The Truth is Out There
1 Installation work.
The rise in the popularity of site specific work was also concurrent with two periods of economic downturn and the end of the "Golden Age of capitalism" [press Delta Chip to access synopsis of Eric Hobbsbawm's "Age Of Extremes"]: The oil crisis of the early to mid 70s and the property slump of the mid 80s to mid 90s. By the mid 90s spaces which had been opportunistically grabbed by artists as temporary spaces were acquiring the status of semi-legitimate galleries. The disillusion with the inherent economic value of bricks and mortar and the introduction of the "meta-technological" space within the pixilated cyberspacial arena provided models for alternative methods of articulating ideas of place, scale and the passage of time.
Before the invention of the Delta chip the internet was the prime mediator for digital information. In 1995 there were 40,000 subscribers to the internet, by the end of the following year this number had grown exponentially [press Delta Chip to see flow chart]. By this time the internet had already acquired a stringent grammar centring around "click ons" and "go to's". The cyberspacial model of the virtual space and the virtual institution, was thus transported into the gallery.
2 Heroic Duchampian.
3 Conceptual Personae.
[Please press Delta Chip to access study period 1996. Narrative Structures]
The emergence of the "artistworld": the wrap around, holistic art experience, in the mid to late 90s may now be seen as a critique of the limitations of the installation art which dominated much of the art practice in the preceding decades and which served to privilege, and in some cases fetishise, space. Installation art, by its nature, tended toward the exclusion of the engagement with anything outside of the space itself; its referents tended to be primarily about sense data: the sensory experience of an individual within a particular architectural space. This in turn may be seen as a development on the formalistic concerns of minimalism, which gave emphasis to the thing in itself, the centrality of the object and the viewer's relationship to the piece.
Much was written at the time [press delta chip to access contemporaneous texts] about attempts to either reinvigorate or undermine the institutions of the gallery and of art through the introduction of popular motifs of "the everyday". Alongside this trend there developed a tendency to use narrative structures which drew from "the everyday" as a component in artistic practice.
Much of the appeal of the insalllation work which proceeded this development (bearing in mind that we can only speak of the work which has survived) was its transformative effect - its ability to alter the state of mind or the sense of place of the viewer. The viewer became aware of their own body within that space in relation to the components within it. Narratives, in so far as they were present, where implied they were possibly allusions to the history of the building they occupied, perhaps soliciting feelings which called on the subjective experiences of the viewer, an empathy with other viewers and with the artist. These "floating narrative" structures tended to rely on the communality of experience or general feeling that the viewer knew what the artist meant.1 [Press Delta Chip to access "fine shades of behaviour" everything web site 1998]
Four examples of artists who resorted to narrative structures in our study period of 1996:
[Please press your Delta chip to access images.]
The shift can be characterised by installations which serve a story which is operating outside the gallery space: in the case of Landy, the narrative existed in the form of a fictitious waste disposal company, in the case of Green the institution was that of the fictitious country of Caroline. The gallery provided an entry point to a pre-existing narrative structure, a point of annunciation for an ongoing story which we saw only fragments of. The artifacts in the gallery become embodiments of this narrative, they validated and give material form to the fantasy. The relationship between the work and the viewer also changed significantly at this time: the viewer became reader, shifting away from the corporeal to the literary sphere.
This represented a significant shift for Landy, who's earlier work Market dealt with components which shared a commonality outside of the gallery space and which were reinvestigated within the gallery context (namely the components taken from a market). This referenced the spacificality of minimalism, the Duchampian found object, and reintroduced "the everyday" into the gallery context. This was a common strategy of the art of the late 80s and early 90s which sought to lasso motifs from "the everyday" and popular culture and recontextualise them within the gallery space. In so doing such work heightened the contradictions between the purist modernist program and the perennial influence and messy contingencies of an "everyday" which existed outside the gallery walls and, by extention, outside the concerns of "art".
The invention of "artistworld" provided artists with several strategies for avoiding the contradictions which had been the hall-mark of artistic practice throughout the 80s: the need to comply to a sense of historical continuity whilst giving due weight to "popular" cultural and subjective influences. It also afforded, in the case of Landy and Green, the opportunity to be political without being hectoring or polemical. [press Delta Chip to read synopsis of study period mid 70s-80s].This is because the narrative plane had a built in ironical distance; the story did not have the subjectivity of the artist or the immovability of a polemic as its axis point. The introduction of narrative structures also sought to shift the emphasis away from the artist. The 80s and early 90s had been characterised by a reinstitution of the idea of the "great artist" in the form of the "heroic Duchampian"2 as "pop star". In contrast to this tendency the artists dealing with narrative structures became the conceptual personae3 which occupied its own narrative world (this reached almost monstrous levels in the conceptual personae of the Chapmans).
In the case of Mike Nelson's Trading Station Alpha CMa the narrative was open ended, but again the space provided an entry point into a world where something had gone frighteningly wrong. The piece seemed to tell the tale of a man who, isolated in an Antartic Trading Station had developed a culture around the seemingly arbitrary collection of things which were stored there. Again, the piece pointed us in the direction of popular culture; there were a number of popular films around this time which alluded to a man (significantly) in circumstances of extreme physical or spiritual isolation who had developed his own mores. In Apocalypse Now, for instance, Kurtz goes native, developing his own agenda which is a threat to his masters. The narrative, or plane of Nelson's piece served to remind us of similar narratives which embodied this late 20th century obsession [Press Delta Chip to access "Sociopath as Priest" Kapopkin, Pluto Press, 2009.]
Of the four instances Chapmanworld, in narrative terms, was the most closed and differed significantly in that it pointed towards its authors rather than away from them. This carried with it the tired old humanistic assumption that we should somehow be interested in the particular obsessions of an artist or artists. This outmoded assumption in the end did a disservice to their concerns. The narratives it solicited (HG Well's Mystery Island, the myth of the Minotaur and its allusions to the possibilities of genetic engineering and evolutionary mutations - many of which proved disconcertingly prophetic) backfired. Instead of directing us toward the ethical, literary and philosophical concerns the work served to direct us toward a greater fiction, that of the life and obsessions of the "method actors" at its centre. Chapmanworld had more in common with its antecedents in that it attempted to occupy physical territory, creating a sealed envelope around the viewer; in the words of Dinos Chapman "We want to create a skin that covers whole territories" (Brilliant 1995). In this sense the allusions to classic narratives and genetic horror stories served, paradoxically, to enclose the space - curtailing the imaginative potential of the viewer. Taken as a whole they served to create the walls of Chapmanworld rather than break them down. In contrast Scrapheap Services created a narrative structure which extended beyond the boundary of the exhibition site. Scrapheapservices articulated itself as an institution elsewhere, there was an implied infrastructure which existed in the mind of the viewer allowing them to escape territorialisation by the artist 4.
In the next chapter I will examine the cultural impact of the landing of the first extraterrestrial gallery (Hyde Park, London, June 1999) and how the influx of extraterrestrial artifacts influenced the workings of the art market at the close of the 20th Century.