Circus Artists under big top- clueless, 2001
Video: 11 mins
with Christian Hilt
Produced by Whitechapel Art Gallery, London
Ecto plasmic Rouge Misreading the signs again.
On the way to the local culture centre, the international stroke local stroke locale of the visual arts down in Whitechapel I passed by the eighteenth century houses, heritagised film sets, slot machines, cash boxes, the shit of the street, a filthy greased up pavement on the corner, bearing huge waste containers for the food eating shops, leaking ghee and oil spread over the slabbed pavements.
From the perspective on Commercial street the tops of some womens` stockings compete with the lower visible part of their knickers as they slyly masquerade sometimes hidden at other times indelicately visible, gyrating occasionally to the silent music intheir heads at the junctures of the side streets on the paved edges of the aptly named Commercial St, The idea of a Cultural Centre, a Gallery of the Visual Arts, is unlikely to impinge on this street life. The extant culture is the exercise of rip off, and tear away, within and without the massive glass towers of international corporate finance, giving off lethal whiffs of power, seen nocturnally as puffs of white steam escape from the roof tops. It is where the dealers and brokers engage in weekly bulimic competitions in nearby Banglatown. This street could be an art work where life as art as life casually challenges cultural emporia, the delicately illuminated sancti-fied-monious monied spaces, the white cubes stinking of surplus money/shit". This acrid sentence sums it up, just about.
You pass by the Health Centre and under the Triumphal Arch, and on to the junction with the main street. On the north Aldgate side next to the local library is a fussy turn of the century white stone doorway, the invitation to a cooler scene not so far removed from the sanctified darker spaces of churches mosques and synagogues, placed in historical chronological order. Is this where the art is or could be. The facade cuts out the street like a knife. What is art for? rhetorical question, which goes forever unanswered. I did walk in, through the inner door and stepped into the huge ground floor and took time out for orientation. A cursory glance was enough to see that whatever subversive tricks were being proffered in the name of art, they couldn’t stand competition with the power of the institution. It was disappointing. As I went up the stairs I was beginning to suffer from creativelessness. (can that be a word? ) boredom? It was reminiscent of the still dusty airlessness of museums, At the top of the stairs I came into another much smaller passage like space entry to the other large white hall. Sometimes an artwork activates the atmosphere bringing it to life, and at others it stays resolutely sterile. An office was installed there? Had the insatiable demands of bureaucracy broken bounds and `appropriated` the space to use `art speak`. Was it merely the representation of an office, or a simulacrum of office bureaucracy in action? Was it an artwork, or an artwork, which also functioned as an office? Were these two separate conditions compatible? Where were the office staff? `I moved on. There was in this a semblance of an officially sanctioned subversion. The institution consciously parodies itself and kills the (presumed) critical intentions of the art it hosts. Is it a useful function for institutions to invite the simulation of actions against their interests while holding the cards? As if to say, really, it is just an allusive game, nothing to frighten the horses with. I ask myself. Just like going to the zoo. But things are never that simple. Maybe.
I was leaning against the wall contemplating a large curtained cube, which had taken the centre space of the long hall. It was a Szuper Gallery production, guest of the Gallery, walls within walls, mirrors within mirrors. There is forever the question of who is who and what is what in these circumstances where curatorial bureaucracy plays to perceptions of what the gallery is conceived to be and what curation can be, given the circumstances. It also presumes to be in the presence of audiences. I was one. This manifestation of curation if not beyond the pale, was happily teetering on the edge of institutional heresy. It was still airless but possible. Some sort of refreshment would come in handy. At this moment one of the curtains ruffled as in a breeze and a woman stepped out from behind the side curtain. The curtains then drew open. A few minutes later they closed and I took her place. I leant against the corner at the back. In front was a large screen. The screen revealed the image of the internal spaces of another unknown but familiar looking institution the functions of which were not exactly evident. It would be difficult to know whether it was closed or open. When it is in operation does it look closed as when it is closed? Or does it look closed but is in operation 24 hours a day? Was it day or night? These mysterious institutional structures referring to corporate finance (I considered this could be one) appear to be permanently occupied by maintenance and security staff, loyal retainers to the system who can sometimes be seen from the outside seated behind large reception desks, as if mostly submerged by the voluptuous spread of the reception furniture, and quasi tropical flora. No parrots. Or padding silently from door to door to passage, never visible for long as though in a perpetual but casual search for something, the end of the shift perhaps They are sometimes in uniform, or in a recognisable uniform of casual clothing, shoes and haircut. As the images on the screen progressed, one or two other figures appeared. Their behaviour was subtly different, enough to intimate the possibility that there might be some dysfunction in the system. They were more casually dressed not exactly conventional in their demeanour. There was a subtle distinction. They did not appear to be in the family. What sort of system was in operation facilitated by the characteristics of the architecture where its very blandness was redolent with the trappings of power. The two groups, maintenance security figures and the others appeared to be collaborating in dealing with a large section of red satin or chiffon like material which was continually present on the screen as changing sequences monitored its passage through the building without beginning or end, moving through a series of horizontal and vertical spaces, revealed through the vistas of huge glass walls and massive girders elevators and stairs. It might have been compiled from security video footage. Was it something to pass the time with or was it too hot to handle? Was it a chimera with no internal structure, floating diaphanously in space, its weave the form, texture and colour, influenced by the implied malevolence in the environment reminiscent of the visual projections of a scientific fictive authoritarian future, which is in fact the present? Were these technicians contemporary slaves human fodder of the job markets? It was a visible sign, red ectoplasm, signifying to an immediate and now utterly unacceptable past ideological red utopia. Red is the code. It emerged and re-emerged suggestive that somewhere else in the collective memory for example were the recipients of the coded message , references to an enormous weight of knowledge and experience which had been suddenly forced `out of the frame` contradicting the floating diaphanous red coded game in light, space and air. It was a collective ectoplasm not the emanation of a bodily appearance believed to come from a human medium. It was a flag without a pole. This delicate floating substanceless substance was a kind of untouchable unbreakable thing, not least because what it signified to is almost if not invisible. It represents what is not thought about, not seen, not considered as though it has been vanquished conquered, destroyed and overcome by a newer rash unfettered release of market economics. It had disappeared beneath the waves a decade ago. These others, unsettlingly familiar and sinister could be wolves in sheepþs clothing . What is made visible is a dark underbelly: the antithesis of what we are coming to despise. In the meanwhile suffering shopaholics crowd the pavements in search of a fix.
The employees were trailing its progress as technicians and will do what they are required to do without considering the import of their efforts. The price to be paid for the illusion of security is the assumption of stupidity. The others were more direct, it being in their interest to aid and abet the chiffon as it floated from one level to another voluptuously displaying itself before the camera, as though this dreamlike gavotte would continually defer what could be called moments of G reality or truth, eg when the red flag flew over St Pancras Town Hall on Mayday. Was that a similar moment, the sign of deferred action and of implied future action?. I thought I caught the glimpse of something hard and uncompromising lightly inscribed over the surface of the screen, which could easily frighten horses. I left the sanitised halls and had come back to Commercial Street. Standing on the kerb looking down at fast food packaging, used condoms, and other unidentifiable bits of dirt which offers such rich experiences for tourists in search of the morbid reclamation of the old ripper murders, a voice said "Want business darling?" I had been alerted again by the visit in the curtained cube to the world of free trade and bulimia nervosa. The prevailing myth declares that there is a price to everything.