BY Isobel Harbison in Reviews | 01 JUN 12
Featured in
Issue 148

The Map is the Territory / Re-Run

BY Isobel Harbison in Reviews | 01 JUN 12

Benedict Drew Notes on the Dumb Terminal, 2012, still from slideshow, shown as part of ‘The Map is the Territory’

In 1986, Jean Baudrillard wrote that television was the ultimate object for this new era, a perfect ‘static vehicle’ that creates an ‘ecstasy of communication’. With the co-evolution of the Internet and hand-held devices, the communication rush comes even quicker. Aptly located on the platform of a bustling East London train station, Banner Repeater recently became a hub of activities aiming to make sense of how we develop alongside technology and its vehicles.

‘The Map is the Territory’ combined a small selection of works in the gallery’s modest exhibition space, a newly-instigated publishing platform called UN-PUBLISH (borrowed from Julian Assange’s condemnation of the misuse of the online data), the titles of which were distributed free to morning commuters, a series of talks, a screening of The Ister (2004) and a guest-curated group show of video works. That a new, non-hierarchical, self-organized, ‘horizontalist’ politics might emerge from clever deployment of readily available technology was the subtext connecting each element. Spanning diverse but interrelated topics rather than configured in clearly overlapping or ancillary sections, the broader programme seemed to reproduce this new ideological structure.

Benedict Drew’s digital slideshow, Notes on the Dumb Terminal (2012), was projected in the gallery and online. The work contains a series of short statements, legible despite their speedy progression, the numerous typos and grammatical glitches simulating the cut-and-paste wiki-waste of many websites. Subjects include: the fabric of computer screens, theories of Internet-driven consumerism, the elimination of human contact from daily commerce and international conflicts, the global control of content-distribution websites, emoticons, the irksome origins of the smiley-face badge, the monetization of Facebook’s ‘Like’ button and the trap of pressing it ... As the slides progress at increasing speed, their connections become tenuous, but the work’s ingenuity lies beyond the mesmerizing quality of the slipshod images. With wit and whimsy, Notes on the Dumb Terminal reproduces in real-time the sense of greed, anxiety and ultimate dissatisfaction familiar to the average Internet user with a world of instant information at his or her fingertips to assimilate and potentially reproduce.

Beside it flickered Tim Head’s Beauty and the Beast (2010), running from some real-time computer programme onto an LCD screen. Intended as an exploration into the texture of the digital, this indecipherable fuzz made little impact when addressed head-on, but worked well as a footnote to Drew’s piece, blinking like an involuntarily eye-spasm at its right periphery. Christopher Rawcliffe’s work Edition of 1 (2012) presented another conceptually sparse addition: these editions of one, printed for distribution from the gallery, run from a programme that generates infinite non-descript screengrabs as one-off images. But it was unclear what this work actually added to the din, beyond illustrating some pretty basic new code designed by a collaborator and their ability to fabricate the Internet’s growing mass of clutter.

In the corner of Banner Repeater’s tiny bookshop, a monitor screened video works that ran simultaneously online. ‘Re-Run’ was guest-curated by Fay Nicholson and Majed Aslam, and included works by themselves and 13 other artists. Commissioned to play one on loop every day, and to change daily over two weeks, the selection brought a great many highlights to the overall programme, including Luke Alexander and Jamie Thompson’s digital distortion of a music video by London-based producer Actress. An animation by Aslam isolated the structure of an advertising hoarding, its content switching between the image of an electronic circus, like New York’s Time Square, and that of seawater lapping. Brought together, the regular tidal flow between the ‘natural’ and the electronic was both pacifying and unsettling, especially when (later) viewed on a laptop. Jess Flood-Paddock’s piece focused on antiquities from the British Museum. It remained unclear whether they were shot from originals or the museum shop’s cheap souvenir reproductions, and perhaps that was the point when seen from a laptop’s universally, dimensionally reductive online environment.

‘The Map is the Territory’, if considered as exhibition alone, presented a timely – though occasionally unwieldy – reflection of what opportunities and challenges the Internet presents to artists (both materially and politically), a sophisticated evolution from’s initial euphoria. But Banner Repeater’s broader endeavour presented far more than an exhibition, and contributions in person and in print by some of the city’s most interesting thinkers (including Paul Mason, Esther Leslie and Nina Power) is testament to the David vs. Goliath thinking of this small space and the goodwill that meets it. London’s larger art institutions would be well advised to sit up and listen, or even better, go horizontal and join forces.

Isobel Harbison is an art critic based in London. Her book, Performing Image, will be published by the MIT Press later this year.