Lars Laumann, review by Eleanor Nairne
The upstairs of Maureen Paley has been turned into a makeshift classroom for Lars Laumann’s latest project. At the entrance, two lithographs read like perverse alphabet posters. A font composed of hand-drawn fingers spells out a ‘haiku’ and a ‘limerick’ about alien abduction, each written with no spacing. The time it takes to decode the characters heightens the discomfort felt when reading the artist’s message about violating acts performed by ‘little green men’ with ‘a cold metal probe’. These wriggling digits put the visitor ill at ease, establishing all the necessary ideas about the fingering of information for the three video works that follow.
On the right, Duett (stryken i vår tro i en sang, i en sang) plays on a side-turned television leaning against the wall. The video itself occupies a fraction of the screen, which becomes a third performer in the duet staged between Donald Rumsfeld and Margaret Thatcher. Laumann has spliced together the US Defence Secretary’s statement on ‘known knowns’ with footage of the former Prime Minister asserting that ‘I know it was the right thing to do’. Hollow rhetoric binds these two historically distanced speeches: the former in relation to the lack of evidence for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq in 2002, the latter by the Prime Minister in response to the sinking of an Argentine cruiser during the Falklands war. ‘I would do the same again’ repeats the husky voice of the Iron Lady, over and over, after being fed through Auto-tune to accentuate its alien quality.
The three pixilated videos have a ‘YouTube’ aesthetic that incites the viewer to go on a personal Google quest in order to re-contextualize the collaged elements. This is particularly necessary with Kari & Knut, in which a post-revolutionary Iranian drama based on J. D. Salinger’s Franny and Zooey (possible despite Salinger’s prohibition on any adaptation because Iran have no copyright agreements with the US) is interwoven with archive reels of the de-Nazification of Germany. The viewer’s perplexity feeds back into the debate over censorship; in our Wikipedia age it is not uncommon to feel lost in a sea of hyperlinks. Having the monitor perched on its flight-case makes a nice visual metaphor for this global currency of ideas. A neighbouring projector with school chairs sets a more pedagogical tone for Halland. A child’s voiceover reveals the dark implications lurking beneath a naïve 1960s cartoon of an Aryan boy, explaining that his adventures across Sweden omitted the south-west region of Halland, perhaps because it was thought to be racially impure.
These are artworks that draw on the aggressive energy of appropriation. Watching such self-consciously edited videos, the viewer stands back, as if the destructive act of chopping, slicing and cutting footage might rebound out of the screen. Laumann, who taught himself to video edit in 2006, visually exposes his process of mediation - Kari & Knut, for example, is videotaped directly off Iranian television before being turned into a DVD and then downloaded as a torrent file. The effect is akin to Bertolt Brecht’s ‘Verfrumdungs’; or in Laumann’s words ‘I wanted to’ rub the audience’s face in the shit, and make them feel really uncomfortable’.
Free : New Museum, New York, US