Pre Owned: Looks Good Man is a group exhibition inspired by temporary networks of association and meaning that are produced when culturally aware web surfers visit disparate websites, or drift through the internet. It seeks to use the characteristics of this browsing, specifically drawing on recurrent themes of search that seem to direct such activity, as a curatorial model informing the selection criteria for artworks on display.
To unravel and personalise the paragraph above, this exhibition has essentially evolved out of my own online research activity as a writer and curator, specifically what happens when that directed research goes awry. I wanted to focus on the process of losing oneself through browsing, for better or for worse, down a rabbit hole of nodal hyperlinks.
The most common themes that contained images and information absorbing enough to spark a deep hyperlink trawl, for me, fell under two categories: archival histories and questionable realities - i.e. information and images about which the truth is in doubt. So, with the idea of creating an exhibition featuring pieces that were also conceptually deep enough for other viewers to get lost in, I sought out artworks that spoke to those themes.
Under archival histories (positioned along the gallery’s right side):
Drawn on a vintage pianola roll from the 1920s, Aura Satz’s Visual Score (2012) follows on from her ongoing research into perforated paper and various associated technologies. This in turn led to her research into the history of Hedy Lamarr (1913-2000), a Hollywood actress turned co-inventor, with composer George Antheil, of the communications technique known as frequency hopping. The pianola roll’s perforations were instrumental in Lamarr and Antheil’s strategy of broadcasting signals over a pseudo-random array of frequencies. Visual Score was originally composed for a live performance with harpsichordist Jane Chapman. The perforated paper pattern is to be deciphered by a mechanical piano, whilst the blue dotted lines serve as a guide for the operator/performer, and Satz’s drawing lends the scroll an added level of notation.
The collection of Northern Soul Patches has been pulled together from a selection available through Ebay seller Gary Eastwood. This is the first time Eastwood’s archive has been gathered together offline and displayed in public.
Sheldon Nadelman’s Terminal Portraits (1973-82) are a part of his nine-year project dedicated to photographing regulars (including working men and women, longshoremen, drag queens, pimps, prostitutes and barflies) at the Terminal Bar, a New York taproom he ran between 1973-82, situated across the street from the city’s Port Authority Bus Terminal. Nadelman has amassed a vast archive of portraits (over a thousand), of which the 250 on show are a small selection.
Under questionable realities (along the gallery’s left side):
Kathleen Daniel’s From the Womb to the Tomb is an hour-long, autobiographical radio play. The T-Shirt above, designed by Daniel, carries the phrase that explains her overall artistic and life philosophy. ‘Duh Real’ translates as being true to yourself and others. Despite this attachment to truth and realness, no one interested in the art she makes has ever actually met Daniel in person. Although I have spoken on the phone with Daniel at length, for me, part of her mystique is that she exemplifies that unique ambiguity of an online persona, a character whose historical narrative and existence may or may not be real.
From 1998-99 Italian artists Eva and Franco Mattes (formerly known as 0100101110101101.org) staged their pioneering Darko Maver net.art project. Using images appropriated from the web they created Darko Maver, a fictional Serbian conceptual artist who fabricated horrific hyperrealist sculptures of cadavers and left them on city streets in the former Yugoslavia. As Maver’s notoriety grew in the art world so too did tales of his persecution, culminating in news of his death in 1999 during prison isolation. Not long after the 48th Venice Biennale (1999) included a tribute to Maver as a casualty of the Serbian crisis, the Mattes’s revealed that the artist did not exist. More disturbingly the documentary photographs of Maver’s sculptures were revealed to be actual images of real dead bodies that the Mattes’s had found online.
John Lawrence’s Original Carbon Copies series (2012 – ongoing) address the rumour of Hollywood actor Denzel Washington’s embarrassing z-grade movie past. According to internet legend, Washington has tried to purchase and destroy all copies of Carbon Copy (1981), a stereotypical, casually racist, culture-clash buddy movie he once starred in. To counter this attempt at erasure Lawrence has set about purchasing original film posters and then printing the corresponding eBay seller’s proof-of-condition JPEG’s on top of each one. The issue at the core of this critical endeavour is the vain maintenance of a constructed, singular and consistent personal identity, within and through the media. Previously this was strictly a hazard of celebrity. Now that evidence of our contradictory past and current selves exists online, it is a representational pitfall open to us all.
Moving Image Works
Each of the video works in the exhibition serve as visual metaphors standing in for what the experience of browsing is like. As such they also comment on the display of inanimate works. The relaxed city walkers in Tony Law’s Strolling (2012) reflect the state of drift that for me accompanies sifting through archival histories. While Michael Smith’s classic video piece Secret Horror (1980), featuring a central character manipulated by ghostlike figures, here functions as a depiction of the state that accompanies the perusal of questionable realities – specifically that liminal moment in which the viewer realizes all may not be what it seems and that reality may have been manipulated. Finally JGM1138’s Kilroy Loops (2008) with its declarative, accusatory and sensationalist repetitions, addresses the viewer directly.
Admittedly archival histories and questionable realities are not novel themes, but then novelty isn’t the point here. What is being aimed at with this exhibition is the creation of an ontological interstice. In less esoteric terms, I wanted to create a space in which you forget yourself and the business of you being you disappears for a moment. This once happened to me during an hour-long online search, kick-started by a stonewashed denim jacket for sale on Ebay. It was customised with a large painted portrait of the actor Nicholas Cage and cost $199.99. The condition was described as: pre owned: “looks good man”.
Morgan Quaintance is a freelance London-based writer, musician, broadcaster and curator. He is a regular contributor to Art Agenda, Art Monthly, Art Review, Frieze, Rhizome.org and other curatorial websites and blogs. He is the producer of Studio Visit, a weekly radio show broadcast on London’s Resonance 104.4FM, featuring international artists as guests. As a presenter he works with the BBC’s flagship arts programme, the Culture Show.
Kathleen Daniel, AKA Silicious, AKA Kat D, is a visual artist, musician and animator born in Minneapolis, currently based in Berlin. Her works are predominantly hosted and distributed online through her own portal ‘Duh Real’ and various web based publications and curatorial projects including Rhizome.org, DIS magazine, The Creators Project, ComputersClub.org and MOCAtv (the online incarnation of Los Angeles Musuem of Contemporary Art). Her most recent group exhibition was Aboveground Animation: 3D-Form (2012) hosted online by the New Museum, New York.
Gary Eastwood has been an Ebay account holder since 01 August 2008.
JGM1138 has been a YouTube account holder since 11 September 2011
Tony Law is an artist based in Beijing. He received an MFA from Goldsmiths, University of London (2011) and BFA Photography, Parsons School of Design, New York (2001). Recent exhibitions include Bloomberg New Contemporaries (2012); III Moscow International Biennale for Young Art, Moscow (2012); Out: Art from Goldsmiths, Ingenious Media, London (2011); Group exhibition, Moscow House of Photography, Moscow (2006); and Landscape of Sur-consuming, Vitamin Creative Space, Guangzhou, China (2002).
John Lawrence is a London-based artist whose work deals with the contemporary mediated experience. He is a graduate from the Royal Academy Schools (2010) and received a BA from the University of West England, Bristol (2005). Recent exhibitions include ONSITE selected by Mike Nelson and Andrew Hunt, Temporary Arts Project, Southend (2014) and Nothing Compares 2 U at SICspace, Helsinki (2013). Alongside his practice Lawrence organises the touring video/performance project After/Hours/Drop/Box, focusing on music video’s influence on contemporary art.
Eva and Franco Mattes, Italian pioneers of Net Art (previously known as 0100101110101101.org), have exhibited extensively, nationally and internationally, since the late 1990s and developed a practice that both inhabits the web and skillfully subverts mass media. Recent solo exhibitions include Anonymous, Untitled, Dimensions Variable at Carroll/Fletcher, London (2012), Lies Inc. at Site gallery, Sheffield (2011) and Colorless, Odorless and Tasteless at Caine Shulte Gallery, San Francisco (2011).
Sheldon Nadelman is a photographer and former bar manager currently based in New Jersey. From 1973 - 1982 he took 2,600 pictures, 1,500 of which were portraits of regular and occasional clientele at the Terminal Bar, situated across the street from the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York. Each image was made using the same format and technique: a 35mm Pentax camera, set to 1600 ASA, utilising the natural light. A monograph of Nadelman’s work will be published this year by Princeton Architectural Press.
Aura Satz lives and works in London. She completed a PhD in Fine Art Media at the Slade School of Fine Art, London, where she held a Henry Moore post-doctoral fellowship between 2002 and 2004. Recent solo exhibitions and performances include: Impulsive Synchronization, Hayward Gallery Project Space (2013); In and out of Synch, performance and screening, Tate Modern (2012); Drone Rorschach, Whitechapel Gallery, London (2012); and Universal Language: A Lost Manifesto, Barbican cinema, screening performance (2012).
Michael Smith is an American artist who has exhibited extensively, nationally and internationally. He studied with the Whitney Museum Independent Study Program (1970-1973), and received a BA from Colorado College (1973). Recent exhibitions include Videos and Miscellaneous Stuff From Storage (pt. 2) at Tramway, Glasgow (opening April 2014), Rituals of a Rented Island at the Whitney Museum, New York (2014) and Fountain at Hales Gallery, London (2011). Smith’s work is represented in numerous international collections including MoMA (USA), Metropolitan Museum of Art (USA), Walker Art Center (USA), Pompidou Center (France) and Museum of Television and Broadcasting, NYC (USA).