Supporting Text for 'YouI fig.iv' from The Estate of Alex Bloom, Muri, Switzerland
HEY, AUDIENCE! YOU DO THE FUCKING WORK: Helen - Lois' Hype Machine
A long trail led me here to yet another empty gallery, as empty at least as any exhibition space can be amongst the 'Voids' and the 'Invisible' of contemporary art. The white walls burn a kind of art world snow blindness into the retinas, broken by the imperfection of poorly filled holes that interrupt the vision like an ophthalmic migraine. The bumps and scratches mark a 1:1 scale map of previous exhibition hangs, a map that seems to decay and fray closer to the edges. It wasn't always like this though. All the best sanders and fillers have been victims of the cuts in this age of austerity art, so that now we are left to contemplate the failure of Jamesonian postmodern flatness on the flawed walls of provincial institutions. Until we realise that something more is happening.
I have drilled holes in the walls of empty white cubes from LA to Gwangju, from Berlin to Brasilia, probing the excavations with a portable endoscope to determine if artists were growing within. Gilbert and George, Fischli and Weiss, Elmgreen and Dragset, Langlands and Bell, Komar and Melamid, and Christo and Jean Claude are amongst the art power couples rumoured to have been hatched from similar incubators. Implanted in the womb like cavities of museums and galleries to gestate their dualism out of sight of the unsuspecting public. Finally, in Manchester, I find Helen - Lois busying themselves behind the walls of the Cornerhouse. Stowed from public view. Engaged in performative activity.
The collaborative meta-practice of Helen - Lois has, to date, been a sustained investigation on how they might work together, a kind of minimal fine art version of improv' contemporary dance that has involved office furniture, but not elaborate kicks or spins (or anything much like a dance move at all). A fixed symmetry saw them act as one, playing one another's mirror in a positive/negative image signalled by contrasting blonde and jet black hair. Now that is done and they are ready for the next phase of their becoming two, a phase that involves constructing a public image. In doing so, the desire to play out their career in front of an audience has taken an unusual turn. They are hidden away, involved in a different kind of self-mythologizing to Mr Acconci who stowed himself beneath the floorboards. Defining themselves as a 'branding dynamo' they are working on their image without letting the public see them; asking the audience to build a brand for them through tweeting, tumbling, and updating their status with observations and reflections. A foray in to social media marketing that invites the audience to make the work while performing their traditional role of interpreting and receiving the art they are also inventing, documenting, and disseminating at the same time. Relational Aesthetics X. – a perfect participatory hell.
In the meantime, Helen - Lois are streaming themselves live building a website, the content created from the audiences descriptions of the nothing they encounter. The picture the public creates forms the practice. The gallery becomes a studio, the internet the gallery, the artist the curator, the audience the artist, the documenter, and the critic. The gallery is replaced by the digital screen. The curator as selector is rendered redundant, their function given up to the masses. Is this the promised utopian democracy of web 2.0, or the hell of marketing that has crept into every nook of our lives? Universal digital networks replace Media Woman (who replaced Gutenberg Woman) with Cyber Woman. The work of art becomes flatter than the walls, as flat as the screen of an Android™, Apple™, or Kindle™ portable device; super sharp, retina definition, ready to enjoy in any supermodern, universal wifi café over a flat white coffee (they just don't make them right around here though). Like the screens and remote war machines in Baudrillard's account of Gulf War 1.0, and the operators of the drones who head back their American suburban homes having battled the other without going anywhere, they are making you complicit in the triumph of virtualisation. But this is not the War Machine, this is a Hype Machine designed for Warholian artistic self publicity. For Warhol, who was the original machine, the aim was to promote the art, the practice was a separate entity to the publicity. Here the promotion is the art in a mirror of the fable of contemporary celebrity that only exists for its own sake. In the ruins of the era of market triumphalism, marketing remains the king, only now it is in your hands.