Psychic Driving at the GTG, Belfast, 22 August – 5 October, 2013
Curated in collaboration with Ben Crothers the exhibition presents art by Maurice Doherty, Ciara Finnegan, Kandy Fong, James Franco, Kristin Lucas, Nicolas Provost, Nancy Jo Sales, Peter Spiers and Jeanne Susplugas.
In the case of Nancy Jo Sales ( an award winning journalist) the link between the printed words The Suspect Wore Louboutins, 2010 and Sofia Coppola’s 2013 film The Bling Ring is described tenuously as inspiration. They share the subject matter not art. The set of A4 sheets under the glass exposes the weakness of that exhibit rather than its strength. It is tedious to read, has no visual appeal, and tells the story in a language of a boring report. Its relation to the theme of the exhibition is based on the interpretation of behaviour, which most people will call criminal. A touch of the saving grace is the essay’s title – economically summing up the story of obsession with expensive fashion, and thus linking the exhibit with the concept of the exhibition.
The title of the exhibition has an unfathomable link to all the exhibits. And it is not a virtue. According to the recent psychiatric research the psychic driving is a procedure that produces often intense responses. A premise has been advanced in scholarly press that a period of psychic driving may set up within an individual an area of intense responsiveness. The research suggests two types: autopsychic and heteropsychic driving, while issuing a caution that the material available is not sufficient to determine the various values of either. Possibly, such an insecure ground inspired the curator to supplement the exhibition by a selection of films related to some kind of obsessiveness.The gallery handout insists that the “selection of films delves deeper into the themes of the exhibition”.
The five films are:
American Psycho (2000)
and The Virgin Suicides(1999).
Film was claimed by V I Lenin as the appropriate art for masses in the new socialist society after the revolution of 1917. Being mechanically reproduced all copies are originals, and are easily disseminated over the entire population. It may not have been a motif for our curator, nevertheless, the screening of the films may evoke a thought that the exhibits in the gallery were not strong enough on their own. Or that the selected films are in some other way necessary or enriching.
Advertised together the links between the display at the Golden Thread Gallery and the screening on offer at the Queen’s Film Theatre forge either inevitablitity to supplement one with the other, or free choice not to.
I have not seen the films and do not intend to see any of them, consequently, I consider the exhibition on its own merits.
Jeanne Susplugas presents a video Bath, 2002, of a young woman in a bathtub full of capsules. The camera reads her head and parts of the limbs slowly moving as in a feeble attempt to lift the body up. No success. If the viewer is inclined to read it as images of the loss of energy under the influence of so called recreational drugs – it is not contradicted. Nor is there a denial of interpreting it as an observation of an ill person drowning in prescription drugs that do not bring any relief. The need and the want are presented as the same ethical values, somewhat carelessly.
Yet, it is the expansion of consciousness that we expect art to offer first of all. The serious business of inventive, creative act of making visual art benefits both from a strong concept and responsiveness to spontaneity. Three of the exhibit score highly.
In a still life of a monitor and a tape, Ciara Finnegan fuses concept and object tightly to make our escape from the puzzle more predictable. She emailed me:
CF: “And We?” (1999) questions the status and credibility of the performance document while addressing the artist’s nervousness about the planet’s capacity to store and conserve all the physical records of all the performance acts in the world. (We led a bulkier existence in the analogue years…)
Predating the ability to easily access and download videos from the internet, this work may register the document of a daring criminal act. It may feature the artist defying a central law of physics. It will self-destruct…(One really ought to dispose of the evidence).
( Me: Switching the tape on will destroy the “only” it. So – I do not switch it on. It is suddenly my responsibility. But maybe the artist is not telling the truth, and the tape will not be destroyed by viewing. Or maybe there is another copy. Nevertheless the idea of viewing as destruction lingers on , It means something sinister, each view replaces the previous one in a flow that is transitory and destined to be locked up in memory that has a tendency to fade.)
CF:You are absolutely right – it invites the viewer to assume responsibility for the life of the work – a responsibility that, perhaps, they do not want. It compels the viewer to make an assessment on the value of the artwork: Is it worth the risk to view it? (There are no second chances, no rewinds… ) The mystery surrounding the content of the tape seduces – but does that driving curiosity outweigh the burden of guilt one may feel at destroying it? Does one really want to be its executioner??????
Coincidentally (or not?), Maurice Doherty works with the same question. He installed an old cooker connected to a full gas cylinder, and placed a burning candle not far from it. . Turning on the switch would obliterate the installation, and possibly the gallery. Mass Destruction was shown first in 2002 . Nobody used the switch. An open oven insinuates suicidal act be it for an individual or a whole culture… Its call for a rational decision is mandatory – luckily it is not all. The significance shifts into the distance between the real and pretended, into the gap between art and life. The play with the imagined choice turns out to be spontaneously accompanied by a smile.
Humour lurks all over the Peter Spiers’s Mimicking Frame by Frame , 2010. The subject is a sequence of Oliver Hardy performance. Spiers sectioned it into individual frames and juxtaposed each with his re-performing Hardy’s movement, gesture, rhythm, timing, as exactly as possible. Spiers is both viewer and performer, using a spontaneous behaviour observed in children and well trained adult mimes. It demands exceptional aesthetic awareness of one’s body and space surrounding it. While the immediacy of miming Hardy is inescapable, the authenticity of both depends on the difference in appearance of the performers – Spiers echoes Hardy minus the slapstick.
Kristin Lucas harvests popular imagery grounded in science fiction forging a humorous pastiche – vegetables steamer as a radar dish is particularly appealing in this lightweight offering named Lo-Fi Green Sigh,2004.
Nicolas Provost also applies harsh derivation to transform film shots from horror films into blasé abstractions Long Live the New Flesh, 2009. The film shot melts down into a colour field.
Kandy Fong presents Both Sides Now, 1980 attractive to all Star Trek fans including its creator gene Roddenberry, a claim made by the curator.
Centred on the film Rebel without a Cause, James Franco commissioned and curated an exhibition and a book Rebel in 1912, at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. The publication contains visual interpretation of the film and of the exhibition by J.Franco, Douglas Gordon, Paul McCarthy, Ed Ruscha and many others. The book is available on a pedestal as one of the exhibits.
Psychic Driving presents divergent cases of fascination and obsession both as art Provost) and not art (N J Sales). With the more popular subjects the slip into the destructive mode is easily overlooked (Lucas, Fong). The conceptual art (Finnegan, Doherty) wins easily for its clearly directed challenge to the morality of the viewer, not unlike the moral dilemmas in philosophy: e.g.
A trolley is running out of control down a track. In its path are five people who have been tied to the track by a mad philosopher. Fortunately, you could flip a switch, which will lead the trolley down a different track to safety. Unfortunately, there is a single person tied to that track. Should you flip the switch or do nothing?
Bringing moral dilemmas to the visitors of a gallery or cinema goers is a surprising and valuablechallenge.
The images courtesy Ben Crothers.