NO REASON TO MAKE IT, PUBLISH IT OR WATCH IT

5 Nov

Brilliantly biting new “competition” from IOCOSE: find the most worthless video on YouTube (http://notubecontest.com). “The NoTube videos should have no value whatsoever! This means: no funny videos, no narratives, no video art, no views, no links, no keywords.”

What I was most struck by, however, were their criteria for deeming a video to have no redeeming value:

1) No reason to make it.
2) No reason to publish it.
3) No reason to watch it.

I’m guessing that this is part of the point they’re making, but forget the YouTube drivel of anonymous yokels: how many so-called art works have we all seen that dovetail neatly with these three rules for assessing worth? I’ve seen plenty. It’s such a simple and useful formula, one that artists could and should also bear in mind when they’re making something. Why am I making this? Why do I need to share this with the world? Why would anyone be interested?

In fact this week I saw Josiah McElheny’s Bloomberg commission at Whitechapel Gallery and there was indeed no apparent reason to make it, display it or watch it. Other than the obvious ones, i.e. the gallery had a space to fill and he was paid to do it, neither of which count as valid reasons. People were traipsing through his installation of mirrors and abstract video without stopping for a moment; thinking nothing of it, paying no attention to it and tuning the whole thing out in exactly the same way they tune out the barrage of advertising, street noise, pedestrian chitchat and other useless stimuli that they’re subjected to outdoors on Whitechapel High Street.

It’s a separate issue, but while I’m on a ranting roll I’d like to mention that the Whitechapel repeatedly draw attention to McElheny’s “Modernism” as if it’s a good thing. I’m going to assume they’re aware that Modernism is a post-hoc art historical category from the Twentieth century. Apparently they’re not capable of joining up enough dots to realise that any artists still working in a Modernist idiom are tacky pasticheurs who aren’t much better than the greatly (and rightly) maligned Jack Vettriano with his Deco-Hopper simulacra Argos art.

I see a lot of new work that’s modern or Modernist but not genuinely contemporary because it’s not connected in any meaningful or significant way with contemporary thought or contemporary life; least of all is it connected with a contemporary approach to practising as an artist. Vettriano’s work isn’t connected or relevant in that way, McElheny’s isn’t either. Is it too much to ask that contemporary art galleries commission and exhibit contemporary art instead of just conjuring up wan revenants of art movements that are dead and gone?

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