New Group Materialism
New Group Materialism: 1973-2015
The 1973 video work Test Tube by Canadian collective General Idea (Felix Partz, Jorge Zontal and AA Bronson) was vanguard for its time in terms of appropriating the language of advertising, mass media and hyper-consumerism. Conceived as a hybrid TV show, the project imitated and allegorized emerging media vocabularies like ‘the talk show’, ‘the soap opera’ and ‘the infomercial’, and thus paved the way for a critique of corporate and mass-media identity, language and aesthetics. GI’s Test Tube remains a forerunner for a kind of artistic practice that through video mimics the production processes of advertising, TV and fashion – a practice that instead of opposing the corporate/institutional spectacle, flirts with its idioms and subverts its (commercial) objectives. Test Tube forms the curatorial basis for the exhibition New Group Material, launching on Tank.tv in October 2015.
Two decades after Test Tube, the collective Bernadette Corporation developed this strategy of appropriation to a more realistic form of mimicked consumerism. For three years, they famously operated exclusively as a fashion label, producing six collections with mentions in magazines like i-D, The New York Times and Harper's Bazaar. In their video work THE BC Corporate Story (1997), they mimic the language of the quintessential motivational video disseminated inside large corporations, and thus exposes the neoliberal and commercial tropes that such corporations are so impregnated with. With one leg in radical art theory and the other in the actualities of the pre-millenial international fashion system, BC echoes the increasing ambivalence towards capitalist iconography in the time of postmodern theory in the ‘90s.
Current postmillennial practices have once again, informed by the Internet’s equalization of corporate/commercial/institutional aesthetics, taken interest in the iconographies that GI first set out to explore. German video artist and theorist Hito Steyerl examines the digital modes of production and the liquid labour conditions dictated by neoliberal capitalism in her ambitious video installations Liquidity Inc (2014), and the London-based Auto Italia re-negotiates labour conditions and offers new form of collective resistance within the culture of hyper-capitalism. Mexican artist Debora Delmar has dedicated her whole practice fully to the study of aspirational commodities as she through her suffix poses as an art-producing corporation. With the shift from televised media of the '70s to the fully digital moment in the post-millenial, this critique of media is expanded to encompass the systems and infrastructures of the no-longer autonomous Internet. AIDS-3D’s depicts a dystopian future of virtuality inside the corporation with Heat Death – and Yuri Pattison explores the uncanny synthesisation of lifestyle aesthetics and Internet autonomy in Room 1014, the Hong Kong hotel room of Edward Snowden right after his departure from the US. London-based LuckyPDF were pioneers in gathering and mediating the zeitgeist of the digital relational sphere later to be known as post-internet aesthetics – but projects such as their 2011 Frieze promotional video for BBC2’s Culture Show proves that their critical objectives far exceed the tropes of early Internet vernacular.
Rather, what LuckyPDF’s surreal promotional video (in which every filmic gesture is painfully vocalized by a generic TV narrator) attempts to do is to create a critical agency within a commercial media-paradigm. Similarly, current practices like DIS and Shanzhai Biennial not only mimic the functionalities of corporate fashion – they fully embody it. The collective DIS oversees the fashion magazine and platform DIS Magazine as well as the fully functional online store DISOwn, where customers can buy customized and artist-designed apparel and lifestyle goods. SB, also a collective, shape-shifts between counterfeit fashion brand, fictional art fair, fashion week and real-estate agent – and notoriously instigated the sale of a £32 million West London mansion as their contribution to Frieze Art Fair 2014. For these practices, their immersion into the ambivalent system of corporate capitalism is not only aesthetic – it’s central to the success of their critique of it. LA-based artist Awol Erizku utilises the channels of visual culture to reconcile its lack of black representation rooted in art history – collaborations include Vogue, MoMA and NYC concept store OAK.
Spanning four decades, the juxtaposition of works in New Group Material argues that critique today does not necessarily claim a critical running room ‘outside’ the system. Neoliberal capitalism's successful cooption and commodification of both artistic criticality and digital materiality has fully eradicated the utopian dream of autonomous (institutional/contextual/medium) critique – but instead, criticalities are arising and emerging from within. Whereas the goal previously was to somehow confront capitalism and activate its antagonisms, institutional and corporate infrastructures and languages are today used as a field for play and experimentation; dangerous, ambivalent, but also often, astoundingly poignant. The work in Group Material expand the idea of agency and critique in today’s artistic and commercial landscapes.
Including contributions from:
Debora Delmar Corp
Awol Erizku BessNYC4
Kindly supported by:
Arts Council England
With thanks to:
Project Native Informant
Electronic Arts Intermix
Andrew Kreps Gallery
Creative and Partners
Curated by Justin Polera, Jack O'Brien, Jeppe Ugelvig for www.tank.tv
Image; Shanzhai Biennial
正當老農夫的兒子上前和房東老劉對執 他立馬被國民黨的軍人和密秘組織的走狗給攔結著 / The old peasant’s son is held back by a Kuomingtang soldier and a secret society henchman as he rushes up to argue with landlord Liu
Titan MaxiCASE, Standard RAL Painted RED (RAL 3024), 2m cable and plug, fluorescent tubes – 5 rows, photo print on paper
119 x 168 x 16.5 cm (46 ⅞" x 66 ⅛" x 6 ½")
Edition of 3 plus III AP
Courtesy of the artist and Project Native Informant