Sturtevant and Secondeditions: ‘Second Reflection/Symmetrical Contents’
23 January - 9 March 2013
Review by Ruth Hogan
American artist Sturtevant once said that ‘hierarchies are upside down and the image is a higher power than an object’. In the collaboration with UK partnership Secondeditions currently on show at CHELSEA Space, the power of the image is paramount. The exhibition is the product of an on-going correspondence between Sturtevant and Secondeditions, initiated in 2002. Their shared interests involve re-contextualising and re-mediating artworks and appropriated imagery.
Entitled ‘Second Reflection/ Symmetrical Contents’, the exhibition is conceptually constructed of two parts. The first, ‘second reflection’, is engaged with the ‘conscious experience of repetition and the continuous process of rethinking the nature of art’. This repetition is fundamental to Sturtevant’s practice. Since the 1960s she has faithfully reproduced artworks by her contemporaries: Warhol and Jasper Johns the most noteworthy among these. It is her intention by this process to facilitate a new comprehension of these works and raise wider questions regarding the nature of representation. The referential nature of the work and its re-mediation of imagery create a ‘simulacrum’ that reinforces the surface quality of an image and emphasises a hierarchy at play within contemporary culture.
The second conceptual strand - ‘symmetrical contents’ - addresses ‘the mirrored relationships between material and thought’ and one is left wondering if ‘symmetrical contents’ relates to the artists mutual interests or the similar aesthetical motifs running throughout the show.
Indeed, the exhibition itself cryptically claims to be ‘against dominance’ and ‘on criminal action’ and this is implied in the first work you experience upon entering the space. In ‘Rainer Werner Fassbinder ‘Martha’, Secondeditions have re-imagined the most memorable moment from Fassbinder’s 1974 film, where the two main characters first encounter one another. Captured in a sweepingly majestic three hundred and sixty degree sequence, each figure orbits the other in a clean, fluid movement before continuing on their individual paths.
However in this reiteration, the faces of the protagonists are obscured by floating spheres of colour that immediately recall John Baldessari’s painted interventions on archival photographs. This scenario is repeated several times, each as a new variation, once with the words ‘your’ and ‘face’ imposed on each circle, and another culminating in the entire scene engulfed in flame. At one point, a scrolling text at the bottom of the frame states ‘interpassivity: art is performing anti-capitalism’. Similar narrative texts appear in further sequences that tell of the aspirations of the ‘rich’ and the ‘working’ man, re-framing the repetitive nature of the work as a political action. Furthermore, the film is displayed as a two-channel looped video installation on two opposing box monitors, compounding this repetition.
In Secondeditions’ ‘Qualified Nouns’, the faces reappear. Here the faces are digital emoticons that pair adjectives and nouns to reflect on the conditions of contemporary life. A smiley face = ‘physic normalization’ and ‘common intentionality’. A surprised face = ‘collective organism’ and ‘digital patterns’, terms that best describe the cybernetic systems that govern contemporary society.
In the main space, Sturtevant’s three-channel video installation ‘Trilogy of Transgression’ sets up a dialogue between three seemingly disparate films. On three monitors the images flit between a still image of Minnie Mouse, the closely cropped, highly sexualised scene of an inflatable female posterior with various items protruding from its orifice, and an abstracted pixelated form that could be read as an hourglass or a female uterus. The connection between all three suggests the act of transgression could be considered a female concern.
Against the opposite wall, ‘Blow Job’, another three-channel video installation includes a close-up of the animated character Beavis’ grunting mouth juxtaposed with the laughing rouged lips of a woman. The gestures from the appropriated works are re-staged by a third party and incorporated into the looped sequence.This subtle inclusion begs for closer inspection and reinforces the falsity of images and their power to deceive. The staccato movement of the edited footage is mesmeric and, paired with the rhythmic soundtrack, gradually becomes reduced to shape and abstract form.
The final work is composed of four jointed dolls, originally by Josef Hartwig and Oskar Schlemmer, and presented here by Secondeditions. The wooden dolls are small in scale and the painted facial features visually echo the simple lines of the emoticon slides in ‘Qualified Nouns’.
The careful selection process demonstrated in ‘Second Reflection/Symmetrical Contents’ displays a consideration for recurring visual narratives. It is clear that we are being presented with a representation of a representation and this displacement highlights the distance between real human experiences from its remediated other. The self-referential nature of the exhibition establishes a cyclical process that imitates the regulatory practices of cybernetics - a concern that has greatly informed Sturtevant’s work. ‘Second Reflection/Symmetrical Contents’ presents an analysis on the power of imagery and how it infiltrates and shapes our understanding of contemporary culture.