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Tate Britain, London
3 February - 26 April 2009
Reviewed by: Thomas Darby »
Tate Britain, fourth Triennial, titled 'Altermodern'. 'Altermodern'? No dictionary definition. The word did not exist before. A show so new, so contemporary, so cutting edge that a new word had to be invented and defined by the curator and art critic Nicolas Bourriaud. This shudders of pretense already.
Now Bourriaud's 'Relational Aesthetics' is on my reading list, so I do not pretend to know fully his approach. But if it's anything like an updated Fredric Jameson's 'Postmodernism or the cultural logic of late capitalism' I know I'm in for a real page turner. Can't wait. Real bedtime stuff.
The exhibition according to the accompanying manifesto attempts to "...present a collective discussion around this premise that postmodernism is coming to an end, and we are experiencing the emergence of a global altermodernity." (1) I see the emergence of a global identity certainly, but is it cultural? Can it be defined as such? Anyway, I present these overviews of the show before I concentrate on on particular piece, Lindsay Seer's 'Extramission 6 (Black Maria)', to put that work into context. As part of the show it inevitably is placed within certain boundaries of response and correlation or opposition with other works. Ooh, I think I've just had my first insight into what aesthetically relating might be, how very exciting.
Also the theme required for the marking scheme of this essay is to be specific on how the work is presented. To me, this includes not only the attention to detail of the physical dimensions and but also the surrounding theoretical and intellectual framework within which the work is presented. And at the Tate Britain during 'Altermodern' I felt ill equipped to deal with the philosophical and political weight that had been attached, even self imposed to the content. So I withdraw from that side altogether and go back to the tangible, the physical that I experienced.
There was one very minor but specific detail that marred my entire enjoyment and interest in Lindsay Seer's 'Extamission 6 (Black Maria). Like a piece of food at the side of someones mouth that you cannot ignore. It gets bigger and bigger until you can't think of anything else. It dwarfs all extraneous circumstances such as their face, their eyes, or even what they are talking about. Its an itch you need to scratch.
In ' Extramission 6 (Black Maria) we are presented with a video projection seemingly autobiographically about the artist in which her photographic memory leads her to become too consumed with the visual world and withdraws from family and society. Shot and edited in grainy depressing tones, it has all the trappings of a film about strange events concerning demonic possession or witchcraft. Compelling in its own way as a child enjoys a scary tale at night before sleep. the projection was within a reconstruction of the inventor Thomas Edison's famous 'Black Maria', purportedly the worlds first movie studio, which we see the artist building in the projection.
The building itself, nothing more than a ramshackle shed made from corrugated steel and wood and painted black, does have the imposing virtue of a haunted place from the outside. An anomaly in the gallery amongst broken glass boxes and floor tremors either side it screams of solitude and insecurities as an object. So far so good. It was not the buildings construction I had an unnatural encounter with, but something on the inside. On the projection. On the screen. At the top left hand corner. At first part of the video, but never moving, never changing, ever present. The damned unflinching northwest facing arrow from a computer mouse. Someone the Tate Britain had the gall to employ had not moved the cursor far enough to be hidden from the audiences prying eyes. The critics meticulous gaze.
Like the incessant beating of Edgar Allen Poe's hidden heart, it remained. Static. and loud. Mocking me in its refusal to move. Floating limitlessly above every carefully planned and crafted visual metaphor of the projection. Detracting endlessly from the artist's original intentions. King of all it surveyed. It's white outline around the arrow like a fascist halo dividing and demanding my attention from the images onscreen until it grew so large in my mind's eye as to engulf the entire screen in its black hollow void of a centre. In that dark hole it spoke only of laziness. Spoke only of fault. Only of apathy. Of disregard. Negligence.
It could have been so different. Would it have not been there on another day? Would I have been free to enjoy and dissect the video without a constant tarnish on the work? Perusal of other reviews of the work suggest possibly. The Guardian's Adrian Searle sees it as:
"...one of the real finds of the exhibition....the story is implausible, troubling and beautifully told by different narrators." (2)
One narrator for me. The cursed black cursor.
"...a sad little autobiographical memoir of a life overwhelmed by sensory elements." (3)
Like the devil's cursor on the top left of the screen?
"...the work is a wonderful moment of poetical self-investigation." (5)
Ruined by an arrow pointing to nowhere.
Is this the new world that Bourriaud speaks of? Is this the new globalisation and increased communication distilled in a mysterious place between spaces? Where even the technicians of exhibitions get a valid voice now by naively sabotaging artworks?
(1) - Bourriaud, Nicolas. Tate Britain Online. Altermodern Manifesto. [online]
Available at: http://tate.org.uk/britain/exhibitions/altermodern... [Accessed 11th April 2009]
(2) - Searle, Adrian. Guardian Online. 2009 Altermodern review: 'The richest and most generous Tate Triennial yet. [online]
Available at: http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2009/feb/02... [Accessed 11th April 2009]
(3) - Miller, Ben. Culture 24. Bourriaud's Altermodern marks expansive Tate Triennial. [online]
Available at: http://www.culture24.org.uk/art/art66245 [Accessed 11th April 2009]
(4) - Whitby, Richard. Artvehicle. Tate Triennial: Altermodern. [online]
Available at: http://www.artvehicle.com/events/260 [Accessed 11th April 2009]
(5) - Milliard, Coline. Artnet. A Trans-National Triennial? [online]
Available at: http://www.artnet.com/magazineus/reviews/milliard/... [Accessed on 11th April 2009]
Artist living and working in Nottingham. http://www.thomasdarby.co.uk/
Tate Britain »
Millbank, London SW1P 4RG
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