attraction to found material. Collier often chooses particular motifs such as the eye or the camera, or highlights the nuanced gender and power relations of the subjects presented, to emphasise how we look and see. Inherent to Collier’s practice is a sense of claustrophobia, the infinite referencing creating an arrested feedback loop, upsetting any easy consumption of image and instead emphasising a significant void or lack. The marks or folds of the posters and record sleeves evoke memories of lost time and intimate associations, the materiality of each photograph emphasising its status as an object with its own history. In one work, a photograph of a Steven Meisel Madonna poster, Collier revels in the insistent glamour of both the original art direction and its subject’s inscrutable iconicity. Madonna’s masquerade—with painted face and lowered eyes —encapsulates commodity fetishism as a projection screen for fantasy.

Hilary Lloyd’s Studio (2007) derives from the artist’s obsessive filming of paint marks on the floor of her studio—tracking the trace of its previous occupant, a painter. Two video projections play simultaneously, but with shifting combinations of image sequences. Lloyd’s filming activelyconstructs a way of looking at her subject, one that is further exaggerated by the prominence of the projection and playback technology that occupies the exhibition space. The originally intuitive is processed through a series of levels of documentation and display; Lloyd’s exhaustive, repetitive gaze articulating both a personal relationship with her subject, and the mechanical processes of reconstructing the act of looking through the act of image-making. There is a strange sensation of being simultaneously above and within the image, and a tension to the skewed perspective—between intellectual and phenomenological experience, content and form, surface and depth, forensic attention to detail and art-historical inflection. An economyof production is revealed through tightly choreographed gestures of surveillance, while a psychological dimension creates a clinical but highly charged perspective on image-making.

Hito Steyerl’s video projection Lovely Andrea (2007) focuses on the artist’s search for an image of herself performing as a bondage model in Tokyo in the 1980s. Trawling a network of S&M pornography, Steyerl explores the commodification of her own image and uses visual metaphors of bondage to explore the interconnections of sexuality, power and social and labour relations. Steyerl is seen visiting archives and studios, interviewing ‘rope masters’, photographers and editors. Her narrativeis edited together with extracts ranging from Spiderman cartoons to still images of bound Guantanamo Bay detainees. Linked by emphatic inter-titles and a frenetic post-punk soundtrack, the film has all the dramatic tension of investigative journalism but the aesthetic of Quicktime video edits. Lovely Andrea throws into question the ethics of the document when Steyerl—herself tracked by a film crew—is requested to retake certain ‘documentary’ scenes. Ultimately the artist is on a mission to re-appropriate her own image, but initially she is unable to even recognise herself in the original photographic document—memory is shown to be as mutable as the archive of images circulating on the web.

Mark Leckey operates through a multiplicity of media, exploring the relationship between popular culture and high art, commodity fetishism and the economies of exchange. All these themes are tackled in his live performance Mark Leckey in the Long Tail (2009), the latest in a series of ‘lectures’ given by the artist, and one which will be performed in the ICA theatre. Leckey’s lectures have roamed across television history, taking in the role of the BBC, the cartoon icon Felix the Cat and the ‘long tail’ theory of internet-based economics. Investigating the mythology of the internet, the artistexplores its unregulated flow of images and information, identifying a new economics of distribution manifest in the libidinally-charged ‘prosumer’—part producer, part consumer. The first of these lectures (Cinema-in-the-Round (2006)) detailed how flat images can seem to take on weight and mass—how images existing in virtual space can be almost physically experienced—and Leckey’s latest performance occurs within a theatrical installation that explores the relationship of object to image; as well as that of heavy industry to intangible software; the vertical to the horizontal; sculpture to animation; and the secret life of things to the fantasy life of images.

review by Ossian Ward:
Critics grumbled that the Turner Prize was wilfully opaque last year – too clever by half. The ICA is often accused of losing its way whenever it stages similarly tricky and liminal group shows, of the kind that should be the very lifeblood of the institution. ‘Dispersion’ presents the latest in a long line of hard-to-fathom artistic positions, which shouldn’t be ignored just because they’re hard to categorise. Bluntly speaking all the artists here deal in appropriation, but isn’t (almost) all art appropriation, now that there’s nothing new under the sun? This seems to be the real message: it’s all out there, you just have to know where to look. Let’s say you’re into kinky food sex, someone must cater for that, right? Maria Eichhorn is, appropriately enough for her name, building up a library of erotic film and porn standards, so far including ‘Auto-eroticism’ and ‘Cunnilingus’, which you request from the projectionist standing by. Eichhorn (employing professional actors) had yet to complete her mini-treatise on ‘Food Sex’, so like asking for second choice at the video store, I had to be satisfied with ‘Breast Licking’. Or rather unsatisfied, because we’re just as disassociated with the material as she is. Her ‘Film Lexicon of Sexual Practices’ is simply an archive (it could be of sewing techniques) and therefore not titillating, but informative. What else do we learn in ‘Dispersion’? Henrik Olesen goes on an art-historical trawl for homoeroticism and Seth Price gives the game away (and not just by giving his art away for free, ironically for his name) by cutting and pasting bits of his work with that of others to create a skittish, looping video of short circuits and non-sequiturs that brilliantly captures the YouTubeification of culture. Anne Collier treads on similar ground but her works are lost in the fateful ICA corridor, so it’s left to Hilary Lloyd’s filming of her paint-splattered studio floor, left by a previous occupant, to reveal the confused inner monologue of the artist – perhaps wondering why she doesn’t paint, or why she’s so interested in the image and residue of others? Yes, it’s navel gazing, but only because our interconnectedness means that we’re never more than six degrees of separation from one another or from a pre-existing idea. Whether borrowed or recycled, it’s all the same – yet somehow delightfully different every time.

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