Monday, 23 May 2011

Mark Leckey and the Fear of Critical Theory

At the risk of sounding brainwashed by a chick-lit, Shopaholic ideology of life, I have to confess that I like beautiful art, difficult as that word is to define. I also like art that is ugly, uncomfortable, or just plain terrifying. And I adore art that is both beautiful and ugly at the same time. What I find less interesting in a piece of art is when it is so cerebral that it forgets to touch the heart. And I have to admit that Mark Leckey’s Samsung refrigerator, as part of his exhibition of installations, art work, and videos at the Serpentine Gallery, just left me cold.
GreenScreen RefrigeratorAction sits in a room the colour of irradiated grass. There are two flat screens on two of the walls, speaking to you with automated, mechanical, repetitive voices, and the centre piece is a Samsung refrigerator, its double doors slightly ajar. And that’s pretty much it. Leckey’s inspiration is to communicate the idea of people being in constant communication with all aspects of their environment. Is the refrigerator asking me to think about brands, our culture of consumerism where it is practically a life imperative to own the next iPhone? Is it speaking to our constant hunger for more – more food, more technology, more busyness? Maybe it is. But when I look at it, the one question it makes me ask is: and…?
One of the most interesting pieces in this exhibition is Leckey’s renowned Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, a montage of video footage from the underground club scenes of Britain from the 1970s to the 1990s. The young people in the footage evoke the paranoia, frenzied immortality, and the trance-like quality of acid-infused hope, and at the same time the fevered scenes of British rave culture create a George Orwell-like premonition for a fragmented future. Kurt Cobain couldn’t have injected it with more pain. The totemic quality of dancing to a steady heartbeat could just as much magic a whirling dervish into being, as point to the schizophrenic nature of our lives.
For someone who confesses his distrust of and boredom with critical theory, Leckey certainly makes heavily intellectual art. At the same time, the media love to call him a dandy, a flaneur, with his penchant for pink trousers, floral monochromatic shirts, and desire to come to terms with modern life. He confesses in interviews to be torn between his own “disgusting ambitions” and the need to please people with his art. Having won the Turner Prize in 2008, it is safe to say that he is well on his way to satisfying both. He confesses, though, that maybe he feels sick with the world, and perhaps that is what his art is really about.

Mark Leckey, Sepentine Gallery, Till June 26, 2011
Review published in London Fringe

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