Blog / Spider Webs 2: Curatorial Spider Webs/ Thomas Morgan Evans
Posted on 21/09/12
Image: The Fable of Arachne (Las Hilanderas), Velázquez c. 1657 (Museo del Prado, Madrid)
The world wide web is a curatorial practice, reframing and re-presenting the world as a series of interchanges of exchange between consumers, mirroring the flow of the production of capital. What is the montage of today? Image streams, Tumblr. There is now, however, no Dadaist logic of shock, the images are entirely equivalent, transitions are totally slick. The metaphor is proper to the medium, the technology allows for a liquid flow, ‘my love is like the ocean’, it has waves. The waves ‘carry’ the images as all mediums do, they carry information from one site to the next, as if from studio to gallery. Waves distribute but they also produce visibility and its context, being carried along is the substance of the message: ‘trending now’. There is then a wake; there is detritus, the left behind, the flotsam. Here is another metaphor: this is web-space-junk: orbits of burnt-out asteroids that once lit up the night sky: this is curating’s negative.
In different venues around Peckham until Sunday is the PAMI festival (Peckham Artist Moving Image). On show at the Dye House in `Speak, Memory!´ curated by N/V_PROJECTS and supported by LUX, Mark Leckey’s fabulous The March of the Big White Barbarians uses this strategy of negative curating to undermine the concrete and reinforced-steel certainties of ideology. Curating, in a kind of slide show, the major public sculptures of the metropolis, literally ‘screening’ the principals of the modernist inhabitation of sculptural space, the figures seem suddenly absurd. The video is the negation of sculpture’s stance and what the works stand for, propping up, as they seem to do literally, major institutions of corporate and corporatized control. We realise that an encounter with these things establishes not just the spatial relations between viewer and object, theorised in art history, but the relations between the political subject and power. We are before the Leviathan, Wall St’s raging bull.
We see another kind of negative curating in Sophie Lee’s film An Introduction to Cavesports.Images satellite earth, this is the space junk I mentioned before: Radox herbal bath gel, Bart Simpson, a rose. They are both products in themselves and images of products, objects. What happened to the object? It is has been lost in outer space; but isn’t this the state of the circulated image also? Isn’t this all an metaphoric extension of a materiality whose name we dare not speak? This is the comparison Steven Claydon sets up in his The Fictional Pixel.: the lost pixel like the loss of absolute matter with the event of the split atomic particle. Where did thingness go? Misplaced by a process of division just like the grid-co-ordinatedpixilation of the digital. So much pressure is being put on the digital nowadays, as if a process akin to geological formation or crystalisation might occur. But perhaps this is a misplaced focus of energy. The material, and materiality, itself a trend in theory at the moment, might be seen as an attempt to make real when what is called for is realisation. Realisation is what Lee has attempted. In her carefully researched exploration of the story of the Lascaux caves we are drawn into a counter investment, against the homogenising logic of capital. The contingencies of the historical event fill us with a wonder that out fetishize the fetish, to quote Benjamin.
This is also where the story in Sophie Von Cundale’sThe Garden at Son Gallery begins. A future human digs up a strange artefact, a mystical, unbelievable reality, a snow dome. It is precisely the oddness, the slipperiness of historical objectivity, of, essentially, narrative twist that helps us re-engage with the real.
Story telling, ‘spinning a good yarn’, brings us back to spider webs and weaving. Let us consider our own historical treasure. Diego Velazquez’s 17th Century The Weaverscould be said to anticipate the themes of the above, if not the emergence of the digital – once itself a historical turn-up-for-the-books, a contingency, a speck of surf on time’s ocean. In Velazquez’s painting a curtain is drawn onto a scene of weaving. This is a remarkable disclosure for court art at the time which depended on hiding the labour involved in the ‘work of art’ to maintain an idea of the genius’s ‘magic touch’, in turn intended to reflect the divinity of the king and his relation to ‘the creator’. Titian historically embodied this cult and Velazquez was at pains to emulate the earlier artist. One of Titian’s works is seen in the background of the painting in fact, but Velazquez has transfigured it into tapestry. Thus, what is implied is an unmasking of the material: the women weaving disclose a dirty secret – social reality.
Velazquez was the king’s curator sent on buying missions to Italy until his old age; what he brought home intended to support an image of the king as a wise patron of the best taste and an almighty ruler. He wasn’t though, the Hapsburg Empire was crumbling around him and he knew it. Velazquez’s painting shows this in some veiled way: in the shifting of modes of address, the implicit timeline which we can read through the picture, as the mythical scene in the background fades into the distance. In the foreground a new concern for both the material and the material conditions of production are visible. Here we see capitalism emerge before our eyes. Perhaps we, in our time, know something too, in the back-grounds of our minds. We are now in end days of an even greater empire than the Spanish king’s and the work of art has once again become about the proliferation of sourced images through consumption, the web is a web of lies. In this way we must resist artist-curators, unless, like Leckey and Lee (and Velazquez), they curate only to disrupt and undermine both the object and the pathways in which we encounter them. Today’s artist, a ‘prosumer’, has a magic touch that supports a tradition as equally mythic as those of Ovid in the Baroque. Today the magic touch is that of the swipe of the artist’s Barclay card, on loan from his or her benefactors. Credit where credit is due.
Reframing the consumer object does not indicate a condition of criticality, we are still in the king’s court. The commodity’s, and therefore, capitalism’s hold on us is that it sets a levelat which we encounter it, not an angle. The encounter with the commodity askance, or from an alternative perspective, does not offer the spectator any route of escape. What is needed is transcendence, a dismissal of worth, a refusal to encounter the commodity at the level of value it sets. The wearer of the ironic t-shirt who, in ignorance at its message, wears the t-shirt non-ironically but simply because it is a t-shirt, because it covers his or her body, makes a revolutionary gesture, not one that marks him or her out as a fool or a sad product of commercialisation.
Pauline Beaudemont’s work ‘if you put a roof on…’ is another highlight of PAMI. Her work is all modular: architectural in its construction, building blocks composed of interlocking media: dance, sculpture, music, film, architecture. With a Bolex, Beaudemont shot fixed shots, whole unedited rolls of film of a dance hall queen performing single moves, of which there are seven featured. The performance takes place in the interior of Le Corbusier’s first house, which he built for his parents. Each shot is an architectural view, representing not just the house as a phenomenological object but as a schema; it was built as a series of viewpoints like these in mind, ‘set pieces’. The films are transferred to digital and played on separate cuboidal monitors arranged on pre-fab concrete forms such as one can buy from building merchants and often feature in car parks. There is a soundtrack of bass, heard as if from the house next door, a simple muffled ‘boom-boom, boom-boom’ itself a kind of series of units. The sound echoes in the space, it seems to animate a consistency throughout all the levels of the work, as if each part was being bumped up against, it is terribly effective.
I look forward to Sunday’s Drive-in event, also at PAMI. It will be held on the roof of the Peckham car park which has become an epicentre for a significant amount of art-activity in that area. The Peckham multi-story car park is a monument to Thatcher’s dole-days, to greedy and neglectful town planning: the car park could be used as art park because there were no cars, no visitors. This kind of event aids ‘development’, development brings increased use of private transportation
We shall watch a program of films from specially brought in cars then. Cars, the great status symbol, private glass worlds, panoptic bubbles, machines of heroic individualism, for seeing and being seen. Art machines in more ways than one.
The works mentioned above alone make PAMI worth the visit. Perhaps also visit the website at www.pami.org.uk to find out more.
Thomas Morgan Evans
Dr Thomas Morgan Evans is the LUX writer in residence for September 2012. He completed his PhD under the supervision of Professor BrionyFer at the University College London where he is now a Henry Moore Institute Post-Doctoral Research Fellow, working on a book project on Andy Warhol and contemporary sculpture. Besides this he has previously been writer in residence at the LUX/ICA Biennial of Moving Images 2012 and is pursuing a number of writing projects ranging from fiction to art history and theory and philosophy. He is a keen cyclist and lives in London.
The March of the Big White Barbarians, Mark Leckey (2005) (commissioned by LUX and SPACEX)