BY Charles LaBelle in Reviews | 09 SEP 99
Featured in
Issue 48

Generation Z

BY Charles LaBelle in Reviews | 09 SEP 99

Ostensibly a survey of the fin-de-siècle landscape viewed through the eyes of 21 young-ish artists from 13 different countries, 'Generation Z' (Zeitgeist?) was a sprawling, thoughtful and ultimately edgy show. Encompassing the entire ground floor, basement, cafeteria, roof and courtyard of PS1, the work had plenty of room to manoeuvre and, in most cases, attacked the space with a vengeance - walking through it was like visiting a battlefield encampment or a squatters' commune. Setting the tone for the rest of the show, Slovakian artist Boris Ondreicka's installation-cum-headquarters - with communiqués, flyers, home-made signs, tapes and photographs littering the walls and floors - seemed a hotbed of dubious, quasi-anarchistic activity.

Revamped and revitalised, the scatter art aesthetic in evidence throughout the show felt fresh and playfully twisted. Indeed, artists as far-flung as Lionel Esteve, Elke Krystufek, Moshekwa Langa, Aidas Bareikis, Vincente Razo and Tomoko Takahashi all produced work that was characterised by varying degrees of narcissistic self-promotion, a devotion to arcane systems of organising information, seemingly cultish preoccupations and an obsession with accumulation that bordered on psychosis. Whether immersing themselves in pop culture memorabilia, the minute debris of their personal lives, cheesy snapshots or junk taken from the streets, the artists' chosen materials consistently returned to the theme of transience and suggested that displacement, disorientation and desolation are rapidly becoming the state of our chummy global village.

Indeed, if the slew of mapping shows in the early 90s marked the last gasp of a system of geography sliding headfirst into Virilian indeterminance, then the artists in 'Generation Z' are the first to come of age in this new, groundless era. As such, it is not surprising that so much of the work was about finding a position for oneself, about capturing those fleeting moments of experience lost in the din of daily life, and, most importantly, about accumulating evidence of our own subjective passage. Photographs, video footage, personal objects and clothing - forensic samples like bits of skin, hair and stains - have become the necessary supplements to our unreliable memories and nebulous realities.

In this sense, the work of Nikki S. Lee is especially pertinent. In her ongoing series of photographs, Lee disguises herself as various stereotypes: Punk, Yuppie, Hispanic, Tourist. However, unlike Cindy Sherman's solitary fantasies, Lee ventures out into the world, insinuating herself amidst her chosen peers. In snapshot after snapshot, she is shown with cheery groups of friends, at bars, in parks or in people's homes, having parties, posing and goofing for the camera.

In other works, the desire for the real manifests itself in the use of found materials and in the recuperation of the idea of home. Texas-based Chris Sauter's whimsical model of a cross-section of human skin made from a displaced bedroom carpet and cast-off clothing neatly underlines the interrelation of the body to the house. By turning interiors into exteriors, Sauter transforms the once-familiar into something vaguely foreign and intimates that, in this age of transparency, both ourselves and our homes exist in a constant state of exposure. In a different vein, Jonathan Meese's multi-levelled structure, wallpapered with détourned movie-star posters, gleefully embraces this very deterioration between public/exterior and private/interior realms. A vision of psycho-architecture, Meese's house becomes a kind of stage where daily life is a media-fuelled drama, a personal film noir or sci-fi dystopia. What is most compelling in each of these artists' work is the very process of opening up the house itself. Once open, the house is no longer properly a home, but more of a nomadic encampment, a way-station which exists in a zone somewhere between occupation and abandonment.

It is one of the strengths of scatter/accumulation art that it so effectively meshes notions of occupation and abandonment with the processes of becoming and the politics of aftermath. As (anti-)form, scatter art is nothing but traces, a momentary unity of fragments. It is an art of leakage and stains that touches upon our contradictory desires for both containment and freedom. Fundamentally, it is about the way we position ourselves in the midst of things. If the artists in 'Generation Z' are any indication, the need to locate ourselves in the world is becoming an increasingly difficult and all-the-more-important challenge.