Review of Post-Pop Conceptualism
By Steven ten Thije, Research Curator van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven
‘Post-Pop Conceptualism', the name of the exhibition has the sticky quality of gluing things together. Its principle appears as a kind of layering, of adding one thing to the other in an almost random fashion. ‘Post', ‘Pop', ‘Concept', why not go on: ‘Gesture', ‘Abstract', ‘Installation', ‘Relation', ‘Dada'. The small show with works of Daniel Bourke, Tom Penney, Lisa Purcell and Andrew Varano, curated by Darryn Ansted seems almost to collapse under the weight of all the references that are triggered by these few works. The weight of all these traditions brought together in the constellation of this show is only lightened up by the ironic playfulness in which the artists allow themselves to be embedded in the most recent traditions. The word ‘jamming' feels highly appropriate to designate the freestyle pastiche made out or works of Beuys, Fischli and Weiss, Gestural Abstraction and a hint of Relational Aesthetics...
It is in this ‘no-mans-land' that the artists find their source to tap from. Becoming more a viral antidote to the surrounding social-economic fabric, than that they are the inspired fore-runners in the form of a traditional avant-garde. The works warp and invert traditions and practices, folding the one into the other to construct an unstable equilibrium that, at its best moments, generates in the spectator a strong sense of ‘being-positioned'. One can feel ‘placed' by these works; set into a type of reality that is both familiar but also slightly uncanny. Where to go? What should we hold on to? Of what can we let go? Questions that randomly start to obsess when one follows the lines that workout towards the visitor. Due to the absence of notions like creation and genius the works seem devoid of teleology and operate more as profane vortexes that draw one into a stream of doubt. The most extreme example of this is perhaps the work of Penney which is an ironic investigation of Beuy's classic performance ‘I like America and America likes me' from 1974, in which Beuys locked himself up for several days with a coyote. Penney uses the figure of the coyote as an icon of new-age spiritualism which he places in various contexts. They perform repetitive actions – climbing up a stair, crushing things on the floor, and (again) referencing a bureaucratic office worker. These actions are presented on three televisions placed on top of each other, opposite these televisions is another TV set, which shows a cacophony of costumed figures who read texts full of new-age nonsense. In the middle, on a small screen, three figures bless a TV set in a mock shamanistic ritual. A final set shows a dummy meditation session, with a guru-like figure enmeshed in a web of spiritual clichés. Even if the work lacks a concentrated execution – the actors can hardly hide the irony of the texts they read which disrupts the over-all ironic effect – the work is most explicit about the spiritual vacuum of the current age. A fast-food religion distributed through TV and the Internet tries to fill the gap of purposelessness, but it is not convincing. By mimicking Beuys – the last Shaman of Art – Penney suggests that even art can't be expected to remedy this. But, by warping and mimicking in ironic games, artworks can expose a peculiar in-between space where one is able to think and critically reflect on our contemporary reality. A space that in this show is investigated in a charming way and already shows in the empty space between the words ‘Post', ‘Pop' and ‘Conceptualism'.