Saturday, July 29, 2006

The Readymade in the Age of Google Economics

Victoria Park Gallery
250 Johnston Street Abbotsford Melbourne, July 2006
featuring Be Young & Shut Up Council (Azlan McLennan & Michael Ascroft)

I did not see all of the images in this exhibition. I did not sit down. I did not watch the looped footage stop and begin again and again. I did not stay long. I felt sick. I wanted to go outside. I asked myself – what is the point of presenting these images in an exhibition framed by the history of readymade art?

While the content of The Readymade in the Age of Google Economics is not simply polemic but revolting (McLennan in particular has outshone himself on this front), it was not the material that I took primary issue with. It was the framing of that material. McLennan and Ascroft’s found internet footage (the video of that infamous beheading on one screen, a still image of a figure with its head recently blown off on the next) – has nothing to do with Duchamp or his legacy. But according to the artist’s statement, the sites have been garnered in order to raise questions of context and artistic value, information and accessibility. The text reads: “how does readymade art tackle advances in technology regarding the effortless access to existing information, which may address the particular provocations, strategies and outcomes of certain state and military operations? When analysing current power struggles, does the appropriation of publicly accessible media for artistic purposes - from civilian body count figures, to anti-US guerrilla groups' beheading videos - classify as incitement?” In my opinion, these are simply the wrong questions to ask. Not only are they irresponsible (toward the information in which McLennan and Ascroft are trading and towards the history of the readymade), they do not account for the exhibition’s strategy. To me, the presentation of googled images no more equates to an analysis of “current power struggles” than the installation of a couple of internet terminals “tackles advances in technology”. We are left with the question of incitement: in itself, dull fodder.

Of course, and as these artists are well aware, it is necessary to protect the capacity for the gallery, and specifically the artist’s run space, to act as a ‘safe house’ in order to circumvent censorship and provide a space for disclosing material barred wrongly from the public domain. This is all well and good. But this is not what McLennan and Ascroft are doing at Victoria Park.

Just prior to her death, Susan Sontag wrote that, “To designate a hell is not, of course, to tell us anything about how to extract people from that hell, how to moderate hell’s flames…” There was much potential for this exhibition to avoid such simple “designations” and to frankly address the complexities of its hellish subject. But that would have required more than the presentation of research under the banner of art or even free speech. It would have required first identifying what the actual subject matter was, and then addressing the motivations for its re-presentation. Instead, McLennan and Ascroft have taken the coward’s path, finding refuge in formalism and spurring on (in the name of controversy) those tired debates as to what should and should not be shown in galleries. It’s almost frustrating – the issues are laid out, but the stakes go unnoticed. As the proverb goes: when a wise man points to the moon, only a fool looks at the finger.
Amelia Douglas


Anonymous Nick said...

This exhibition not only fails to state a position on the question of potential readymade use of such images, it goes further and disarms them. For their original potency lies in their widespread accessiblity and prolific, democratic distribution. Neither of these potentials are questioned, and within the padded walls of a contextual space well accustomed to the shocking, the images seem like severed limbs for the morbid voyeur.

To me, the ramifications of importing such images into a gallery lie in their slowing down, their extraction from the flow. As a contemplative, esoteric space the art gallery is the antithesis of the internet’s virtual connective space, and it is this crucial gap that the exhibition fails to bridge. What is interesting is not the overlapping or nesting of fields, but the questioning of how one field can address the problems of another, by and within its own means.

11:46 PM  

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