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on the potential dissolution that will cause ‘the very interior of my being to give way, and collapse into a pleasing nothingness, only to dilate itself and to swell up, and then come tumbling down’. ‘Dissolution! Dissolution at top speed!’
Of course, such dissolution has been heralded, positively and negatively, incessantly over history. The very idea of the internet – and before that, television, the telephone, the printing press etc – contains such fears and fantasies within it. In the past – in the work of 1990s cyberfeminists, for example – this has been something ‘to come’. Over the past few years, however, a skewed sense of pace has developed: did we miss it actually happening? A roundtable discussion on the subject of pop in a recent issue of Kaleidoscope magazine saw artist John Miller suggest that ‘we’re witnessing the unprecedented destruction of public space through digital media. Even passing moments that used to be idle time or, oddly enough, public time, are being instrumentalised and capitalised.’ In the same issue Boris Groys makes a related claim: that mass culture, too, is dissolved and fragmented into special-interest groups, and that ‘these communities do not build any masses, and attitudes and images that capture or create masses do not exist anymore’.
Several artists have made work in recent years that allows us to look at a moment of dissolution in a historicised fashion, as a moment now past that will be constantly referred to, and I would argue that this has, in fact, brought about a new set of sculptural concerns that explore the relationships between the performance or labour of the body and the world of objects. Leckey continually presents himself as an artist at the point of breaking into digital smithereens: his recent performances of GreenScreenRefrigeratorAction, 2011, see him ventriloquising the ‘voice’ of a black, totemic Samsung refrigerator in front of a green screen wearing a chroma-green blanket over his head so that, like a bright ghost, he is invisible when viewed through a camera (a film of the performance is later installed in the space). One of the notable elements of Leckey’s work, however, is that the artist has to physically present himself over and over again in order to disappear. There has to be the ‘now you see me’, before the ‘now you don’t’.
The New York artist Seth Price shares some of Leckey’s concerns. He has published a book entitled How to Disappear in America, 2008, which features tips, culled from the internet (where else?), on how to go ‘off grid’ or evade authorities or pursuers. In doing so Price pitches the idea of physical and
Dissolution has been heralded, positively and negatively, incessantly over history. Over the past few years, however, a skewed sense of pace has developed: did we miss it actually happening?
digital disappearance together: one leaves constant traces on both. The small cover image for this publication is taken from one of Price’s ‘golden key’ paintings, which look like a flailing, dancing figure in a moment of ecstasy. It is, in fact, a silhouette of an outdated GIF image, taken from the internet, of one person’s hand dropping a key into another person’s hand. The clunky, heavily pixelated
GIF is a type of image that has already become broken, virtually unusable by today’s standards. Usually Price physically paints these found, manipulated digital images onto diamonds of gold Dibond, a factory-made, patented metal material that is used primarily for mounting photographs. In doing so he draws together the handcrafted painting, the digitally crafted GIF and the factory-made material into one image that somehow simultaneously speaks of desire, consumerism, exchange and freedom. Luxury car or house keys might drop into hands, doors might open, links might be shared. This image, however, has to be dragged physically into a gallery in order to speak about consumption and labour in such a way.
This sculptural approach to internet-found material can also be seen in the work of a younger generation of artists which deals with the physical
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OCT 11 | ART MONTHLY | 350 material of the technologically ‘just past’. In her piece All the Single Ladies, 2010, the British sculptor Helen Marten, for example, corrals together mobile phones of the type popular in this country in around 2002 – small Nokia handsets, typically – and sets them in pink Corian (another patented material, this one used for ships and kitchens) along with carvings embossed into the surface that would appear to be fragments of Betty Boop’s face. David Jablonowsky’s sculptures often employ laptops and scanners from a similar era. In one work a hunk of plaster is lumped onto a scanner as though unsubtly trying – and failing – to digitise itself. Elsewhere, however, the artist employs letterpresses, displaying them with freshly produced documents that announce the invention of email. This is almost an inverse of the ‘dematerialisation of the art object’ that Lucy Lippard discusses in Six Years, 1973. While Lippard makes the case that artists in the 1960s such as Hans Haacke, Robert Barry or Lawrence Weiner were employing ‘dematerialisation’ to subvert the commercialism of the gallery system, this is a generation of artists pretty confident that nothing can escape the chilly grasp of the market, as Lippard herself later acknowledged. For these sculptors the moment of change – the slight flight from the physical – has already happened, but it is as though they are searching for and pointing to something that we missed happening. For them it is a very recent world of objects that must be put into play with decidedly sculptural material, so that it can be experienced, repeatedly, by the viewer, as a world that we just lost, only a moment ago. One hears the faint cry of brakes being gently applied, as artists scan the recent past for technological trash and encourage us to run our hands over the past ten years as though they were luxury goods or objects of desire.
The fragmented body, under the pressures and desires of digital culture, is also being explored by number of artists, including Ben Rivers, Lucy Skaer and Emily Wardill, who are working in the sculptural space permitted by 16mm film. Rivers’s film Sack Barrow, 2011, for example, filmed on 16mm and recently shown at the Hayward Project Space, depicted the last days of a small, family-run electroplating factory – established in 1931 to provide employment for limbless and disabled ex-servicemen – in the days before it went into liquidation and was closed down. Again, here, a disappearing of the fragmented body haunts the films. Rivers’s camera captures the smiling, naked girls from pin-up magazines who look on, themselves rather antiquated, as the workers finish their business and end an era. As the workers are pictured in their tea-break room through a green glass window, a voice reads a passage from Herbert Read’s The Green Child, 1934, published around the time that the factory opened, which describes an underwater grotto. The factory workers, in their tanklike teabreak room, appear submerged, out of time. At the end of the film there is a heartbreakingly comic moment when, as though in a conjuror’s trick, the 1930s hit Smoke Gets in Your Eyes plays on the radio and a man working over a smoky barrel disappears in a puff of smoke. ‘All that is solid … ’, indeed.
The moment at which the workers in Sack Barrow clock in with their punch cards speaks powerfully of the dying nature of the exclusively hands-on, analogue economy of the electroplating factory and, curiously, hole-punching becomes a way for Lucy Skaer to explore related territory, albeit in a more enigmatic fashion, in her work Rachel, Peter, Caitlin, John, 2010, an installation of three 16mm films and a set of sculptures. Each film finely details a subject (the Gutenberg Bible, a Rothko painting, a beautiful grey cat) and has then been punched through with bus-conductor stamps – hole punches in a
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Emily Wardill The Pips 2011 film still
David Jablonowski Multiple, 1.33:1 2010
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