APR 17 | ART MONTHLY | 405 | REVIEWS | EXHIBITIONS |
When plans for this show began, the UK referendum on the EU had not yet happened and Trump was several tweets short of being president. But subsequent events, buoyed up by populist rhetoric fed with accusatory language about ‘fake news’ and ‘post-truth’, collectively make FACT’s new exhibition compellingly topical.
Curated by David Garcia and Annet Dekker, its title – a statement rather than a question – comes from one of its exhibits, Maia Gusberti’s white neon sign, How Much of This Is Fiction, 2014. But its origins lie in the Tactical Media movement of the 1980s and 1990s, when advances in consumer electronics and distribution created opportunities for anyone to subvert the media. Ironically, as Garcia said during the show’s launch, the mistake perhaps made by observers like him in the 1990s was in ‘thinking they might all be dedicated to emancipatory politics’.
Occupying FACT’s ground-floor gallery space is the Guantanamo Bay Museum of Art and History, 2012-, a concept initiated by Ian Alan Paul, imagining the infamous US detention centre and torture facility in Cuba to have been successfully closed down by Barack Obama in 2012 and reopened as a museum. Sitting at a control panel, the visitor can tour the prison, in Wachter & Jud’s Zone*Interdite, 2006, a multi-screen 3D ‘walk-through’, leading you down long corridors past hundreds of empty cages. Try as you might, though, escape is impossible: you are unable to go around or through the outer walls. The fact that Obama’s successor today enthuses about adding to Gitmo’s interned population makes the internal emptiness of the virtual prison all the more utopian and out of reach. Nearby are more giant screens, one showing Coco Fusco’s Operation Atropos, 2006, in which the Cuban-born artist accompanies a group of women on a course that teaches how to extract information from prisoners, beginning with the women being ambushed by Team Delta, an all-male group of retired US Army interrogators and experts in ‘the psychology of capture’. The extent to which Team Delta use intimidating language and behaviour is important in what follows, but so are the ways the women learn to respond.
A new commission, HeHe’s La Révolte de Tremblay en France, 2017, is a trailer for an unmade feature film, set in a real school for children aged 11 to 14 in suburban Paris. Consciously referring to Lindsay Anderson’s 1968 film If, including a music clip of the ‘Sanctus’ from Missa Luba, sequences show throngs of children running through drif ing smoke, suggesting what might be pure play – were it not for the additional sound effects of screaming and gunfire. What is also noticeable is that Anderson’s school was of the English public male-only variety, whereas this School of Rebellion is mixed, younger and genuinely ‘public’. On one level the viewer imagines that this proto-feature film comments on the disadvantaged Parisian suburbs that have in the recent past been troubled by disturbances involving the young. But it is also important to observe that it is very much an assemblage of persuasive ingredients – conceivably a how-to guide for manufacturing moral panics.
Appearing like a piece of scenery from the set for a TV soap, !Mediengruppe Bitnik’s Assange’s Room, 2013, is a walk-in reconstruction of the of ice used by Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. It developed from their earlier work, Delivery for Mr Assange, 2013, also shown here, based on video footage taken by a camera hidden in a package sent to Assange, tracking the entire trip through the postal system. On receipt, Assange responded by showing hand-written signs. The artists were then invited to visit Assange, and based the remake of his workspace (photos of which are not permitted) on what they remembered of it. Perhaps because of its physicality, including furniture, computer equipment and cables, the result almost seems over-exact in its realisation. Some details, in fact, such as a copy of Georges Perec’s novel Life a User’s Manual seem to comment ironically on the act of reimagining the precise confines of a lived-in space.
Upstairs, in the ‘news room’, examples of seminal Tactical Media projects and pranks include the Yes Men’s infamous infiltration of BBC Worldwide News, in Dow Does The Right Thing, 2004, a staged ‘apology’ by Dow Chemicals for the 1994 Bhopal Disaster, when an estimated 16,000 people died. The interview made worldwide headlines – as did the Yes Men’s inevitable exposure. This appears alongside Paul Garrin’s Man With A Video Camera, 1988, describing how Garrin filmed a riot in New York’s Tompkins Square and was brutalised by the police before the footage went viral via network television, plus UBERMORGEN’s Vote Auction, 2000, in which the artists, masquerading as an e-commerce company, of ered US voters the opportunity to sell their votes.
Artists like these are frequently referred to respectively as ‘activists’ and ‘hacktivists’, and it has become second nature to assume their politics was, or remains ‘lef ist’. In recent times, however, online sites such as 4chan have contributed
| 24 |
APR 17 | ART MONTHLY | 405 | REVIEWS | EXHIBITIONS |
to the rise of a so-called ‘alt-right’ movement that for the time being seems to have stolen the ‘punk swagger’ of those earlier media invaders. This was the subject of a well-attended talk given at the show’s opening by Florian Cramer of Hogeschool, Rotterdam. Importantly, Cramer recalled that ‘fake news’ (from capitalist West and communist East) was something he was only too familiar with, growing up in Berlin before the fall of the Wall, and that it was preceded in Germany by Adolf Hitler’s takeover of the press. But the info-war’s current campaigns, Cramer explained, point towards a revitalised political right, combining Steve Bannon and Breitbart, Andrew Anglin’s Daily Stormer, Richard Spencer (who coined the term ‘alt-right’) and his National Policy Institute, Jared Taylor’s American Renaissance, and Nick Land and Curtis Yarvin’s Dark Enlightenment, embracing post-human ideas, including eugenics, Social Darwinism and accelerationism.
The recent ‘alt-right’ show at Dalston’s LD50 Gallery (Features AM404) and an earlier ‘neo-reaction’ conference to which speakers from the far-right were invited have justifiably caused widespread controversy, and protesters demanding the closure of the venue – and getting their wish (Artnotes p19). But everything else that has happened since June 2016 indicates the ‘alt-right’ group of white supremicists is not going to disappear fast. Andrew Breitbart’s much-quoted statement that ‘politics exists downstream of culture’ rings true, but the role art now plays in changing the current cultural drift is still open to question. ❚