BY Justin Hoffmann in Reviews | 01 SEP 96

The title of this exhibition refers not to a celebration of individual creativity, nor to any desire for a craft renaissance. On the contrary, the intention is to examine the role of the notion of the 'self-made' in relation to the competition between commodities in our consumer society. It seeks to present the way that we are duped by Capitalism into thinking we are producing something for ourselves and serving our own private interests, despite the fact that the whole system works according to the paradigm of the individual. Self-assembly merchandise obeys rigorous conventions which correspond to the relations of production, although these are barely noticeable by the consumer. The 'self-made' embodies the illusion of choice and achievement: creativity without imagination.

New York artist Jason Rhoades has taken almost an entire floor of an empty townhouse provided by the Graz Kunstverein as part of the 'Styrian Autumn 95' festival, and laid it out as a workshop. A set of self-assembly furniture entitled Sheetrock Chair, Small Table and Tool Box Kit (1995) is shown at various stages of assembly: packaged as merchandise with a photograph showing how it should ideally look, and installed as real furniture in its completed form. What is unusual about this furniture is that, once complete, it looks surprisingly provisional, imperfect and handmade - slipping off its mass-produced appearance. Rhoades' workshop - which resembles some of Cady Noland's assemblages - also includes a strange machine which looks like a motorbike, but which has a set of antlers where the handlebars should be and a blue plastic bag with the inscription 'Blue Room' fitted to the exhaust pipe.

An arrangement by Reinhard Kropf is a direct invitation to play and indulge in DIY. With all the elements provided, the visitor can participate in the erection of a model housing estate. Nearby we find a different hobby, though perhaps it might be fairer to say an everyday practice: cooking. Five photographic triptychs by Véronique Ellena, all on the subject of eating, provide glimpses into various different households and living situations (the single life, married life, visiting...) and the works take their titles from the meals in question. Although these scenes are staged, the banality of the daily meal provides a vehicle with which to document collective activity - its conventions and personal differences - and record the interplay between commodity consumption and the individual imagination.

Mariko Mori makes her own fashion, and we're not talking hand-knitted pullovers. As her photographs reveal, she takes herself off to everyday settings in outfits - a silver cap which covers her hair and gives her Mr Spock ears, for example - that make her look as if she comes from another planet. In one image, she ends up on a bed in one of the 'love hotels' that are so popular in Japan. In another, she is transported into the middle of a conference full of businessmen, to whom she serves cups of tea. Mori describes her role as that of a cyborg, a cross between man and machine. Her extravagant clothing clearly takes the artist out of the time and place of the present; an effect which, in the context of this exhibition, underlines the potential of individual creativity.

On the ground floor of the exhibition building, the visitor is welcomed by a video projected on the wall by the Dutch artist Barbara Visser. Outside the context of art, it could easily be mistaken for a car advertisement. In fact, all that is shown in the film, entitled XM (1995), is a limousine dashing through the Dutch landscape. A dramatic soundtrack and sophisticated camera movements intensify the impression of commerciality. But at the same time, it could easily be a private film of someone's everyday car journey. The irritation provoked by the blurring of the private and public use of media is highly effective. Two floors up, we find another work by Barbara Visser: at the centre of her installation is a video of an installation. Quotations from various different picture sources are sampled in an unusual way, and rendered subjective by the artist's individual form of compilation. Someone leafs through an album of film stills from Lubitsch's Ninotchka. The camera lingers on the still photographs, and out of nowhere we hear the original soundtrack with dialogue. With other works, it's hard to work out exactly how they were intended to fit into the exhibition - in the case of Stephen Pippin's photograph of an empty shop, enlarged to a scale of 1:1, for example, or in the pairs of hanging object artworks by Diller and Scofido.

Graz artist Edda Strobl's invitation card takes precisely the opposite approach to the theme of the exhibition. Her folding card appears to be an advertisement for a 'Fellow Soul Traveller', an object promising happiness, although all it really consists of is the card itself and the message printed on it. In order to make it work, we must, according to the instructions, do something to it ourselves - stick in our passport photograph at a designated place - to realise its full potential and allow us to begin our daily meditations in front of it. The invitation card delivers the most convincing proof that self-assembly is merely a fiction, an act of faith in the self-made.