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[Nettime-ro] For your attention
bory on Wed, 9 Apr 2003 09:52:23 +0200 (CEST)


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[Nettime-ro] For your attention


Bory spotted this on the Guardian Unlimited site and thought you should see it.

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Note from Bory:

Despre Beck's Futures Awards, Londra (sau ce se mai intampla cu arta contemporana tanara in lume).
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To see this story with its related links on the Guardian Unlimited site, go to http://www.guardian.co.uk

The future's dim  
Adrian Searle finds one poignant lament for a messed-up world among the buzzwords and sneering at the Beck's award show
Adrian Searle
Monday April 07 2003
The Guardian


· Picture gallery

With an over-heated promotional campaign, a nauseatingly smug poster by M&C Saatchi reading "If corporate sponsorship is the death of art, welcome to the funeral", and a boxed catalogue designed by Neville Brody, the annual Beck's Futures award exhibition has once again opened at London's Institute of Contemporary Art. A dense literary essay by Michael Archer and an interview with JG Ballard add a certain heft to what is essentially a perennially grim piece of corporate boosterism, give or take that there is £65,000 of prize money at stake for the selected artists. 

The grimness has infiltrated the art. Sitting in his armchair in his ordinary Glasgow living room, David Sherry is yelling. "Christ," he yells. "Jeez." He might well complain: sewing blocks of balsa wood to the soles of your bare feet is a bloody, painful business. It's taking him all day. He is suffering for his art, and the video is also painful to watch. Sherry - originally from Newry in Northern Ireland but now based in Glasgow, as are a few others in the show - is one of several here whose art consists, in large part, of creating a fictional persona who then goes on to make work or perform acts more or less "in character".  

Alan Currall presents himself as someone so embarrassingly sincere that you want to hit him. He reads his will as a living video testament, distributing all his possessions among his family and friends, squeezing the last bathetic drop from every sentimental talisman. In another work, he tells his best friend why he loves him (or her) so much: "You've got a great record collection ... you even smell good ... I just want to take this time out to thank you for being such a great person." This is art as talking-head monologue. It is also deeply English in its repressed, emotionally fumbling, cringe-making, confessional style. But it doesn't amount to much.  

The sculptures by Francis Upritchard, a New Zealander based in London, look like the work of a disturbed person or an artist who has taken a long, cool look at the work of Mike Kelley and Tony Oursler. Possibly, both are true. She has torn up the floorboards and installed a creepy little bandaged mannequin, surrounded by souvenir-like, Egyptian-looking funerary urns. The mummy moans and vibrates a bit, thanks to power from a cable plugged into the overhead lighting track, and stares back through the swaddling with a shiny glass eye. Nearby, in a vitrine, Upritchard's drawings and notes appear to provide proof that Prince Charles is really the Beast of the Book of Revelation. She has done her numerology and got his number, which is, in case you hadn't guessed, 666.  

Invoking conspiracies, secret codes and a hidden world of meaning is easy. Nick Crowe's digital project, www.the-world-wars.co.uk, led me to a website that crashed my computer, though I don't think he meant to. I think he only means to destroy the world, so that's OK - but I'm not going there. I also have to take it as read that Lucy Skaer has been secretly hatching exotic butterflies and moths by hiding their pupae about the Old Bailey and waiting for them to burst out and flap about the courtroom, mid-trial. All I have is a poster to prove it, and that shows only the chrysalides nestling in the palm of her hand. We must take this, and her other projects (a field of black wheat, a scorpion and a diamond side by side on a city street), on the evidence of photographic posters that we are invited to take home.  

Carey Young, wearing a smart black suit, is put through the paces of a speech by a voice coach. They stand in a corporate office building, the shiny atrium behind them. It looks like a stage set, and they are acting to camera. She is rehearsing her line, "I am a revolutionary", over and over. "Linger on that 'revolutionary', it's a lovely word," says the coach.  

It is all a question of tone of voice. Young also presents herself through written statements that are impeccable demonstrations of a kind of art thinking which is itself institutional. "I am attracted to exploring how the artist's role, agency and identity could or might need to change in response to the collapsing categories between business, politics and culture," she writes. She must have read that Saatchi poster; she knows all the buzzwords and the jargon. She knows a suit is great camouflage, and that by adopting the look and the attitudes of business she is, somehow, performing some kind of deconstructive "institutional critique", though in the end it is as ineffectual as flying paper aeroplanes into the glass and steel walls.  

She has also shown a secret artwork for the exhibition to a member of the Beck's team, who has signed a contract not to tell anybody what he has seen. All we see is the legal document, framed on the wall. The first time around, conceptual art made claims on the territory of the imagination. Second time around, it is a secret not worth telling.  

The supercilious tone of the voiceover to a film about the so-called "special relationship" between the US and Britain, made by the group Inventory, does not warm one to their cause, either. Hating American imperialism is one thing; taking it out on the retired rockers, the weekend cowpokes, line dancers and Elvis fans who show up at "Europe's Number One American Lifestyle Event" on the showground in Newark, Notts, is another.  

With their Harley-Davidsons and Confederate flags, their lovingly tended 1950s gas-guzzlers and their fancy-dress fantasies, all having a fun weekend under a grey Midlands sky, the participants are escaping the everyday. Some, I suspect, were once coal miners, before Maggie shafted them while cementing her own special relationship with Ronnie Reagan. Here, they are seen as figures of ridicule and fun, while the commentary sneers about "little England, filtered through John Wayne and Clint Eastwood" and intercuts the country music wafting across the showground with stirring snatches of romantic English music.  

Inventory also organised a much-publicised mass football game on the Mall last month, in which Admiralty Arch and Buckingham Palace were the proposed goalposts. Judging from the photos pinned to the ICA walls, not many showed up for this "insurrection or mob football" match. Most of us had better things to do, such as protesting against the war and against the unabated adventurism of our American cousins. I would bet that plenty of the people filmed at that Americana festival also found themselves doing the same.  

Bernd Behr's little film clips are fun, especially the one where he repeatedly climbs the gatepost of a house in the French street where Yves Klein attempted his leap into the void. But there is only one artist worthy of the £24,000 first prize here. The cumulative effect of Rosalind Nashashibi's cycle of four short films is extraordinary.  

In The States of Things, a soundtrack of the great Egyptian singer Oum Kolsoum overlays grainy black-and-white footage of a Glasgow jumble sale. What would seem to be a complete disjunction between the singer's Arabic lament and the women rummaging through the dismal piles of clothing somehow comes together, both in the synchronous poor quality of the film and the old recording, and in the slow pace of the song and the almost somnambulistic sorting through the old clothes. Somehow, the mind tries to marry sound and image, one time and another, one culture and another.  

In two colour films, Midwest and Midwest Field, the artist shows us different aspects of a depressed Nebraska town: people hanging about on the street, cars passing, twilight, shifts and meals and conversations in a largely Mexican cafe. In Midwest Field, men (mostly middle-aged, retired white guys) fly radio-controlled gliders on a field at the edge of town. In the last film, we see a different normality: an ordinary day in the West Bank (Nashashibi is half Palestinian). A burning pile of rubbish in the sunny street, kids playing football, the call from the mosque, young guys loafing in the sun and hanging out in the local barbershop.  

The interplay between the films, the landscapes they depict and the people moving through them, the sense of changing light and the shifting pace of things, all add up. The films, for me, are a lament for an inexplicable, messed-up world that somehow manages to be beautiful both because of and in spite of the things that happen in it. Why is there so much sorrow here, so much weight in these quotidian moments? Is it because the people in these movies all have more pride than hope? No. Wanting is the key: what do these people want, what do they lack, what's missing? And what does the camera's eye want, what does it look for?  

The question hovers over everything here. More than some damn prize, that's for sure. Though the money would be nice, of course.

· Beck's Futures is at the ICA, London SW1, until May 18. Details: 020-7930 3647.

Copyright Guardian Newspapers Limited
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