No Confidence: SUCCESS
SUCCESS 1 is over, and now seems like an appropriate (though slightly too late) time to take stock of what was, and look forward to what will come. To all intents and purposes, the first instalment of the new space in Fremantle, under MANY’s showroom, lived up to its name. There were no less than four shows put on in its vast interior, and these few words can only hope to glance over the surface of what was an enormous undertaking. While the other shows on in the space deserve another essay each, this article will concern itself with the headline show. There is a great deal of difficulty in writing about SUCCESS as everything, in each of the four shows, is conceptually considered and materially interesting. There is difficulty not in finding something to talk about, but in deciding how best to approach something so large, and choosing what to omit – a testament to the curatorial and artistic decisions in each work and their assemblage into a whole.
The main space, with the PIAF show, No confidence, consisted of six video installations all dealing with political disillusionment and growing discontent in representative democracy. The nature of politics in art is a fascinating issue to address, and yet it is often a difficult one for art to succeed at. The realm of art, as Rancière reminds us, is always separated by an ‘aesthetic cut’. This, unfortunately, can often lead to a certain meekness among artists, now that what many people see as the great civil rights movements of the sixties don’t seem to be reappearing any time soon. The possibility of direct representation of social injustice to effect change has lost its power to produce widespread popular effect. This is also helped by the appearance of laws that restrict political gatherings – and thereby voids the development of politics itself. The dire momentum of America, perhaps best exemplified by the rise of Trump, has not got much by the way of resistance. So what does No Confidence offer us?
The first thing I would note is that all the work is quite passive. Either static or slow moving cameras dominate, and there is little by the way of political agitation – the most active is Jennifer Moon’s ironic mock-up of a TED talk (Jennifer Moon on revolutionizing revolution), which ends with a shot of an empty theatre anyway – and seems to suggest (only half-ironically) that the only revolution possible is to retreat thoroughly inside yourself in some neo-liberal nightmare, and just put up with whatever fascistic regime is around you by retreating into yourself. Though ironic, few answers, or even responses, are to be seen here – though the work is a powerful and sometimes funny take down of that bizarre, bite-sized TED talk narrative of social and political and technological progress.
The best description I could offer of the mood in the space is something nearing ennui. This is perhaps exemplified by the hundreds of little panels that make up Felix Kalmenson’s A year in revenua: from sunrise to sunset: a television installation repeating the clapping, sparkling beginning of every new day on the New York stock exchange. The endless roll of businesses and characters, films and firms, each of them selling themselves, and clapping, clapping, endlessly celebrating. It is not as overwhelming visually and aurally as it could be, but it is still extremely effective when looked at in any sort of proximity – the thousands of faces beaming and recorded (among which is the keenly spotted face of Tony Abbot, declaring Australia ‘open for business’). This work, though, seems only to be a depiction of a circumstance, even if it is extremely effective at it. It does not present anything that goes beyond this. It stops short of suggesting what it means that we do this, and barely seems to deal with the act, outside of presenting that it happens a lot.
As a counterpoint is Julika Rudelius’ Rites of passage, a two-screen video of politicians grooming younger politicians, and actors repeating the same lines, pretending to be politicians. Here, there is an interplay of what is real and false – in a manner that may have very real consequences for us. It reads a bit like House of Cards when seen, only done much more convincingly and with a much better sense of its connection to what is. While we can pass House of Card’s Machiavellian deviance off as drama, it is less easy to pretend that these faces and figures are separate from the world of politics. The hyperbole that undermines House of Cards is absent here and there is, rather than clear antagonism, an insidious and pervasive uncertainty, a fluidity of language and action that confirms the fear that we might experience when politicians such as Malcolm Turnbull suggest we must care more for each other – when what he presumably means is for large companies to pay less tax and only opt in for how much they would like to donate to charity, depending how much they care. This sort of subversion is the space that this work deals with in a careful and critical way – not overtly questioning the words of the politicians, simply putting them in the mouths of people who are pretending, and letting our own inability to distinguish the copy undermine the statements of each. It presents back to us, and builds on, our own uncertainty in the duplicity of politics.
While many of the other works deserve a mention, and some unpacking, it is also worth, at this time, mentioning the installation strategy of SUCCESS, which seems to be ‘make the video as big as possible, so it touches the edges of the space’ while it is worth it to showcase the extraordinary space that is now there, the choices that seem more considered – the television with Yuri Patterson’s 1014, and the installation of Felix Kalmenson’s A year in Revenue: from sunrise to sunset stand out a great deal, and are more engaging in this most impressive of spaces. Although perfect for video art, the possibilities of the space have yet to be used to their full extent – and I look forward to what the next few instalments will bring.
To return to the issue of the remaining video works, namely the Institue of New Feeling’s Pressure systems, Stefanos Tsicopoulos’ Geometry of Fear, and Yuri Patterson’s 1014, I would like to probe the relationships of these artworks to the political events they appeal to. The video of Snowden’s hotel room in the Mira Hotel in Hong Kong is frightening, but opaque until contextualised. The video of the Greek parliament standing empty is similar, but seems more purposeless as a video, and does not imbue the space with any of the terror that Patterson’s video of Snowden’s room seems to accrue by virtue of careful visual construction. A lot of its power relies on two text slides at the beginning of the video, that describe what we are seeing, and forms the poetics and politics of the video. Though not a bad strategy, and the artwork is an impressive conceptual exercise in making visible the invisible and absent, it begs some consideration of what exactly the relationship of the empty Greek parliament to this video work is, other than an illustration of a moment – or perhaps an ‘anti-moment’ in history. The institute of new feeling’s seductive visuals and voice-overs are a good addition to the show, but the ‘istockvideo’ footage watermark gives a certain amateurish air to it. The issues at stake: the hollowness of stock footage and of the political commentary on particular legal and political issues, and the seduction of news and media is all interesting, and present, but does not appear to be capitalised on in a visual manner – the audio for this work giving it a potency that the visuals do not seem to reciprocate.
However, the show as an entirety, and every work within it, firmly places itself at the top of my list of visual art shows for PIAF. The opening of SUCCESS has been wonderful, but I look forward to the capabilities that the team there will now have to bring forward more incredible art. I can only hope that people see the quality and power of this installation, and the three others that accompany it, and consider the potential for a space like this to exist and remain in this city. However, if I am to offer one final critique, it is as a friend said to me: that the major problem with the show is that although it fulfils its brief, and makes an impressive show, it only fulfils its promise – it is conceptually rigorous and appropriate and ambitious in scale, but it goes no further. Though No confidence is nigh on impossible to critique, as it is so well thought through and executed, it (overall, as there are exceptions in the artwork – and if I might point idiosyncratically to another gallery, in Fernando Sanchez Castello’s A rich cat dies of a heart attack in Chicago) lacks the excitement of something truly engaged in this very abstract of topics. At points, it feels as if political uncertainty was chosen, as war has been chosen before in Theatres, as being a topic that is socially and politically important, and will therefore make the artwork important to show.