30.08.18 – 06.10.18
A guide to interrogating the words and sentences of Ed Young
What compels the production of 44 oil on canvas paintings, the repetition of 200 pt. black Impact text, an accumulative total of 86 words, 532 characters, 113 syllables and an authorial intent so lax it could’ve been produced by the predictive text function of an unlocked phone?
Has Young attempted to produce a body of work fatiguing the familiarity of his practice? A show considerably less diverse than the investment portfolios of those buying? A series of buzzwords aimed squarely at the deep pockets of a demographic hungry for assets with brand recognition? Is this about flooding the market? To watch this batch wash up on auction house shores, waving paddles encircling Bananadick while others hold out for Wankmaggot?
Or is it already washed up? Does this all encapsulate the endgame of professional practice? The mechanical reproduction of art in the age of work? The micro-management of a mediated persona plateauing into sustainable merch opportunities? Are there viable exits except through the gift shop? Or is the only thing left to build the collection? And what about the look of all of this? Do you remember when Roddy Piper puts on the sunglasses and all the colourful images turn to black text on white? Maybe it’s sort of like that? Can we cut the decorative and get straight to the subliminal? One message with the medium on the side please? Like, maybe it’s the fact that the market is oversaturated with images? Like, maybe it just stopped rushing on zombie formalism and needs an ambien? Like, maybe what it truly needs right now is a single ohm or mantra to focus its attention inwards? I mean, what can you do when the chandelier’s all swung out?
Why did we think conceptual art was impervious to the hype-machine? Sous les pavés, le hashtag? Can you hear the push notifications during 4’3”? Does the true artist help the world by revealing relatable content on Instagram? The Readymade is Readydead? Oh, you’ve Readyseen that Readysaid?
Can one appropriate conceptual gestures without perpetuating them? Didn’t Barbara Kruger say that plagiarism is the sincerest form of imitation? Or is there only so much variation in the laconic?
And what is this strain of conceptualism? Straining conceptualism? Layman’s conceptualism? South Park conceptualism? Toilet reader conceptualism? An entry level critique aimed at upsetting a hypothetical status quo none of our galleries even have the muster to sustain anymore? Is it the critique we deserve or need? Or what we’ll settle for currently as we begin recalibrating our sinking standards for next season? Like, for real, this where we at though? If there’s a concept at work here, where exactly does it reside? Outside the text, the work, the room, the industry? I’m told it’s behind me, but how far back? 15 years?
Can any work existing in the white cube ever truly be radical? How do you upset the showroom floor for the capitalist project? If one can’t tear a system down with work, is the next best thing to draw attention to the limits of bad taste the system will endorse? The brainfart, the shit, the stupid shit, the random shit? To break one’s back to show that there’s no spine? Then again, what use are all these words without intent? Surely a declarative statement without a base position or pointed direction provides an absence of culpability? Because these words about those people right? And what’s a provocation if no one knows who said it? Isn’t a provocateur without a directive just an amateur third force? Or another equal opportunity offender?
One more thing, is the kettle biko black now? Or is Hidden Fences just a callout for a mistake you didn’t get around to making? One more other thing, why remove the walls? As an overblown gesture of authenticity? An attempt to strip the sheen to not slip up? Or were we all just hoping for a Gladys Mgudlandlu mural?
You ever hear about those Japanese holdout soldiers who continued fighting for decades after World War II ended because they were unaware of Japan’s surrender? Can an apathetic white guy persona, produced during an MFA in 2005, continue equally unaware? Or is this work all overly aware? Does it note the current trend in commercial galleries of white male self-flagellation attempting redress by enacting public displays of victimhood and further enforcing a historical narrative of oppression from the perspective of the transgressor and how bad, sorry and sad they the descendents feel about the whole mess? Is daddy’s sjambok the new object fetish?
And is this all an attempt to sidestep it entirely? To satirise via carrying on? What can a white man say except the inane and irreverent? What can a white man do except take up all the space in the world? What can a white man give us except a public event to come look at his thoughts?
Text by Mitchell Gilbert Messina