Tangled up in the informalities and ethics of new media culture? It is fairly ironic proposing such a deeply saudaded question from an online contemporary arts journal, but perhaps such behaviour is to be expected. By implementing such a sensationalised statement, hopefully we can begin to consider the artistic activity surrounding such brass concerns. Common Bodies, an exhibition curated by artist Tom McGinn at East Street Arts in Leeds, was an exhibition that delved deeper into such virtual matters.
Amalgamating work from forty artists (twenty-five selected from an international open-call, fifteen invited), McGinn installed a host of snappy, daunting video-based work in East Street Arts Project Space. Each film bled into another, both digitally and physically. Six projection screens of varying scale overlapped one another and it was not long before pieces of work started to reiterate themselves. It was challenging to view Common Bodies as a group exhibition. It behaved like one larger installation piece. Everything was swallowed into one wider context – the context of McGinn’s own creative space. As a consequence the tensity between collective quarrels and individual references was seductively strained. Not to wade into Donald Winnicott’s theories too much, it is clear however that a theme of inner reality overlapping with the outer world pervaded throughout.
The works dragged us through today’s contemporary media landscape in a quarrelsome manner. CGI’d content and highly fashioned advertising imagery flowed through the show like blood gushing round our bodies. Jemma Egan’s ‘From Here to Eternity’ (2014) stood out as a prime illustration. A fixed shot film of two hot dogs rolling back and forth slowly cooking in oil, glistening in their fake yet desirable position. The anxiety of online engagement was also captured. Liv Thurley’s vile ‘I Liked You Better Before You Were Naked on the Internet’ (2015) caused shudders as the viewer sampled an exaggerated teenage girl constructing a sense of exaggerated self. Jack Fisher’s ‘Pass It On’ (2014) turned the modern movement of consumerism – specifically the protection of consumers against useless, inferior or misleading products – on its head. Using the term ‘artist’ to indicate the common exploitation of customers, Fisher commissioned a useless, inferior ‘performance’ of kids passing a coconut round in a circle through Fiverr.com. If you’re unfamiliar with Fiverr.com, it is a platform whereby you can find any services needed for just five pounds.
Credit to McGinn, who boldly flirted with composing nothing more than a vanity project. The imposed grander narrative that came from McGinn’s own curatorial creativity personified the glitches of the virtual. The awareness towards our natural mechanisms highlighting defensive actions, implemented the fear that comes inherently from being alive; the failure to communicate lived bodily experiences; the exploitations; the emotions. Common Bodies flailed towards this demented performance. Highly intense, it held such an incredible tension. Was it just a bi-product of a life spent at a computer? Arguably so, yet as representations collapsed and re-formed we were simply left with one big fuzzy digital collage. The question was then proposed: do you wish to live happily amongst such abstraction, or desire the clarity to decode/decipher this mess.
Common Bodies was on show from Friday 19th – Thursday 25th June 2015 at East Street Arts Project Space. See here for upcoming projects at East Street Arts.
Image, Common Bodies Installation View, 2015 Image Courtesy: East Street Arts.
Ashleigh Owen is an artist based in Manchester.