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Issue 136 January-February 2011 RSS

Mark Leckey

Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, New York, USA

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Ten years have passed since Mark Leckey’s Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore (1999) first screened at the ICA, London. It consists of stitched-together footage of British youth subcultures, from Northern Soul to the Acid House scene of the late 1980s. It has gained cult status, a touchstone for a generation of British video artists that sought to eschew the locked-off camera work and minimal narrative trajectory of 1990s video art. With its mix of documentary styling and music-video editing, Fiorucci… achieves the impossible task of delivering the urgency and frisson of young lives lived on the edge of the mainstream. A procession of dancing and spinning figures reveals the nature of the club, the style tribe and the momentary highs of the big night out. Slow-motion footage of young men lost in music and the culturally coded dance moves give way to police footage of 1980s casuals, sporting wedge haircuts and expensive Euro knitwear from Diadora, Ellesse and Fiorucci.
Ten years later, behind the rumbling bass lines, the video oozes melancholy in the newly expanded, vast concrete space of Gavin Brown’s Enterprise. It speaks of a former mood, of a pre-Internet time when youth culture was more slowly cooked. The video’s latest incarnation, titled Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore with Sound System (10 year anniversary remaster) (1999/2003/10), sits alongside a dub sound-system. Lost and cut adrift from the social ecology of dub and club culture, it is an elegant memorial. Sat in isolated splendour in the gallery, the lived relation to its subject matter dwindles. To this extent the power of Fiorucci… is the reminder that tendencies succeed each other.
Fiorucci… is complemented by Leckey’s latest work GreenScreenRefrigeratorAction (2010). For one night only the gallery was transformed into a television studio, replete with multiple cameras and playback monitors – for the remainder of the show the resulting video from the evening’s performance was played back on a large monitor, in situ alongside stage and props. Clad in white shirt and red trousers, Leckey stood at a mixing desk; to his right was a green-screen stage, in the middle of which sat an outsized matte black Samsung fridge that ‘reads’ the nature and decay of its contents. It was a wonderfully comic, elegant mise en scène. After what appeared to be a technical malfunction – over time and numerous performances, one recognizes this as a wilful act, a false and unsettling start – an auto-tuned croon, recognizably Leckey’s, rumbled along at low-pitch, an uneasy cybernetic love ode, to the sentient fridge. ‘Standing here. Beside myself. Out of my mind. I liken myself to other things: dark mirror; a walled garden; a monstrous insect; a Spearmint Rhino; Don Giovanni’s Stone Guest; the staff of Hermes.’ Moving to the stage he perched on a wooden stool. Lost in an expanse of green, Leckey stared at the film monitors, carefully correcting his position in relation to the cameras – a crooked knee, a hand laid upon it in perfect repose. Occasionally he stooped to inhale from a canister of gas – fridge coolant – muttering half-discernable phrases and words: ‘Becoming, becoming, here in the green nowhere.’ Recoiling from the hit of toxic gas, he appeared at a loss, the attempt to become one with the thinking machine failed. Screens placed either side of the stage displayed a landscape of fruit, designer goods, and what looked like Mecca, shimmying behind the simultaneous recording of the dark matter of the fridge. Taking a green cloth from offstage and draping it over his head, the artist disappeared on the green screen, present in the room yet lost through digitized alchemy. Leckey is not a ‘natural’ performer, and it was the suggestion of fragile relations between body and technology that appealed here: the occasional stumble and attempt to make sense of the times by communing with its technology, albeit the banal and ordinary world of the fridge. He is an artist in the process of dematerialization, disappearing into the ether and the digital screen. As Duchamp famously said, ‘The great artist of tomorrow will go underground.’ Rather than remain on the surface, Leckey disappears behind the digital surface. His last utterance to the crowd: ‘My batteries died, that’s it done.’

Mark Beasley

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First published in
Issue 136, January-February 2011

by Mark Beasley

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