The EYE-­KEA Project

Basement Project Space, Cork

If the sheer volume of work screened here is slightly overwhelming at least it feels appropriate. The EYE-­KEA Project revels in excess; video playing in all directions, narratives caught halfway through or abandoned prematurely, sound bleeding through tangled headphones, screen, projection, screen. It’s like seeing everything playing on TV at a given time, all at once. However, through the barrage of imagery a set of overlapping concerns and themes emerge: consumerism, online technology, trash culture, video games and fast food. And like the exhibition’s name-­sake, there’s a distinctly DIY aesthetic at work here.
This is most obvious in Guy Ben-Ner’s Stealing Beauty (2007), a family sitcom played out in the show-­ rooms of various IKEA stores. The artist and his family intervene in these shops (at least until they’re caught and kicked out), staging their domestic routines even as shopping carts and baby buggies roll in and out of frame. Of course, economics always comes into the picture, and not just in the price tags visible on ‘their’ household possessions. The father (Ben-Ner himself inveigles a fee from his children in exchange for a bedtime story, answers their questions with pseudo­‐ Marxist jargon, and lectures them on private property and investment. As an Israeli artist, the work insinuates readings beyond the vaguely anticapitalist diatribe, suggesting the artist as occupier, as ideologue and ‘father’.

Bjørn Melhus: The Oral Thing (2001). Still from video, 8 minutes. Image courtesy of Basement Project Space.
Bjørn Melhus: The Oral Thing (2001). Still from video, 8 minutes. Image courtesy of Basement Project Space.

Similar appropriations of popular culture occur elsewhere. Chen Hangfeng’s The Last Supper: Fast Food (2008) presents accelerated footage of a drawing performance, marking out the image of Kentucky Fried Chicken ‘spokesman’ Colonel Sanders in rice before turning the chickens loose to peck apart his work. At the same time, on another screen, Cecile Wesarlowski interjects her (virtual) image into footage taken from The Sopranos, acting as accessory to the numerous, quick-­edit scenes of Mafia executions and gangland hits. The works look to subvert mainstream, spectacular culture by slyly inserting the artist into existing media and advertising. However, to what end? While there may be something liberating in such strategies, the end result is merely clever, a witty appropriation that one can easily imagine appealing precisely to the very advertising agencies that they critique.

Far more disturbing is Bjorn Melhus’ retrouturistic confessional talk show. The Oral Thing (2001) refers to the artist’s use of sampled snatches of conversation from exploitative daytime television programmes (The Maury Povich Show, I believe) and to a phrase repeated in the video itself. The presenter welcomes two floating orbs as guests, who transform into armless, legless figures, disconcertingly mouthing stock phrases from such shows: “She hits me, she pushes me…” “Why? Why? Why?” “I’ve got a big surprise for you”, “and I do the oral thing.” Despite the setting of a lobotomized dystopia, Melhus’ use of recorded footage and familiar motifs borrowed from science-­‐fiction imbues the work with a certain plausibility. It’s not a million miles (or years) from Jeremy Kyle to here.
Of course, the tell-­all format has taken on new permutations, with the prevalence of Internet sites such as Youtube and Chatroulette offering individuals a more egalitarian forum to communicate and disseminate their opinions. Several works pick up this strand. Clint Enns’ Putting Yourself Out There (2009) montages pixellated snippets of webcam footage of online chatroom users against a melancholy soundtrack. The subjects simply look into the middle distance, silently and patiently waiting for a response, any response. This sense of mediated detachment can have sinister results, however, as in Selina Shah’s Connected (2008). Multiple screens-­within-­the-­screen and typed text relay an online correspondence between two subjects, progressively moving from flirtation to provocation to outright hostility. Through an increasingly abrasive electronic score and shifts in conversational tone and style (obscenities, capital letters), Shah demonstrates how the physical distance between speakers can lend itself to unaccountability, aggression and extreme fantasy.
In a way, these works challenge the prevailing rhetoric of the Internet as a site of instantaneous communication, global exchange and technological revolution. The dissolution of geographical boundaries might lead to a parallel breakdown of social and ethical ones. To the online user, repercussions are meaningless, or rather, merely virtual. Likewise, such unrestrained freedom of expression can induce a sense of overwhelming stasis, a realisation that if ‘the medium is the message’, then having any actual content to communicate seems irrelevant. Take, for example, Oliver Laric’s 5050 (2007), a montage of music fans cut together to reenact a song by the rap artist 50 Cent. Cute, but hardly anything that couldn’t be seen on You Tube. Instead, the work feels merely like a celebration of the fact that one can contribute, can participate, in the gesture, even if the act itself doesn’t say anything of note.
In a way, such appropriation of online sites is unnecessary. Video art has already colonised this territory of the provisional, low­‐budget, short­‐form and endlessly inventive work. The best example of this comes through in a brief and punchy work by the artist(s?) Mice Hell. Suckbrillen (2009) shows a young woman wearing goggles with baby dummies attached in place of eyes, as a couple frantically suckle the rubber nipples. The work evokes the darkly comic, early performance videos of Cheryl Donegan, yet the cutaway shots of the artists struggling to keep a straight face, and the soundtrack of giggling, slurping noises, gives the video the feel of a homemade experiment. It might be amateurish, even crude, but its unsettling simplicity confirms the possibilities inherent in both the video format and the exhibition itself.
The EYE‐KEA Project was on view 17–25 April 2010.