‘Ways of Something’ brings a timely response to John Berger’s ground-breaking BBC documentary, in a post-internet era of selfies, webcams, and 3D rendering. Commissioned by The One Minutes, at the Sandberg Instituut in Amsterdam and curated by Lorna Mills, the Birmingham screening of episodes 1 & 2 (2014) and recently completed episode 3 (2015) was a joyous cacophony of 85 web-based artists each with 60 seconds to utilise as they chose, retaining only the unbroken soundtrack and its closed captioning.
In ‘Ways of Something’ we see Berger’s critique reimagined, commented on by artists who veer from intensive commentary of the series to those who make works that exist outside its perimeters. What is created here is invaluable. This digital rupture with the certainties of material and matter evidences new strategies by artists to engage the visual language of the present: reframing the narratives of reproduction; the body and ownership as we see with our eyes now. We inhabit an age when no longer is there need to visit the gallery to buy a much loved postcard reproduction of a masterpiece. We right click it, cannibalise it and then post it back into the web where it lives to breed its own language and encounters. This is a paradigm shift away from the 1972 broadcast where in episode 1 John Berger destabilised a nation’s experiences of culture shows by taking a knife to a reproduction of Botticelli’s Venus to instruct us on the reproducibility of images.
In ‘Ways of Something’ each artist came to their segment, first come, first served. The sixty second artworks form textures and juxtapositions arrived at by their chance location. Given this methodology, the placement of Daniel Temkin is extraordinary as his use of the first minute of the first episode opens with a pair of hands leafing through a worn, underlined copy of the accompanying Penguin book in which every image within it has been replaced with one of Berger; a deft response in wittily displacing the weight of the author. The minute up and as Berger describes the way we look, Rollin Leonard presents an animatronic seabed of breathing islands which in turn become Rhett Jones’s roving digital eye. Commentary on the value of the work of Da Vinci is bought to us by Matthew Williamson’s nodding skull who sports Google Glass, the value of a painting’s silence becomes an eruption of avatars out of the frame from V5MT. Through episode 1 we arrive at environments that feel suddenly uncommon, as the cropping of an image is replaced by its endless duplication, anthropomorphic shapes and textures.
In episode 2 men’s dreams of women become our moments of perfect formlessness through digital figures; this shifts the sureties of discourse about the body into an unbalanced realm. Gaby Cepeda shows TMZ’s rolling voyeurism of celebrity elevator meltdowns and driving while fame whoring; in the hands of Angela Washko, Berger’s critique of European nudes becomes meshed with the design and redesign of an avatar; for Adriana Minoliti our desire is unbound into abstract porn with hands manipulating and caressing a set of green triangles. In the landscapes of episode 2, Sandra Rechico and Annie Onyi Cheung’s ‘My Little Pony’ prances around cheerily singing ‘fuck you’ in an anarchic upheaval of the rhetoric of Western Art. Both of these episodes are viewable on Vimeo, just as ‘Ways of Seeing ‘is on YouTube. What ‘Ways of Something’ brokers is the value of the newly present and the languages that we can engage to describe it. What underpins the work is Berger’s assertion that we should always be sceptical of images.