This Letter from London is, for one time only, from Berlin. — B.S.
Aaron Moulton is a curator of contemporary art and, with his wife Mette Ravnkilde Nielsen, founder of the commercial gallery FEINKOST in Berlin. FEINKOST represents nine artists, four of whom took part in the recent show Videodrome, at Autocenter. The gallery’s program pendulates between solo shows and curated group exhibitions. The effort is to recontextualize how the work of the gallery artists can be seen through topics that are current to contemporary life outside the white cube and often politically or socially engaged in their tone.
Videodrome uses director David Cronenberg’s eponymous cult classic as a point of departure in order to examine the relationship between spectator and spectacle, simulated realities, the condition of secondhand experiences in contemporary living, hardcore sex, snuff, virtual selves, cultural mash-ups, historical cut-ups, and human slips. The artists in the exhibition are: Douglas Gordon, AIDS-3D, Spartacus Chetwynd, Oliver Laric, Vuk Ćosić, Omer Fast, John Kleckner, Jorge Peris, David Levine, Daniel Baker, Joep van Liefland, Oliver Payne & Nick Relph, 0100101110101101.org, Cory Arcangel, Seth Price, Ignacio Uriarte, Anetta Mona Chişa & Lucia Tkáčová, Jeremy Shaw, Aleksandra Domanović, Daniel Kingery, Patrick Tuttofuoco, Christian Jankowski, and Arcangelo Sassolino.
Ben Street: How did the idea for the show come about?
Aaron Moulton: I wrote a text about the artist Joep van Liefland’s work about a year ago, which I felt had to be written by looking at his practice through David Cronenberg’s film Videodrome, among other things. Afterwards, I told Joep that this could easily make an exhibition and though Autocenter has a very quick turnaround time of exhibitions — 3 weeks per show — it gave me the Berlin Biennale slot, so I went for it. I organized most of the show in a week, in terms of securing projects — thanks to most of the artists being here in Berlin or otherwise being immediately interested in the idea.
BS: Tell me about the rationale behind the show.
AM: Thanks to our ever-evolving state of interfaces and platforms for mediating our selves to ourselves and others (think Facebook, Twitter, Chatroulette, Second Life, anonymous blogging, etc.), we have the potential for uncountable trajectories, replications, variations and simulations of our identity available. And just maybe those things take on a life of their own at some point. Or maybe our virtual life becomes proportionally more significant than our daily life.
Furthermore, through the cheapening of popular culture thanks to reality television, any one of us can suddenly short-cut the ranks and become a pop star. Reality TV is also somehow, whether we like it or not, a learning device related to understanding comportment or protocol in any number of scenarios that make up the human experience.
The idea is to bring viewers into a place where they might reflect on their own relationship to what they are composed of as a social being, and to hopefully destabilize that a bit. What if the work suddenly placed you under its control and made it clear that you were there for it? What if you were suddenly made conscious of these relationships you have that form some kind of composite sketch of your identity? Though we may be quite hardened to allowing ourselves to “let go,” the exhibition’s apex of sorts manifests itself whereby people have actual fun in a karaoke booth [in a work by Christian Jankowski, The Day We Met], while maybe in the back of their head [feeling] a bit creeped out. It’s all based on whether you decide to step in and play or sit back and play voyeur, and for me both results are successful.
BS: To what extent did the Cronenberg film provide an inspiration?
AM: The point is to use the Cronenberg film itself as an interface to discuss what’s really happening now. I’m interested in the prescient tone the film accomplished by understanding our need for interfaces in contemporary life. The hope is to not do something that is too literal, but rather something that makes the visitor respond to parallel textures happening between the exhibition and the movie so as to rather confuse them.
BS: What do you think is the resonance of Videodrome in contemporary art?
AM: Cronenberg’s film is, to my mind, the most important film of the 80s. It’s simultaneously a time capsule, a crystal ball, and a road map. Anyone who has seen the film and also has an interest in art today will detect a wealth of similarities in the visual language of the film and what happened in art at that time. Most intriguing of which, in terms of bizarre simultaneity, are the practices of both Tony Oursler and Robert Gober. It is hard to know whether Cronenberg references the practices of these two artists or vice versa. In an art world that didn’t have today’s ubiquity of information, they were relatively unknown and emerging artists at the time. Cronenberg, being a visionary, is probably the one who has been appropriated in this case, or otherwise it’s just the magic synchronicity of the moment.
BS: To what extent does Videodrome the exhibition pick up on this “wealth of similarities?”
AM: I am believer in Google-style curating combined with cultural activism. Pablo Helguera points out the strategy of “Google-curating” in his Manual of Contemporary Art Style ["a) open a dictionary and point a finger to any page randomly; b) take the 'selected' word as the topic of the exhibition and search Google using this word along with the phrase ‘contemporary art’”]. And while I think this strategy can end with extremely bad, reductive, overly-simplistic results, there was something similar that was already happening in my own approach to addressing topics from a 360-degree view. A Google search never hits it on the head but gives you 20 trajectories that form a composite sketch. The parallels I point out with artworks relating directly to the film are my own, not the artists’, and are interpretations stretched for dramaturgical effect. Maybe no one else gets those relationships, but nonetheless it manages to create an overall atmosphere that is hopefully disquieting and ambivalent, rather than absolute.
BS: It seemed to me there was a sort of technological nostalgia underpinning some of the works in the show. Were you aware of this? Is this part of what you’re dealing with?
AM: Accelerated outmoding in technology makes nostalgia for something, which was new yesterday, become diluted. You and I spent unquantifiable amounts of time on Atari or NES that it pervaded our psyche, whereas today one doesn’t care much how the Yahoo homepage looked circa 1998. Even looking at my own iPod from three Christmases ago gives an awkward, abject feeling of retro.
Analogue is of course important in symphony with the overall look of the movie, which dates from 1983. There is a definite texture which could be seen as nostalgia, but I would like to see this as a survey of technology and even, due to the random array, a history of the television and media as well as a history of us becoming more and more in control of what images define our own lives — the evolutionary leap from the remote control to user-generated content.
BS: Tell me about the choice of artists.
AM: This exhibition is a litmus test for some of the most interesting artists operating today, but for me it is more an address and an experiment in the contemporary human condition. The call-and-answer between media artists like Vuk Cusic and Cory Arcangel, or Seth Price or Eva & Franco Mattes, demonstrates a generational affinity with the virtual mediums that surround us, i.e. the building blocks of communication in our world. These artists break apart the structures that we normally take for granted and turn the different media on their heads through anthropological concerns or pure subversion. I would say the show, while being a presentation of some of today’s most interesting artists, is more about contemporary life than contemporary art. It identifies a strain of what’s bubbling underneath everyone’s cursor or flatscreen.
BS: You say it’s “more about contemporary life than contemporary art” – can you explain?
AM: This show is about you and me. It is about our communicating right now through the Internet, maybe a webcam, the parallel universes we have, our being the lead in our own film with thousands of friends on Facebook who are our extras — no offense to my 1,198 “friends.” It’s about the teleportational way in which through a spin of the Chatroulette wheel I can be in front of some bored girl in Azerbaijan, the moneyshot of some pervert, or sit smack in the room with a man who has just maybe killed himself. This is the world we live in. It is a world where any one of us can where any number of hats, masks, and interfaces to show who we are or who we want to be seen to be. This is a world of learned posturing and imposturing whereby one can find himself acting like himself rather than simply being himself.
BS: Is there a particular work in the show that you see as emblematic?
AM: The Christian Jankowski karaoke piece (The Day We Met) is a pivotal work for me in this show. On a residency in Korea, he created a generic set of films typical to what one would find in Japanese or Korean karaoke houses (think boy meets girl, hand-in-hand walking by the beach, dancing at a club, etc.) where, using these templates of sociality, he inserted himself in the places of the male protagonist and made some strange but subtle plot twists. These films are so beautifully generic that they fit with any song whatsoever and you see and read them differently each time the music changes.
BS: Why karaoke?
AM: Karaoke is that bizarre hip social ritual where we, too, are caught in the mash-up trying to replicate the music in time with the real song and our un-auto-tuned voice and furthermore trying to look cool while we do it for our peers and the sake of our egos. It is the perfect medicine in the art space where everyone falls into such a reflex of behavior or posturing. To see people lose their minds in this karaoke vortex, which literally spun out of control (there was blood on the walls after our party last Saturday), and then step out and go back to the exhibition trying to recompose was brilliant.