BY Stuart Morgan in Reviews | 06 SEP 96
Featured in
Issue 29

Crap Shoot

BY Stuart Morgan in Reviews | 06 SEP 96

Thrown through a top floor window, a brick lies on the gallery floor, surrounded by broken glass. In the next room, an office has been trashed. In another, a video shows a blindfolded figure, wandering through traffic. Danger gives way to futility: a wooden maze has been constructed, with a fetish object and a wind-up toy in the centre. Meanwhile, on another video screen, two men spit alphabet spaghetti at each other. A mobile toilet has been built, with a door that locks, a light inside and a mirror placed immediately below the occupant - to search for haemorrhoids, perhaps. Covering one wall are the pages of a private investigator's completely unhelpful report on Rudi Fuchs, director of the Stedelijk Museum.

'Crap Shoot', curated by Annie Fletcher, Nina Folkersma, Clive Kellner, Kay Pallister and Adam Szymczyk, includes works by Kendell Geers, Halter/Gratwohl, Maurizio Cattelan, Jes Brinch & Henrik P. Jakobsen, Jeroen Eisinga and Anand Zenz. Laddish and literal-minded, the exhibition is a study in Zeitgeist. Dadaistic gestures outweigh deep thinking, while stability is replaced by compulsion, chance and actes gratuites.

In other words, the concept of control is superseded and an Every Man For Himself attitude prevails. (Quite literally so - as a gesture against political correctness, no women are included.) For when art, beauty, belief and fixed moral values are undermined, life triumphs - nasty, brutal, short, and above all, shallow. At the entrance, visitors walk over a mirror, a signal that reflection of any kind has been rejected.

'Crap Shoot' deals with embodiment: the trials and pleasures of our own status as human beings, but - more than that - a sense of futility and the option of extreme actions with little inherent significance. In other words, these activities, or signs of activity, or instruction manuals for how to read evidence that has been left for us, are not to be construed in terms of layered significance or multivalence. On the contrary, they aspire to other types of meaning, such as the phatic: the yell when you drop a heavy weight on your foot, the adrenalin rush when you make love or lose your temper, or break the law just for the sake of it. That particular response is the automatic result of a sudden illogical action, the answer to a command there is no time to consider, much less judge. The result is purposeful purposelessness, a product not of the brain but of the nerve endings. For one of our options is always to let go: to release ourselves from rules which are not of our own making, and just once in a lifetime, to stand alone, free of decisions made by others on our behalf, decisions we are punished for ignoring. Independence, in that case, would entail forgetting hard work, competition, a direction in life, earning money, the rat race... It would mean telling your boss exactly what you think of him. More importantly, it would mean momentarily losing sight of principles of good and evil. For many young Europeans, the only logical response to the world around them is to feel cheated by the distance between expectations and reality.

In terms of art, such profound dissatisfaction can be expressed only in terms of gut reaction. Why did Arthur Craven become a boxer? Why did Rimbaud renounce poetry and become a gun-runner? Why did Jean Genet continue to steal throughout his life, even when he had no chance of escaping arrest? Because they were bad people? Because they were dissatisfied with the lack of analysis of moral judgements we have been taught to abide by: judgements which a child of three might question? We are born free but are in chains of our own making, chains from which we can release ourselves at any time. Behind such an argument lies a kind of Existentialism, or even a Situationist stance. But why return to this now? The answer can only be disaffection: a disgruntlement with art but also with the effectiveness of activism in general. Or the fact that philosophy is of little use and faith in logical thinking has collapsed, a point made by Anand Zenz with his futile lists of complaints. And behind 'Crap Shoot' in particular lies a disaffection with the idea that art can be multivalent. (The exhibition's chief characteristic is lack of depth.) The result is pointlessness illustrated: a set of acts of work without a structure to contain them, a collection of three-dimensional illustrations with little effect. And if illustration evokes ideas of bodilessness and the diagrammatic, occasionally punctuated with references to violence, that only confirms initial impressions of a museum as the scene of a crime. (A real crime became part of 'Crap Shoot' when the curators broke into the nearby Bloom Gallery and stole items from their current exhibition.) In Copenhagen, Brinch and Jakobsen showed a wrecked car only to discover that other people (not artists) were overturning and setting fire to real cars, mistaking art for terrorism. But why are they ever considered to be different things? It is this wildfire effect that 'Crap Shoot' creates. The final impression is of a clever survey of one current tendency, a mixture of art and life without resolution.