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Oliver Laric Artist Profile by Rye Holmboe

Oliver Laric’s predominantly web-based artistic practice is characterised by the manipulation and reinterpretation of existing cultural images. He operates in a simulacral space where concepts of authorship, truth, presence, original and copy are shown to be obsolete, or at least irrelevant.

In a work like Versions (2010), for example, a female voice narrates over a series of images and movie clips. The film, available on Laric’s website, opens with a discussion of iconoclasm - the degradation of sacred objects, and the way in which these were ‘modified to represent something new.’ During the Protestant Reformation, for instance, a 16th-century sculpture of the Virgin Mary was turned into a personification of Justice by replacing the Christ child with scales. This sculpture was then reinterpreted by Laric when he asked a 3D modeller to reconstruct the Virgin digitally, coating her in ‘terminator-esque’ colours. A similar process occurs in Icon (Utrecht) and Icon (Worcester), where Laric has produced polychromatic versions of vandalised icons in sculptural form. The suggestion in these works is that a certain potentiality inheres in the objects that surround us, a potential for future mutability and change.

Versions 2009, Oliver Laric from Seventeen Gallery on Vimeo.Conversely, but in a similar vein, the narrator later reminds us that when we read a classic novel ‘the first time is also the second’ because a novel is essentially a reconfiguration of past material. In this one is reminded of the Russian Formalist Vladimir Propp and his identification of the irreducible and morphological narrative elements of Russian folk tales, a project later taken up by French structuralists like Roland Barthes. The crucial idea here is that certain archetypes underlie collective experience and that these are metamorphosed into infinite variations. On this basis one might describe artistic production as the modification of the past for future enactment. There is no original referent, no originary unity, but only parasitic dissemination. In Laric’s postmodern universe the work of art should arguably be read as a pastiche, defined by Fredric Jameson as ‘the identical copy for which no original has ever existed.’

Yet the point Laric makes is ambiguous. If the mutability of images presents limitless possibilities or ‘quantum worlds’ where ‘all outcomes exist simultaneously,’ as the narrator of Versions put it, it would be naive to see this as a purely positive phenomenon. Indeed, the mistake that is often made is to understand plurality as automatically emancipatory or subversive. That doctored scenes of Zidane’s head-butt have proliferated on the web is one thing (Versions). But, as a photographic work like Missile Variations makes clear, images are often manipulated for ideological reasons. In this case the Iranian Revolutionary Guard used crude Photoshop techniques to give the impression of greater firepower, multiplying the number of missiles launched in a photograph published on the internet in 2008. Another image was released three days later with fewer missiles, triggering an explosion of manipulated images produced by anonymous web-based authors. In this manner the simulacrum manufactures itself and proliferates. We are faced with an interplay of signs that refers only to itself rather than a signified content. And this is where the work’s ambiguity really arises. On the one hand this interplay dissolves notions of authorship and originality. On the other, however, it leads us to a position where reality is constituted by the popularity of a search result. As the narrator of Versions put it: ‘The more often an image is viewed, the more likely it makes the top of search results. An image viewed often enough becomes part of collective memory.’ Without any grounding in the real the denial of origin carries with it a lack of temporal integrity and the loss of historicity. We exist in a depthless and perpetual present, where any reality is as (im)possible as any other. Hence, perhaps, the narrator’s mechanical, static, almost unreal, voice.

In a similar vein, Touch My Body (Green Screen Version), 2008, unravels and revels in the unreality of the products of the culture industry. The work comprises an edited version of Mariah Carey’s music video of a song of the same name. By leaving the background green Laric allows you to edit the video in whichever way you choose, which has led to the dissemination of countless versions of the video on YouTube, challenging worn-out notions of uniqueness with its disregard of copyright law. At the same time, though, this is no naive celebration of polysemy. Instead Laric appears to be suggesting that identity - the interior depths supposed to stand behind appearance - is only an identity-effect, the mutation of a material surface into simulacral profundity. Alter the lighting, background colour, or setting, and there are instant consequences to the sense of identity being fabricated. Laric explores the material substrate of identity production and the way in which identity actually emanates from the materiality of the signifying work - the system of representation itself, rather than any form of unified presence. Much the same could be said of the filmic collage 50 50 2008 (2008), where Laric has collected various films of 50 Cent fans mimicking the artist’s rapping that have been posted on YouTube. These have then been edited to form a continuous music video which Laric has released back on YouTube for future editing and dissemination.

50 50 (2007) by Oliver Laric from Why + Wherefore on Vimeo.It is difficult to know whether the world of depthless unreality and pure appearance that Oliver Laric presents us with is prescriptive or symptomatic, critical or celebratory, of postmodernity. Perhaps it is all of these. Yet the free-floating absence of the referent in his works is a reality of consumer capitalism. Whether one wants to celebrate the materialised signifier or lament the advent of reification - they are, after all, the same phenomenon - is maybe less important than the way in which these are revealed to be dialectically entwined. In this manner the false problem of value is deconstructed and arbitrary oppositions such as positive and negative, good and bad, original and copy, the essential and the inessential, are shown to be mediated in their apparent difference. Instead of hierarchical binaries Laric prefers what he termed in a recent email conversation ‘beta-state originality,’ where repetition looks not towards the past or a beginning but towards the future-to-come and the production of difference.

Touch My Body (Green Screen Version), Oliver Laric from Seventeen Gallery on Vimeo.
Born in Munich in 1981, Oliver Laric lives and works in Berlin. He has exhibited at New Museum, New York; Kunsthaus Graz; Kunsthalle Wien, Vienna; 53rd Venice Biennale; Manifesta 7; ICA, London; FACT Liverpool; Nederlands Instituut voor Mediakunst; and Badischer Kunstverein, Karlsruhe. His forthcoming projects include a presentation of Versions at Skulpturhalle Basel (2011). Laric’s curatorial project, in collaboration with Aleksandra Domanovic, Christoph Priglinger, Georg Schnitzer can be found at www.vvork.com.

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