BY Michael Wilson in Reviews | 02 JAN 03
Featured in
Issue 72

Joey Kötting

Mobile Home, London, UK

BY Michael Wilson in Reviews | 02 JAN 03

At the entrance to Joey Kötting's show at the newly relocated Mobile Home is a small framed photograph of the artist wearing a T-shirt emblazoned with a single word: 'plonker'. On paper, at least, Kötting's chosen methodology might suggest that this unflattering legend was well deserved. An ambitious combination of performance, painting, photography and video, it reads like a recipe for, if not disaster, then at least a rather showy and self-absorbed body of work. So it is to the artist's great credit that he manages to turn what could have been an ill-advised mishmash of superficially experimental convictions into something substantially less predictable.

In each of three multi-part works Kötting uses light-sensitive canvas, as well as video, to document a variety of mysterious pursuits. Strapped to the artist's back or used as a makeshift table, the canvases are gradually marked by a combination of his own movements and the rays of the sun. The results are reminiscent of Yves Klein's 'Anthropométries' or the photograms of Man Ray: ghostly clouds of white over muted monochrome grounds, in most cases unrecognizable as imprints of the human form. The accompanying videos reveal rather more fully what went into their creation; either soundless or skilfully edited to laid-back grooves (was that a snatch of Brian Eno's 1978 Music for Airports?), they show a lone figure absorbed in actions that are sometimes straightforward, sometimes stylized and ritualistic.

In the first, Search for Lake George; Four Mile Walk: Kurt (1997), Kötting is shown striding through a forest until, after a few minutes, he comes across the eponymous body of water. The video is silent, black and white, and alternates between coolly detached long shot and blurred, shaky close-up. While obviously carefully staged, it retains something of the snatched urgency of Roger Patterson and Bob Gimlin's purported footage of the mythical Bigfoot. The accompanying canvas, having been worn by the artist like a rambler's knapsack, displays a central flare that corresponds to the position of his back. Pale blue, it looks like faded denim - perhaps a reference to the fact that Kötting's destination is the site at which he heard the news of Kurt Cobain's demise.

It's difficult to know quite what to make of this kind of detail. As either autobiographical or pop cultural colour it seems too commonplace to mean very much. Perhaps better to regard it as an allusion to - even a parody of - the way in which previously unremarkable places and activities gain significance by association. Without a knowledge of the processes and motivations that produced it, the canvas in Search for Lake George is anodyne; with such knowledge it is transformed into a holy relic - a Turin Shroud for Generation X.

In Son and Father (2001) Kötting's 'performance' is limited to sitting on the steps of a white-painted clapboard house and grimacing, his hands held together in a prayer-like gesture across a canvas balanced on his knees. Apparently he is meditating on the death of his father and the disabilities of his niece, although the accompanying music, while not without the odd poignant moment, suggests nothing quite so sombre. Based on Philip Guston's painting The Line (1978), Son and Father is rescued from unbearable earnestness by subtle idiosyncrasies that enhance the project in proportion to the degree to which they point away from its ostensible subject. The expressive quality of the work begins and ends not with anything buried or mediated, but simply with the bewildered contortions of the artist's face.

Trying to Fly Before the Sun's Too High (2001) is Kötting's take on the legend of Icarus. Once again weighed down by a gum-bichromate-coated panel, he makes repeated attempts at flight, using a child's climbing frame as his launch pad. The video speeds up, lending his efforts a twist of comic bathos as, time after time, he perches Birdy-like atop the apparatus before launching himself fruitlessly into the air. But shadowed, as is Son and Father, with a cluster of miniature, grey on white photo-transfers depicting fragments of the scene in which it is set, Trying to Fly nevertheless manages to achieve something like high style. In attempting to make every element of his thinking visible in each finished work Kötting appears keen to confine interpretation within predetermined boundaries. Fortunately he fails in this ambition. And again, while it is eminently possible to imagine the same scheme undertaken by a number of other artists, it is becoming clearer than ever that Kötting's touch is close to inimitable.