There is an accumulation of material. A layering of text, sound, image and idea. A live editing, cropping, copying, pasting and repeating. Repeating. The liquid, borderless space of the digital is being filled with the hubbub and the buzz of updates, shares, retweets, likes. I like this kitten. I like that t-shirt. I like your face. And these actions are reverberating in ‘real’ space too.
Across four monitors and a projector in a backstage corridor, video works by Keith Dodds, Laurence Price and Cathy Wade are displayed as part of ‘We Like’. A large wall-based installation of posters and texts incorporate the synthetic, hyper-real vocabulary and slick visual lexicons of global advertising brands with the faux-DIY aesthetics of knowingly underground activity. The works are overlaid, co-authored and provocative, perfectly, parasitically, occupying a liminal space in the Birmingham Repertory Theatre. The space runs alongside the theatre’s paint room, a place of re-imagining spaces, objects and structures. Each evening, live interventions, spoken word, intuitively selected videos and live writing by the trio have been taking place here, activated by the presence of audience members moving through this space before and after other events for BE Festival. It is an ideal location for Dodds, Price and Wade’s intelligently tongue-in-cheek critique of participation, consumption and commodity in an age dominated by the electronic curating of desire. Likes affirm life; likes spawn adverts. Adverts turn profit; profit affirms life.
On arrival there is a desk: a pseudo-corporate reception area topped with lilies and cacti. An inane avatar guides us, welcomes us, thanks us for clicking here. And here is the ‘we’. ‘We’ are faceless corporations that claim friendship but steal everything: ‘we want to work with you, we are now part of a relationship.’ The avatar smiles emptily, menacingly, states ‘what unique eyes you have – let’s incorporate that.’ They have all the information now. These soulless creeps. ‘Like us. We like you, we really do’.
The artists’ wall of posters are layered like ads for gigs and pop ups, interweaving corporate advertising and the language of ‘urban’ space to grab the eyes and seduce the wallet. There is an empty poster on to which to pour forth projections: more scattergun samples of culled internet material. An Indonesian mimic octopus starts up on YouTube. Its shifting colours and patterns, contractions and expansions, and its downright slipperiness make it an apt metaphor for the way the digital stretches time and space, and dictates our lives, and for this almost ungraspable project.
In another video confessional and self-affirmation statements abound. And emojis. Trends are adopted in order to ape, participate and critique them. The statements make me think about Facebook surveys: which GoT character are you? How many kids will you have? ‘I emphasise with the concerns of others. I enjoy being at the centre of events’. These lines make me think of job applications too - lies designed to synthesise the ideal candidate. And like applications, in these works words are thrashed about, rendered senseless and empty. Images, values and symbols are boiled up, ruptured and smashed open in this odd little microcosmic space. I feel dizzy with it all. Saturated.
There are two final acts within ‘We Like’. Another layer of posters on fluoro* paper is applied to the wall. The slogan, taken from a communist monument in Bulgaria, reads ‘FORGET YOUR PAST’, an impossible call when every movement in the world is tracked, every thought recorded virtually. The last gesture is the distribution of the text Dodds, Price and Wade have been developing during this occupation: a collection of hashtags assimilated by this live research, leaking glossily out of it. ‘#WELIKE CREATING VALUE … #WELIKE SURFACE, ENDLESS REFLECTIVE SURFACE ...’ The dissemination of the text, spread amongst the audience via flyers, moves ‘We Like’ beyond the digital space (if such a thing is possible) and beyond the physical space the artists have been inhabiting, out into streets and homes. And as the pile diminishes the work withdraws into itself. A quiet stillness falls as it is torn down but somewhere, out there, as the texts are read, retweeted and shared again the buzz keeps on …
*‘Fluorescent’ is too long. Shorten, edit, cut it, make it faster. Make yourself more effective, better, too.