The entrance to Cubitt is tucked away at the bottom of an anonymous back alley, just away from the buzz of Angel junction. It was an apt location for 'hey production!', Emily Pethick's first show as curator-in-residence, which attempted to trace and question alternatives to the established realms of architecture and social interaction.
Once through the clanking metal door, visitors to the show were plunged into a disorientating darkness. As the eyes began to adjust, two cubic structures occupying the gallery space began to emerge from the void. These structures were commissioned from Florian Plumhösl and Stephan Rabeck to house the slide and video projections that make up the rest of the work in the show. Based on designs for so-called 'Living Cubes' found in ethical design pioneers Victor Papanek and James Hennessey's book Nomadic Furniture (1973), the structures not only functioned as a physical framework, but also provided a thematic back drop for the show. Nomadic Furniture is a DIY guide on how to construct inexpensive, flexible furniture and is a quintessential example of early 1970s idealism. The book came out at a time when the idea of a radically different future, not characterized by the static and dividing spaces of the Modern city still retained some of its credibility.
Suggestive of an uncanny relationship, however, the two cubes are, in spite of their benign origins, almost identical to the cells making up the compound city in Pia Rönicke's Cell City - A System of Errors (2003). With no signs of human life, the weightless structure floating across the screen in this animation resembles the wrecked Mir Space Station more than any terrestrial architecture. A nightmarish conclusion to super-rationalist planning schemes, Cell City has lost touch with the real world, and is aimlessly drifting through space. The voice-over repeating the short set of regulations governing the city and its absent inhabitants, like a radio signal emitted from a shipwrecked vessel beyond salvage, eventually renders the words meaningless.
Copenhagen Free University, which lives and breathes in the home of Jakob Jakobsen and Henriette Heise, is an artistic experiment in the vein of movements such the Situationist International. Rather than subverting the city, however, Jakobsen and Heise are specifically interested in setting up alternatives to state-controlled education. As one of the points in their fluorescent ABZ of the Copenhagen Free University poster reads, CFU is 'based on a direct, unmediated exchange of knowledge between people as a vehicle of social change'. An ironic take on how to represent such activities in a gallery context, CFU's contribution to the show looks like a stall, albeit a very casual one, at a recruitment fair. The deliberately lo-fi multimedia presentation includes slide projections of the bullet points of their ABZ, which have been scribbled straight on to the glass of empty slide mounts.
Where CFU is an attempt at maintaining an alternative to mainstream culture in the tradition of avant-garde practices, Judith Hopf's work questions just that legacy. In her video Hey Production (2003), which also lent the show its title, a woman is seen sitting on a bench in a park, contemplating the tranquil environment. After literally being stalked by a high-Modernist public sculpture that suddenly comes alive, the protagonist comes face to face with herself. This rather more sophisticated doppelgänger takes over the stage and, along with a group of accomplices, transforms the park into an arena for an intricate, choreographed dance routine. Hopf's video is hilarious - especially the po-faced male dancers who deliver excellent wooden performances - but it also grapples with a complex issue. The performers in Hey Production may look like ravers, but their staged collective exercise is more reminiscent of a power yoga class for busy city workers than a spontaneous countercultural activity. Hopf's work explores how strategies originally imported into our society by people searching for alternative lifestyles in the 1960s and 1970s have become assimilated and transformed into performance-boosting tools for capitalist structures.
Looking for alternatives might, as 'hey production!' seems to suggest, take a lot of looking back. Yet the artists here don't resort to simple nostalgia. Rather, their critical investigations open up a space for reflection that holds open a door to the future.