28 Feb

Thanks to the reliably cringe-inducing Rhizome mailing list, some PR material for an exhibition in Milan called ‘~hieromesh~trance`scribr~~>’, which in itself is incredibly annoying in its preciousness and its extremely dated enthusiasm for titles that look a bit like computer code, or actually are computer code. Anyway, the puff itself contains several fine examples of art world cant:

“In both her physical work and vibrating Web page pieces, [Brenna] Murphy organizes collected everyday detritus into grids of repeating patterns. In the large, undulating, web-based grids, the assembled images vary in depth and perspective. Some frames vibrate while others contain short looped gif animations. Rendered shadows and contours add texture and dimension to these compositions, which could not exist outside of the confines of the computer screen. Each element retains an incredible level of detail while also blurring, even literally, real source imagery with digital alterations and truncated environments.”

Investigation of the artist’s website reveals that this is a florid description of what looks like a cross between a multistorey car park made of vomit and a bunch of Magic Eye pictures from the Nineties. At least if you stared at that crap for long enough you’d see a wobbly dolphin or get a migraine or something and you’d know your brain was still capable of functioning. Better that than the braindead, flatline non-experience of looking at something you don’t even care enough about to dislike.

“In Brenna’s works we can perceive somehow the metaphysics of Leibniz, where the universe is thought to be composed of fundamental units, which he called “monads” and each one reflects back the entire universe. We can think of Brenna’s works as having within them code detailing not only their own characteristics and their personal past and future, but also their relationship with all the other works in the artist’s universe of creation and physical perception.”

I’m not sure what Leibniz has to do with any of this (and nor do they) but whatever, he’s some old philosopher guy that arty people have probably heard of but are unlikely to have actually read, so that makes for a great way of bamboozling people and appropriating some unwarranted intellectual gravitas for Magic Eye vomit posters. Who’s going to run around doing a fact check on your unreferenced, ad hoc interpretation of Leibniz’s metaphysics, or Enlightenment mathematics and philosophy in general?

In fact the writer doesn’t even seem sure of their own bullshit: “we can perceive somehow the metaphysics of Leibniz…” Somehow? Either we can or we can’t perceive the influence of (for example) Leibniz; the connection is either tenable or it isn’t. In both cases I’m pretty certain the latter option is the correct one. The title of this post deliberately alludes to Leibniz’s theories: not everybody will understand it, but I put it there deliberately and knowingly because I do in fact know something about him. It’s not there “somehow”. And in any case, don’t ever use a text about an artist to tell me what I can perceive and what I can’t. I’ll look at the art and decide that for myself. It’s also tempting to interpret the second sentence as a fancy way of saying that every piece of work by this artist looks exactly the same as every other thing she’s done.

Of course nobody would have to tie themselves in such writhing, slippery, eel-like linguistic knots like this if they just showed work that really had the intellectual weight and artistic complexity that was being claimed for it. For some perverse reason, though, the art world prefers to endorse lazy, trite or just plain bad work and then go to absurd lengths to justify it rather than just exercising some quality control and letting good work speak for itself, as good art work usually does. I think the dirty little open secret of the art world is that many artists and gallerists are basically not very intelligent: they’re just good at making the appropriate people think they sound intelligent.

PS: I forgot to mention that the perpetrator of this exhibition is Maria Gloria Gallery, Milan. If Milanesi readers happen to poke their heads in, let me know if any dolphins or pyramids or whatever pop out from the pictures when you stare at them, or if you perceive any metaphysics of Leibniz. Molte grazie.


  1. Alistair 28/02/2012 at 9:48 PM #

    I just remembered the Monty Python Philosophers’ football match, Germany vs. Greece, with Leibniz as the goalie. That is all, carry on.

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