Lately, I’ve been interested in the notion of usage — one that addresses the economic term nonrivalrous. In relation to creative property, nonrivalrous defines a type of production or product that does not deplete with multiple users. If someone uses your idea you can still use it. It cannot be taken away from you like a material possession. If I take your car you can’t still use it, but if I apply a formula you designed, I don’t stop you from also using it.
For Together Forever, usage became the means to discuss collaborative and relational art processes. An optimistic dependency lies at the core of collaborative art production where there is value in using each other: borrowing someone else’s ideas, co-opting an aesthetic, applying an existing formula, utilizing another’s tools. It generates a confident interdependence and creates a complicit generosity that is not so much about giving over one’s ego as it is about defining it within a shared social context.
Darboral, one of Massimo Guerrera’s on-going projects, is as much a social situation as it is an aesthetic configuration. A filled room with a sprawling patchwork of carpeting; stacked bins both empty and full, containing oil or maybe a ceramic sculpture; plastic containers of edible and beyond edible items; small sculptures molded just right for holding; a Styrofoam labyrinth to hide within; pieced together places for sitting; precious hand-bound books; photographs; drawings; stains. For this incarnation of Darboral (and the maintenance of a supple platform) there is something new and, for Guerrera, there is always something new, as he is responsive to each situation/exhibition. Darboral formally changes. The objects, areas, constructions continually transform structurally and through individual use.
Usage is a central factor in creating change. For Guerrera it is important to provide the possibility for physical interaction. The more time you spend, the more you touch, the more materials you use, the more you will get out of the work. The books are filled with an accumulation of images, recollecting Darboral at different stages, showing how others manipulated the sculptures, ate the food, performed with and posed for the artist. The books are not only records, but also instruction manuals, simultaneously directing the user and giving them permission. They present possibilities. Depending on flexibility and interest, not everyone will take the time to touch, or to uncover Darboral’s histories, or add to its future. Although Guerrera clearly establishes a dependency that relies on others to produce the work through their engagement, he can only set a possible stage, offering a series of potentials, but ultimately people will read the work at different levels. Understanding that some will and some won’t, Guerrera openly invites: “you’re welcome to join me if you like” and optimistically waits: “I’m hoping you will add something.”
Whether it is a means to a beginning or an indistinct end, establishing the potential for usage is also central to the work of assume vivid astro focus (avaf). By design, avaf is a name to be used, an erratic collective, an individual, and a point of exchange. It is hard to decide how much I should reveal about the motivations for avaf. It exists for specific reasons: as a means to defer the ego, as an open invitation, as a point of accessibility; through a desire to share; and in order to question notions surrounding ownership. But I believe that in telling, I can point to a history before itself, and more importantly, I won’t undermine the potential for sharing that is already set in motion, or halt an acknowledged failure that is implicit in idealist intentions.
Avaf is the project of Brazilian and New York-based artist Eli Sudbrack. With the intention of finding a pseudonym from which to deflect the self, Sudbrack visited the LP Show at Exit Art, New York in 2001, noting various album titles and band names, finally, mixing a Throbbing Gristle (the mid seventies London-based experimental band) album title, Assume Power Focus, with the name of the New York-based one man band Ultra Vivid Scene.
“Assume vivid astro focus” from the start and by example became a permissive proposal for usage. In the name of sharing, avaf constantly incorporates the work of others and amasses a mix of references from Memphis design to Los Angeles graffiti; medieval unicorn tapestries to Picabia paintings; George Wolfe Plank’s 1920s magazine covers to Vogue balls; and ukiyoe prints to Michel Gondry videos. Like most of avaf’s murals and wallpaper designs, Garden8, the graphic design adapted to cover the two stories of windows at the Contemporary Art Gallery, collages together a number of references into an amalgamated colour-field of organic forms so layered that it is easy to lose track of what comes from where, or even know where to find any beginning point. This is reflected in an excerpt from one of avaf’s to do lists: “Keep collecting coloring books from eBay. Look for: h.r. Pufnstuf, American Wild Flowers, Space: 1999, New Kids on the Block, Flipper, Jaws, Kimba, Hart to Hart, Moonlighting, The Incredible Hulk, American Architecture, Chips, Prismatic Designs, Bungalows.” It seems anything is up for grabs. Avaf’s liberal method of appropriation is informed by the history of the avant-garde Brazilian Anthropophagite movement. In the 1920s in Brazil, the Anthropophagists celebrated cultural “cannibalism,” appropriating, digesting and re-articulating Western art to Brazilian popular culture, forming a distinct signature and as such positing this signature for reciprocal appropriation. The significance is that anyone can be assume vivid astro focus, and anyone can take what they need, as long as avaf can still use it. It is a generous offer and an effect of multiple possibilities. For avaf, giving happens with the same ease as taking, creating a circle of dependency where sharing relies on using.
This dependency is more overt in the collaborative operations of an artist collective – a group of artists who come together under one name, in this case Revolutions on Request (ROR), which currently defines the joint efforts of Helsinki-based artists Jiri Geller, Klaus Nyqvist, Panu Puolakka and Karoliina Taipale. But the reasons for forming this interdependence aren’t always so transparent. The four members of ROR present an aesthetic collectivity, a discussion and idea of art making that is represented by a gathering of diverse products and concepts that, when presented together, join into an overall design. Even though ROR often produce objects and materials independently, the immaterial ideal of the collective came together in the exhibition, colliding the material (because objects aren’t enough) into a physical accumulation of ideas, in order to create a dynamic where one thing is never only that thing. For example, they juxtapose embroidered portraits of Bob Marley near lampshade explosions; images of superman or superdog next to a painting of someone in a gas mask; a neon meditating Buddha underscored by an ominous baseline, which simultaneously posits and cracks iconic ideals.
The tongue-in-cheek nature of ROR’s play with utopian ideals immediately reveals itself in a name that promises too much. This implausible affirmation is imbued with nihilist undertones – again calling attention to a dimension of failure that separates fleeting idealisms from the tangibility of lived experiences. ROR establishes a smart sincerity that questions its own objectives but again leaves room for hope. God Says No (2001), a white escalator that leads nowhere, or Battle of the Worlds (2000), an adapted foosball game where a team of plastic crucified Jesuses plays against a team of dancing Shivas, are good examples. Whether or not ROR has more faith in one team or the other is not certain, but it is clear that they do have faith in undermining their ideals.
Each of the projects for Together Forever structured a system that was built from an undefined assemblage of adaptations, reconstitutions, incorporations and re-enactments. Usage becomes a viable means to produce work; giving way to a material accumulation, an aesthetic gathering that idealistically transmits the social in a successive give and take. Using each other is permissible and underlined by a balanced optimism that isn’t overwrought with unrealistic expectations or deterred by failure. Like the optimistic sentiment reflected by the exhibition’s title, the artists accentuated probability over implausibility, emphasizing the potential.