Type ‘As If’, the title of Mark Leckey’s exhibition at Haus der Kunst, into Google, and fairly quickly you’ll find an image of a group of cool-looking teenagers from around 2000. These characters are the protagonists of the eponymous UK television series revolving around the lives of the so-called ‘millennials’– a generation that grew up with the internet and Google – the very platform you are viewing them on. What this simple search exemplifies is just the sort of feedback loop between media, subjectivity and popular culture that runs through Leckey’s reflections on the medial constitution of objects (and subjects) like a refrain; extending from his best-known video, Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore (1999), to his most recent, MyAlbum – A Rough-Demo Video (2014–15), which premiered at Haus der Kunst.
Both are displayed in the first section of this four-part exhibition. Curated by Patrizia Dander, this show is the most comprehensive presentation of Leckey’s work in Germany to date and succeeds in reflecting his intermedial practice through the exhibition structure. Like many of the artist’s works, the chapters that organize the show – ‘1. Autobiography’, ‘2. Sound Systems’, ‘3.1 GreenScreenRefrigeratorAction’, ‘3.2 ZooVidTek’, and ‘4. Video Cabinets’ – can be understood as loops: the individual components don’t function independently but through their interconnectedness. It is fitting then, that Leckey’s five Sound Systems (2001–12), presented together for the first time here, are at the heart of the exhibition. Derived from mobile street parties, the Sound Systems fill the room with an eccentric mix of sound pieces, snippets of music and soundtrack fragments taken from other works on view.
Thanks to the frontal arrangement of the speakers, the set-up veers towards the pictorial, creating an almost two-dimensional effect – a tendency that is even more pronounced in the neighbouring room in GreenScreenRefrigeratorAction (2010), Leckey’s iconic installation of a ‘talking’ Samsung refrigerator. In the diffused light of a halogen film lamp, the appliance placed in front of a concave green screen appears more as a digital image than a three-dimensional object. Yet when compared with its actual digital copy, displayed on an adjacent screen, it looks strangely artificial, even less real. What this paradox makes palpable is the digital restructuring of our perception: an intertwining of the technological and the physical, whose borders have long been fluid.
For Leckey the relationship between media and bodies is libidinous and somatic; this differentiates his practice from many media-reflexive appropriation strategies of the 1980s and their modes of critical distance. The inscription of desire into the medial structure of his work, and its presentation as a desiring structure, are best understood through the video Pearl Vision (2012), an embodied ‘bachelor machine’ of sorts. Screened in a video cabinet in the last room of the exhibition, its presentation alone is suggestive. Through images cut precisely to drum rhythms and R&B-heavy samples, the viewer follows the interaction between Leckey’s increasingly unrobed, drum-playing body with a partially filmed and partially computer-animated Pearl snare drum. Underlaid with rhythmically swelling female vocals (‘on/off’), the gleaming chrome surface of the object reflects body fragments to the point that they become indistinguishable, fused almost. The correspondence between the ‘on/off’ in the vocals and the 1/0 structure of binary code seems hardly coincidental. Nor is the viewer’s uncertainty about whether Leckey is playing the drum/machine, or vice versa. Here media doesn’t function as a prosthesis of the body. Rather, the body itself becomes prosthetic, a biological addendum of a technoid organism.
In the segment ‘ZooVidTek’, situated between GreenScreen … and the video cabinets, this perspective is filtered through a number of analogue and digital technologies and their temporal and perceptual structures. Made in ‘Eaven (2004), for instance – a computer animation of Jeff Koons’ stainless steel sculpture Rabbit (1986) that has been transferred to 16mm film – shows its own digital construction through a clever play on the indexical logic of analogue media: because the camera is not reflected in the surface of Rabbit, the seemingly analogue recording is revealed to be virtual. The interweaving of different media, materialities and historicities, however, does not only affect the authenticity of media depiction. In As If these registers are closely tied to questions of contemporary subjectivity and to autobiography. That today not only things but also people are subject to reproductive procedures is evident not least in MyAlbum, a sort of prequel to Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, Leckey’s homage to British club culture.
MyAlbum is composed of found footage material, compiled into ten ‘tracks’, spanning from 1954 – ten years before Leckey’s birth – to 1999. It shows key moments of ‘his’ life. The first chapter, ‘Fathers&Mirrors’, begins with black and white footage of a rock’n’roll concert and an Elvis Presley impersonator. The sequence that follows is already in colour, seemingly more ‘real’; what it shows, however, is a copy of the previous Elvis footage. The copy of Elvis and the copy of this copy pinpoint right from the outset that authenticity – including the facts of one’s own biography – bears a fictive kernel. As a compilation of found memories, the album of ‘Leckey’s’ life is that of a life in a specific time. It is also an album of time, insofar as his reflection on subjectivity and its construction evolves with the specificities of storage media. Leckey has often said that he apprehends objects only as images – as reproductions. This applies not least to how he sees himself.
Translated by Jane Yager