The following text written by Barry Kehoe is reproduced here by kind permission of the Implicate Collaborative
MART Gallery, 190a Rathmines Road Lower, Dublin 6
3 – 20th October 2013
‘Implicated’ was the first exhibition of the Implicate Collaborative, an artists’ collaborative that is principally interested in investigating the boundaries of what is meant by the term privacy and how the public domain through changing relationships with new digital technologies, traditional media and the State intrudes and transgresses the boundaries of personal privacy. On the occasion of their first exhibition the curators and founders of the Implicate Collaborative, Jill French and Emily Bruton invited the following artists to take part in the exhibition: Fiona Chambers, Billy Ward, Lauren Brown, Jennifer Cunningham & Tim Acheson, all of whom explore aspects of the boundaries between privacy and the public domain in their work.
In a world where new media technology and the resulting interconnectivity is changing our relationship with the boundaries of what governs our understanding of private and public, the work of this artists’ collaborative is extremely prescient and topical. When we consider recent revelations on phone tapping and recordings of conversations in Garda Stations and the information being distributed by WikiLeaks, Edward Snowden, we can see that the possible intrusion of other individuals, private media companies or state authorities into our private lives is ever more immediate and probable. The ‘Implicated’ exhibition in the MART Gallery exposed the tenuous relationship between perceptions of privacy and the intrusive complicity of exhibition visitors. To engage with the artworks presented in the exhibition the visitor was invited to transgress these so called boundaries between privacy and the public domain as willing participants, viewers and voyeurs.
In the large front space of the MART gallery, formerly a garage for a fire engine, the London based artist Emily Bruton, presented an oil painting titled: I’m on a Twitter High (2013). The beautifully executed painting is an image derived from a twitter posting made by the country music celebrity Billy Ray Cyrus’ son Braison in hospital receiving treatment for a severe nose bleed that resulted from complications after a tonsillectomy. The peculiarity of this image arises from a consideration of why the Cyrus family thought nothing of tweeting this image. It is a private moment of their son’s treatment and by sharing it with the world they were inviting tens of thousands of people to view an intimate moment in the family’s private life. What attracted Bruton to this event was not just the sharing of the image but the idea behind its immediacy. The photo was shared in the public realm within a short time of being taken, but the photographic image itself, taken under medical spot lights, has the qualities of a baroque painting in the style of a Caravaggio. The visceral nature of the bloodied boy had a strange resemblance to the image of Cecco, Caravaggio’s boy model, and a bloody execution scene of the beheading of John the Baptist that Caravaggio had painted. The similarity between dramatic high Baroque chiaroscuro painting and the hastily snapped image led Bruton to explore this image through the slow and contemplative medium of paint. A process that resists the immediacy of the twitter shared image.
The second work that Emily Bruton included in the show was a piece titled Coverunder (2013). It is a recording she made using a hidden camera exploring the idea of surveillance, stalking and secret filming in public spaces in the mode of artists like Sophie Calle or Vito Acconci. Formally the work was placed in the gallery as a sculptural object. The recorded video footage was playing on a mobile phone placed in a small glass box on the floor. The image on the phone was framed by a black border on the screen and so appeared as a box within a box, within a box. To view the footage the visitor had to crouch down and become implicated in the voyeurism by physically having to make an effort to peer through strata and obstructions to see the video. In the process of following and documenting strangers in the street the artist, inadvertently during her pursuit, began to record her own feet as she secretly followed her targets. By accident the work became a self-reflexive pursuit in the mode of Edgar Allen Poe’s short story The Man of the Crowd. In this story a man sees a character standing apart from the crowd on the busy streets of London and decides to follow him, the literary irony of which is the suggestion that the man and his pursuer are in fact the same person. What is telling here, is that our obsession with others quite often tells us more about ourselves than those with whom we are obsessed.
Jill French had three works in the exhibition. In the main garage gallery space her first piece was titled: The Audio is On (2013). The work was presented as a sculpture and a sound piece. It consists of an under-lit digital audio recorder in playback mode on a low pedestal under perspex. The wall text beside the piece indicated that the recording was of a criminal investigation and implied that the recording was made illegally. Formally it works in the same way as Emily Bruton’s Coverunder (2013) as it also forces the viewer or listener into a complicit position. To engage with the work the listener must lean down to the readymade sculpture, almost pressing their ear against the perspex like an eavesdropper, to obtain any sort of sensible audio from the piece. Even then, the audio is not clear enough to be audible as a sensible stream of dialogue due to the overdubbing of a censorship tone designed to obscure the sensitive information contained on the audio file. Nothing is revealed by this recording except for the curiosity of those who engage with the work, thus revealing their willingness to transgress the law in the pursuit of their own curiosity.
Jill French’s Potential Intrusion I and Potential Intrusion II were to be found in the rear gallery and a smaller upstairs room respectively. Both of these photographic works are derived from a performance where the artist photographed houses through keyholes by either scouting empty houses or on occasion convincing homeowners to allow her to do so. Encountering the result of her investigations in the form of photographic prints in a gallery makes us complicit in some way with her performance that intentionally, intrusively and perhaps unethically transgressed the privacy of others. Strangely however there is very little information to be gleaned from the restricted field of vision through the keyhole leaving it up to the imagination to fill in the incomplete narrative presented by these tiny glimpses of domestic interiors. There is always the danger, however, that when we peer through the keyhole we may see something that may change us forever, and perhaps, not for the better. The difficulty with experiencing these forbidden images is that once we transgress we cannot undo what we have done, once we look we cannot un-look. What we see and experience changes us forever. But what has become even more peculiar in relation to this work is the willingness of participants to be secretly observed, becoming exhibitionist performers for a hidden voyeur. This highlights a phenomenon arising from the current world of social media where some feel the constant necessity to share every minute detail of their lives with the rest of the world.
There is something of this pedantic exposure of personal patterns of behaviour in the work of London based artist Fiona Chambers. Her work Groceries (2013) is part of a larger and ongoing project of personal logging and gathering of statistical information that explores the minutiae of the artist’s life. The work was inspired by the idea of the loyalty card system used by retail outlets to monitor the patterns of consumer purchasing for developing directed marketing strategies and streamlined stock control. Adapting the systems theories of Gregory Batson and Nicholas Luhmann, Chambers’ unusual observation in this logging process is that she has found herself, through the pattern of her grocery consumption, to fit the description of a typical woman of her demographic. It would appear that this form of systemic appraisal, now available through digital information processing, reduces human behaviours to simple coded binary functions. The resulting perception of the artist’s typicality is a product of the contingency by which all unnecessary information is excluded to satisfy the systemic gathering of information regarding her consumption of products. The unique way in which she may cook her vegetables is irrelevant to the system. The system only requires the binary function: she buys vegetables or she doesn’t buy vegetables, and so on.This systems view of a young artist’s patterns of behaviour is quite disturbing.The work was displayed formally as a beautifully printed book and as a projection of graphs and charts in a claustrophobic room upstairs in the gallery. The charts revealed the pattern of her consumption of groceries since April 2013.In reading the book and observing the charts there was a feeling of intruding upon the private information of another individual. However, we might ask, does the information become a screen behind which the actual person that generates this statistical information is hiding or is it a case, of the more frightening prospect, that there is nothing else, no complex human being, only the statistical log? The most terrifying thing presented here is that in accepting this systemic view of the world, as presented by this form of consumer loyalty card logging, it ultimately reduces choice and variation as it streamlines possibilities to satisfy the perfection of the system. The system reduces the human to nothing more than a function, an informatics communication, within an all-pervasive system.
Australian artist Lauren Brown’s piece …and jiggled to the beat in his black and blue tracksuit (2013) developed out of her fascination with the boundaries created between private and public space through the use of headphones and portable media devices that serve to isolate individuals in the private world created by their personal stereo when moving through shared social spaces. The work displayed various types of headphones mounted along a wall in the rear gallery that were accompanied by a touch pad that displayed a twitter feed linked to any post that made reference to the word “headphones.” The installation also included a facsimile of a courtroom drawing by Mike O’Donnell of John Dundon who, during sentencing at his trial for the murder of Shane Geoghegan, listened to music on his headphones for the duration of the proceedings. It was simply through the artist’s observation of twitter feeds and internet traffic regarding the word “headphones” that she became aware of the Dundon trial. This use of headphones is a perfect example of an individual using the technology of isolation to deny the intrusion of the powers of the state during the most extremely public moment of their own criminal trial. The work also highlights the incredible and constant stream of interconnectivity that social media can generate.
Billy Ward’s video work, The Falling Man (2013) is produced from edited CCTV footage that shows an accident where a man fell off of a railway station platform in front of a train just as it arrived at the station. In the video we see the man wobble back and forth balancing on the edge of the platform in a shocking dance of death. As he falls from the platform the train suddenly appears and runs over him. The footage has been heavily manipulated and presents the man’s peculiar motion on the brink of disaster as a comic and tense moment that turns to complete shock and horror as we watch him fall in front of the train. The original footage was taken from an incident that happened in a subway station in Stockholm when a man on his way home from a party fell from the platform and was knocked unconscious. In the original footage another man jumps onto the tracks and robs the unconscious man leaving him to be run over by the oncoming train. Luckily the man survived after having half of his foot amputated. In this case the artist has taken CCTV footage and manipulated it to heighten the tension and absurdity in the narrative. But it also reveals the unreliability of the image as an indexical sign or truth image. As in Emily Bruton’s phone footage and Jill French’s keyhole photographs, these views of reality mediated through a TV monitor, a telephone and keyhole photographs give a very limited perspective of the world. Billy wards framing, editing and manipulation of the video reminds us of the contemporary susceptibility in accepting the media image as truth. The Falling Man (2013) presents an image that like many others in this exhibition reflect Susan Sontag’s observation that “the camera’s rendering of reality must always hide more than it discloses…”
Jennifer Cunningham & Tim Acheson also limited the horizons of perspective through the use of a periscope in their collaborative piece Panopticon (2013) that is comprised of both a video projection and a sculptural element. They constructed a periscope, a device for observing an enemy from a defensive trench without being seen, through which we see a video projection. The video projection showed various views of the abandoned Cold War listening station Teufels¬berg, in Berlin. This was the main centre for the western powers surveil¬lance of the Soviet East, which surrounded West Berlin in all directions, thus making the listening post into a panopticon of sorts. A peculiarity of the panopticon, developed by Jeremy Bentham in the 18th century as a system for observing prison inmates without them knowing whether they are being observed or not, is that it places the observer in a position where they are surrounded on all sides by enmity and danger. As observed by W.G. Sebald in his book Austerlitz, when describing the fort at Breendonk in Belgium, we tend to build our defences where we are weakest in the belief that we are making ourselves stronger. However, in a peculiar act of irony we are inadvertently revealing our weakest points to our enemies. These derelict surveillance towers and radio transmission interceptors from the Cold War remind us that perhaps, like with Sebald’s observation of defensive architecture, the need to know the secrets of others, rather than making one stronger, reveals only weaknesses and insecurity.
The Implicate collaborative, in their desire to expand the audience for the Implicated exhibition that ran from the 3rd to the 20th of October in the MART gallery in Rathmines, organised a parallel discussion on Privacy in the National College of Art and Design (NCAD) that took place on the 11th of October at 6pm. The exhibition though it has closed in Dublin will continue on a later date in a venue in London. It yet remains to be seen, what further private boundaries we will be invited to transgress by this artists’ collaborative as they take their unique exploration of privacy and public curiosity on the road to appear in London sometime in the near future. Certainly with the most recent of revelations of alleged illegal recording of conversations in Garda stations the work of the Implicated Collaborative is resonating with a particular immediacy.
IMAGE: Potential Intrusion I Jill French