All Systems… Go!
That the included works become the subjects of alliance and comparison is core to the concept of the ‘ALL SYSTEMS…go’ exhibition: to survey the materials and ideas that surround the nature of viewership, its systems of selection, production, presentation and consumption. Fittingly, a self-analyzing gesture is at the heart of this unfolding of infrastructure. Cooper Gallery curator Sophia Hao refers back to questions posed by curator Gao Shiming in his manifesto for the 2010 Shanghai Biennial, which is also the subject of Gillick & Vidokle’s ‘A Guiding Light’ with its bringing together of a selection of artists, writers and curators into a TV studio to discuss the manifesto’s contents. In Gillick and Vidokle’s work Shiming proposes “how do artists achieve a destiny of formlessness and how do artists operate within current modes of capitalism?” – and the assembled cast and crew respond.
Hao updates the unfolding questions of discipline and control,resources and negotiation, like a rocket in propulsion shedding its fuel tanks – hence the exhibition’s affirmative title. It discusses art systems as a social activity with, as Gillick & Vidokle represent in their video and voiced again in the performance, its ‘phantom public’, as sites of complex production and role play. While through the alignment of the three videos she addresses an exhibition’s function and critique and the relationships between its characters. Chief among these is the relationship between artist and curator, and performer and audience. At key stages, meanwhile, the institution (its histories and how and why its networks form) is described as ‘a pretence’ and ‘a narcissist’ and the art object as ‘mystical’ and a ‘witch’. Hao brings these works together to demonstrate the art system is bound together by acts of intense choreography.
In the exhibition’s contextual materials and publications Liam Gillick is referred to less as an artist and more as a material subject to be interpreted – at once a school, an engine, an architect, even a library. In a furthering of this treatment of artist as object, he is on display at the opening night’s private view as a character played by actor Billy Mack, whose voice brings Gillick’s writing to physical fruition. As Mack recites the text – The Incomplete Curator – Miranda Pennell’s video showing a military tattoo plays out. It is a highly-charged masculine work showing sequences of commands, conflict gestures, saluting and marching performed in an empty field. Mack reads: “Speech is a code and is a classification,” while Pennell’s film sees the soldiers in uniform and coordinated action. He continues: “the [incomplete] curator is an agent of exclusion, is an agent of compromise, on the verge of cognitive collapse, acknowledging the disappointment of art.” Gillick’s text unfolds as an accusation at the fault lines of the curatorial act. It cites and recruits into its discourse Jacques Derrida, Judith Butler, Julia Kristeva, Michel Foucault, Chantal Mouffe, Theodor Adorno and Martha Rosler among others. The third screen comes to life showing Dominic Watson’s performance-to-camera mimicking Mick Jagger beside Henry Moore’s ‘Standing Figure’ (1950) at Glenkiln Sculpture Park.
The self-centred tendencies of the institution discussed in Gillick’s writing reminds us of how the narcissist attempts to shape the world to mirror its mind and create within a state of cognitive dissonance. A persistent slippage between belief and reality. Hao’s exhibition is sited at that division. It is a tableaux entwining live performance, video cameras and on-screen conversations and actions, making the exhibition and its experience more a kinetic thought machine than a static physical entity.
‘ALL SYSTEMS…go’ journeys through ideas of the individual as an agent of free will, in conflict, apart or in harmony with the group or collective. It moves onto notions of a shared consciousness, the stimulation of ideas and knowledge and its transmission and command. There is a split between physical actions and mental ones. It brings to the fore considerations of the audience and the public, set against the institution’s inner operations, operations represented here as a derelict militarized landscape, neutral TV studio, isolated sculpture park, or a camera that has no eye behind it.