BY Peter Suchin in Reviews | 01 JAN 02
Featured in
Issue 64

Carey Young

BY Peter Suchin in Reviews | 01 JAN 02

According to the exhibition guide to her recent show 'Business as Usual', Carey Young has developed a 'merged identity as both artist and business person and uses this as the basis of her work'. In the dozen pieces that were included here, Young considered the artist's position within an increasingly commercialized culture, and examined how business repeatedly attempts to 'creatively transgress' its patterns of invention and display. Young's title, especially after the horrors of 11 September, is ambiguous. Is the 'business' being scrutinized here that of capitalism (even if promoting art), or is it that, conversely, art today continues to assert its critical independence irrespective of the quenchless spread of commercial ideologies? Indeed, does art now rely upon its parasitic integration with commerce in order merely to exist at all?

Young references 'classic' moments from recent or contemporary art, specifically Conceptualism, in a bid to emphasize the parallels between the dematerialized art practices of the 1960s and 70s and the apparently current business trend of selling not products but intellectual capital or ideas. Individual pieces refer directly to figures such as Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Beuys, John Latham and Ian Burn. Burn's Xerox Book (1968), which was produced by photocopying a blank sheet of paper, then copying the subsequent copies, is, for example, directly alluded to in Young's Force Majeure (all works 2001), in which 336 pages of A4 paper inscribed with traces of the artist's name are fixed to the wall. On the first sheet Young's name is clearly and centrally presented; the second is a photocopy of the first, the third of the second, and so on, the words at first becoming blurred, then, finally, fully obliterated. Social Sculpture (for Joseph Beuys), a 'ready-made' roll of office carpet, recalls Beuys' use of felt as a symbol-laden art material, while in Positive Buzz various wall-mounted phrases such as 'Aha!','Good point' and 'Seems like a winner!' connect the language of corporate 'creative thinking' training sessions to that of artists or art school lecturers egging on their students to work in a more inventive or ambitious way.

In the video projection I Am a Revolutionary the artist repeatedly tries to credibly deploy the title phrase, acting under the guidance of a business skills training manager. Besuited in corporate costume, and with a vast, strangely framed office interior as background, Young's utterances often fall tragically flat; the manager-expert corrects her but she fails again. The implication that success in both business and art requires the convincing use of signs, irrespective of their truth content, makes this piece one of the most interesting in the show.

The problem with 'Business as Usual', however, is that, while claiming to straddle the spaces of art and commerce, it cedes too much to the latter at the expense of the former. It is of course the case that business plunders art in order to reinvigorate itself, just as it is true that art is often marketed as brutally as any other commodity on display. Yet even if art's critical distance from commerce has in recent years considerably diminished, it does not follow that art and business are simply interchangeable. Business reduces everything to the ultimate goal of profit; it wants to control meaning, stipulating responses that are, in a sense, non-negotiable. In contrast, art, or some of it, disrupts mainstream ideologies, including those of business itself. Though rammed together in this exhibition, the lining up here of art and business generates neither sparks nor shock.

Reiterated throughout the show was a tiring truism, that the incorporation of the artist is, today, an inevitability we must all accept. But Young appears to have assumed a premise and then talked herself into believing it. Her works are a pastiche of corporate culture's imagery and actions, when they might well instead have parodied them.

'The socially critical dimensions of art works are those that hurt', wrote Theodor Adorno in Aesthetic Theory (1984), 'those that bring to light ... what is wrong with present social conditions.' Young's work concerns itself with dematerialization, but a Brechtian act of demystification would have been more to the point. The all-too-cosy closure that is commerce and art's alignment requires, more than ever, an intense and interrogative critical commentary. But 'Business as Usual', irrespective of its author's intentions, legitimates not critique but its voluntary absence: it may work, entertain and amuse as art, but it doesn't 'hurt'.