Text from artist's book: A_Selection_Of_66_From_JHG : Unconsumable Global Luxury Dispersion It introduces the terms unconsumable, global, luxury and dispersion, in relation to my artist's practice and my upcoming exhibition at the Hansard Gallery. See book details >
Let’s say that the title and meta-data are the unconsumable part of an artwork. Once written down they can persist in texts, archives and databases independently from what we usually consider to be the artwork. Titles and the meta-data are used to refer to the ‘actual’ instance of art, which is made, exhibited, sold, moved, transported, restored, etc. The instance of art is, in this thought experiment, the consumable part of the artwork. The consumers are then the exhibition visitors, curators, critics or anyone who uses or experiences the artwork.
What if we turn that picture upside down and transform the unconsumable into the consumable element of the artwork? For instance by designating the artwork title as the artwork and by creating a physical artwork only with the aim to be able to show the artwork title. Another example is to use artwork titles as a material and create work based on this textual material. In both cases there is still an art object and a title, but only those who have read this text or other similar statement, will know about the switch I made and will be able to engage with this thought experiment.
I know, the word ‘consumable’ is normally used in the sense of an everyday thing that is used up, like paper. Art is generally seen as the opposite, as something that is not used up but endures. Still, I like to use this term because it links the art object with consumerism and commodities. From my perspective, if we deconstruct an artwork into all its elements, the part that is exhibited, viewed, sold or consumed as the art object is the consumable part of art. In addition it is on this part that the artist automatically has copyrights. As I try to write this down, I realise this text might pose more questions that answers, but then it is an experiment.
Something that is made public, in a gallery or online, has the potential to reach everybody. You can be anywhere in this world and show someone an image, a sound, or a text on your phone for instance, while at the same time the instance of art is exhibited in a particular gallery. From a viewers point of view they might find the work through an online global search engine. The potential of an artwork to have a global reach is not often achieved because the instance of art becomes one in an ocean of stuff swirling around the world. We get bombarded with it and to survive we have to filter and select. One way of filtering is to use only preselected media, a particular website, newspaper or social media for instance, which presents to us only the filtered stuff. The downside of this strategy is that we stay within our comfort zone and our world view is rarely challenged. A gallery also presents to us a preselection, but at least there is more chance to be challenged by what is on show.
To circumvent mediation somewhat I employ a tactic of hybridisation through symbiotic means. For instance, the font I created for this work, Being Human, is free for anyone to use. But by using it you create a hybrid between my work, my words within the glyphs of the font, and the text the font is used for. It is a tiny work, which often remains invisible because the words within the glyphs become only visible to the human eye when they are used in large font sizes. A tiny work that is capable to slip through the net of filtering and become distributed through other people’s texts.
The luxury of a piece of art is not only in the material object, but more importantly in the success of standing out from the ocean of media so that art and public connect. This engagement can take many forms. From mass media and full public exposure to a one-to-one, more private, encounter. Whichever form it takes, engagement is an inherent part of the artwork’s function, but what kind of function should be undefined. The instances of art that do stand out are in the luxury position of being highlighted or promoted in the public domain. This art is in the spotlight but at the same time it should be understood that there is far more art that is not in the spotlight or it might be temporarily unavailable, for whatever reason. The art that is not in the luxury position is the ‘dark matter’ of art (after Sholette) and it is this upon which the whole artworld rests.
The question which art is in the luxury position is in essence a question of how the artworld operates. What is or becomes possible to be experienced as art (or becomes sensible, after Rancière) is first and foremost down to political and commercial forces. Just the fact that a certain private or public art gallery (such as the John Hansard Gallery) is built at all is a luxury. That its doors are open and we can walk in for free (or that the internet is still relative open) is a luxury. That you have the time to view an exhibition is another luxury. The fact that this artwork is created at all is yet another luxury and all these luxuries together make the artwork a very precarious thing indeed.
What is an artist to do? In my case I propose a dispersal practice. A way of art making that not only takes care of creating things, but also takes care of how these things are distributed. The instances of art are distributed by the artist on its own terms. Or to put it in another way, the distribution is an integral part of the artwork and it often influences how the work becomes or grows. In this case my project UGLD becomes materialised through its interaction with the exhibition history of the John Hansard Gallery. Because each gallery is different it is a very specific exhibition history of contemporary art. The exhibition history we investigated shows what, where and when, art has been made visible to the gallery’s visitors, in this particular place from its first exhibition to the moment it moved to the new venue. It is a particular contemporariness that becomes visualised and transformed in my work.
In collaboration with the John Hansard Gallery I retrieved and collated data from all exhibitions held at the John Hansard Gallery, located at Highfield Southampton UK and created a relational database that can be explored in the gallery. To mark this moment in time I have solidified the digital database in a two-volume printed work. See the publications John Hansard Exhibition Archive 2016-2000 and 1999-1980.
Besides creating a database with the basic details of artwork titles, artists names and exhibition details, I also set out to re-imagine the art following my thought experiment I described in the first part of this text. In this project I convert titles into art objects and create a simulation of all the artworks shown in the same sequence as they were shown historically. My work simulates a virtual gallery visitor who, in a sort of blinkered robotic way, goes to all the artworks ever shown at the gallery and reads the artwork titles. The virtual visitor takes one day to see and read all 5000+ artworks, and repeats this every day…
The basic data of the exhibition history is also dispersed online to make it a resource for other artists and researchers. Who knows what will appear as this material becomes connected with other databases. I can only speculate as others start to aggregate their material. Dispersion and aggregation are in the end two sides of the same coin.
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