‘But what would you suggest instead?’ ask Inventory in the course of defending their often antagonistic project in the final issue of the eponymous journal the art-collective published between 1995 and 2005. ‘Make friends with the right people? Aim for a comfortable career? Aspire for affluence sufficient to eat regularly at St John? Is that all you want?’
While chiding one of London’s culinary institutions (famed for bony, offal-based cuisine – not to mention its cultured clientele) might be beyond the pale for some of this magazine’s more self-reckoning readers, the collusion of critique and near-comedic social-awareness captured in this editorial tit-bit is precisely what has made Inventory’s project since the mid-90s so interesting.
Inventory is a loosely associated group of writers, artists and theorists whose name comes from a quote contained within Walter Benjamin’s Moscow Diary (published in English in 1986): ‘the inventory of the streets is inexhaustible’. The group is currently guided by the efforts of two artists (though they prefer to be called heretics), Adam Scrivener and Paul Claydon, and advances a practical and theoretical notion of what they call ‘fierce sociology’. In accordance with this principal, Inventory’s work explores certain socio-cultural dimensions of the city, responding to the vicissitudes of consumer culture and high capitalism with a practice that, though slippery in overall ambition, is indubitably grounded in what we might call the ‘politics of space’.
The exhibition at Rob Tufnell, Inventory’s first solo show since a 2005 outing at White Columns, New York, comprised old and new work. At its centre was a large vitrine containing all 14 editions of the group’s aforementioned journal. With its no-frills design, porous editorial policy (ethnography, meta-fiction, theory – all welcome) and sustained hectoring of all things normative, Inventory clearly doffs a cap to Georges Bataille’s surrealist magazine Documents – published in Paris 15 times between 1929–30.
Bataille proposed Documents as ‘a war machine against received ideas’, an apt description of Inventory’s agenda, which was additionally represented here by finished art works in sculpture, print, photography, collage, video, as well as performance documentation.
Three Episodes in the Relentless Process of Decay (2003) is a set of found freezer doors installed as a triptych along one gallery wall. Scenes from Lascaux (another Bataille connection – he wrote a book about the cave paintings in 1955) have been attached with a Dremel-drill to the front of the first freezer, while a second – which faces the other way round – merely exposes the yellow patina of its ageing plastic insides. A final freezer door is smattered with sun-bleached teen stickers from the early 1990s. Moderately successful footballers (such as Gary Mabbutt in all his Tottenham Hotspur pomp), a Gladiators-era Ulrika Jonsson and various (possibly morally corrosive) images from Baywatch jostle and part imbricate on the freezer’s facade. This door, like the others, suggests Western culture’s entropic withering, at odds with the idea of the freezer itself, which attempts to temper time and the relentless decay of the work’s title.
An adjacent period Sony Trinitron monitor showed short excerpts from three earlier video works. The most compelling of these, Coagulum (Oxford Street) (2001), documents a proto-flash-mob-like public intervention organized by Inventory in the middle of a packed Central London record store. About ten people come together to form a rugby scrum-like arrangement on the busy shop floor. The pestiferous mass begins to turn, soon spinning wildly as security guards wrestle hopelessly with the flailing limbs at its peripheries and onlookers stare on, agog. All the while – most appropriately – ‘Closer to Me’, a cloying smash by insipid late-90s Brit boy band Five, blasts out of the store’s PA. It’s a mesmerizing scene, one no doubt enhanced by the brevity of the excerpt, which runs for just a few teasing seconds.
This show comes off the back of Inventory’s recent inclusion in major institutional group shows at Tate Britain (‘Ruin Lust’, 2014) and INIVA (‘Keywords’, 2013) and ahead of a new publication, The Counsel of Spent, which the ever-excellent London publisher Book Works will be releasing later this year. One might say that things are on the up for Inventory. Not that they would care, of course. Say, pass the bone marrow, won’t you?