19 January – 27 February 2015
The Holden Gallery, Manchester School of Art
The relationship between the art museum and the art of resistance is complex. The manifesto is one notable form of their shared history. The manifesto form in art is most commonly associated with the avant-garde movements of the earlier twentieth century. As these movements have given way to more diffuse affiliations, ways of communicating ideas have also become more varied. Resistance can appear in numerous and multiple forms. The eponymous figure of Herman Melville’s short story ‘Bartleby the Scrivener’ works as a copy clerk in a legal office. When faced with any task or request, the response is always the same, ‘I would prefer not to’. The interest in the figure of Bartleby for writers such as Giorgio Agamben and Gilles Deleuze is in the escalating effect of a simple act of refusal. The relationship of resistance to consequence is never straightforward and it is the differences which lie at the heart of the Not…
The exhibition looks at the period after this early-compartmentalised history in order to explore the work of contemporary artists who have attempted to enact alternative modes of resistance. Jenny Holzer’s wheat pasted posters, Inflammatory Essays, are a series of urgent yet often contradictory statements that are richly suggestive of the way in which language operates in the service of ideological interests. Inaugural Speech and Little Frank and his Carp are two video works by Andrea Fraser which are representative of the artist’s on-going interest in interrogating how social relations are delimited through encounters with the museum space. SUPERFLEX situate their projects within gallery spaces yet seek to corrupt or transgress dominant cultural forms in order to produce differentiated social effects. In I am a Revolutionary, Carey Young repeats the titular words in a cyclical performance that is as much entrepreneurial self-affirmation as it is insistence on an avant-garde politics. Liam Gillick has also often reflected on this gap between utopian idealism and the real world with the desire to operate in the activity of communication and exchange in text works such as Of Bricks… and Economy of Equivalence. Jonathan Monk implicates the viewer into the politics of the gallery and makes direct references to the art market in his neon piece Do Not Pay More Than $80,000, causing a disjuncture between the cost of an artwork and the resistive judgement of what it should be charged. Monk also explores the deconstruction of language in Edgware Road (Translation Piece); by presenting a series of successive translations of an initial statement, the description is turned into something completely different, causing a communication breakdown.
What these works often share is their attempt to resist cycles of antagonism and assimilation as they produce alternative models for practice and its relation to the market. They demand (or sometimes politely request) that we re-think and re-configure not only the museum but also much more substantially our relationship with the wider world.