"Current Model Like New"
Curated by Loney Abrams
Gallery: Flux Gallery, Flux Factory. 39-31 29th Street, Long Island City, 11101
For Current Model Like New, artists Daniel Keller, Katja Novitskova, Jon Rafman, and Amalia Ulman have been commissioned to create new works using the car lot as their impetus - signifier of commodity fetishism, globalization, and branding. Each artist appropriates the aesthetics of branding techniques specific to certain cultural phenomena. These phenomena – anime, TED Talks, globalized fashion trends, and corporate advertising – cater to disparate markets, yet are unified in their unconventional use of language to pursue culturally specific affects. The exhibition materializes within two vehicles, which are installed within the gallery in a manner reminiscent of the car dealership; a metaphor for the gallery itself and a signifier of store-bought status. The vehicles are also documented in many outdoor contexts, and the resulting images will be re-packaged and “sold” back to the viewer in a variety of formats to suite diverse tastes.
The title for Jon Rafman's piece, “Painful Car”, is the english translation of the Japanese word “Itasha”, which is used to describe cars that have been decorated with images of anime, manga comics, and video game imagery. Car culture fetizhizes the car itself, an inanimate object often referred to with the female pronoun and lusted after by the stereotypical male as an expression masculinity. “Painful Car” is a Mitsubishi Outlander vinyl wrapped with imagery that exacerbates Itasha's tendency to objectify not only the female body, but to imbue it with a defenseless and submissive stance that invites violence and domination. Rafman's piece objectifies the image itself, directing the gaze beyond the female figure and instead, focuses it on the context in which these bodies become fetishized. The violent clash between soft bodied characters and the hard bodied SUV, between the surface and the form, is an intentionally literal gesture that makes the violence often latent in anime culture transparent. “Painful Car” is simultaneously unique and general, customized yet quintessentially symptomatic of a vague stereotype. This one-of-a-kind Mitsubishi allows its driver to become associated with a particular lifestyle, yet pronounce her individuality through customization.
This relationship – linking the individual to the larger community through consumerism – is what Amalia Ulman's “Buyer, Driver, Rover” extrapolates on a global scale. She draws from products that repeat themselves in cities all over the globe, produced in China, Westernized in design. Seemingly from nowhere in particular and yet everywhere at once, they are symptomatic of globalization's homogenizing force on market trends, allowing consumers to relate to and share a vague, culturally unspecific experience. They employ language on an aesthetic level, as english words lose their inherent meaning to assume new meaning as a cultural signifier, and appeal to the most generalized and universal shopper. Ulman utilizes the standard Dodge Grand Caravan - an exceptionally unremarkable car available from virtually any rental car agency - as a viewing environment for a video played on a drop-down screen in the back seat. Originally presented as an artist lecture over Skype, the video entitled “Buyer, Walker, Rover” analyzes design trends among imported goods, drawing connections between the user experience and macro economics. The rental car is “personalized” with items - decals, air fresheners, and tee shirt-cum-seat protecters - that locate the car everywhere. Two of Ulman's poems, sourced from text found on imported goods, are printed on balloons which are attached to each car, harping on the car dealership's use of balloons to lure customers.
Daniel Keller's “Ted Talk Tag Cloud” is an a audio piece containing 18 minutes of the most common words used in TED Talks, in order from most to least common. TED, whose tagline is Ideas Worth Spreading, invites “the world's most fascinating thinkers and doers...to give the talk of their lives (in 18 minutes of less.)” TED's branding has cultivated a massive and devoted following and has effectively mainstreamed its own discourse surrounding technology and innovation. By mimicking the formulaic yet ostensibly authoritative format of the TED Talk, Keller exposes TED's ability to package and sell just about anything. “Tag Cloud” refers to a facet of web design whereby keyword metadata, or tags, are visually illustrated; each tag is represented by a different size text or color to signify its frequency within a particular topic on the Internet. Keller offers a deconstruction and analysis of the Ted Talk by creating a “talk” rendered from its own tag cloud. In this case, the aesthetics and semiotics of the TED Talk brand, which packages and sells innovation, is used to re-package itself.
Katja Novitskova's pieces also involve repackaging, but in this case, of the exhibition itself. She manipulates photographs of the two vehicles taken by curator Loney Abrams in various outdoor contexts. Some of the initial photographs are reminiscent of the car advertisement – picturesque and all-American – while others provide unlikely backdrops to stereotypically composed car photoshoots. Novitskova makes these images surreal, not quite believable as documentation, yet no less authentic. This series of images - which not only represent the work of the other participating artists, but are also works of art in and of themselves - make transparent the role of the documentation image on the internet, where mages supplant the art object. Not unlike car advertising, the resulting images create a reality defined by its own image, an illusion materially unobtainable.
Current Model Like New is part of Flux Factory’s 2013 exhibition season, and is made possible, in part, by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts, and by the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs in partnership with the City Council and the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo and the New York State Legislature. Special thanks to Johnny Stanish, Jose Castillo Pazos, and Christina Vassallo for their invaluable support!