A new group exhibition titled ‘Dependency’ at the Gasworks, a contemporary art organisation based in South London, explores the “lengthening chains of interdependence” that, according to German sociologist Norbert Elias, bind the micro and macro realms of social life. Presenting works by Patricia L Boyd, Moyra Davey, Melanie Gilligan and Marianne Wex, which all attempt to situate specific objects or actions within broader sociopolitical frameworks, the show reflects upon how material and ideological constructs, from the economy to patriarchy, implicate even the most routine aspects of the day-to-day.
Marianne Wex’s photographic series Let’s Take Back Our Space: “Female” and “Male” Body Language as a Result of Patriarchal Structures (1975-79) presents an extensive taxonomy of the everyday gestures and poses of men and women on the streets of Hamburg in the mid-1970s. Coupled with short texts written by the artist, reproductions from art history books, and cut-outs from German newspapers and magazines, these images examine how male and female bodies have been gradually confined to highly coded and deeply prejudiced habits of movement.
To the unassuming eye, Moyra Davey’s photographs appear like sketches or etchings depicting quiet, civil street scenes, with men and women walking arm in arm against a backdrop of public statues and regal facades. Part of the series Banknotes (1989), they are in fact close-ups of $10 and $100 bills. Rather than grappling with iconographic categories, like Wex, Davey focuses in on details to suggest that currency not only determines how financial transactions are enacted, but also how social relations are administered en mass, with the well-to-do characters shown in each scene further implying that financial structures remain tied to particular forms of bourgeois sociability.
Shifting our attention from the object of exchange to the ways that exchange permeates social relations today, Melanie Gilligan’s four short HD videos 4 x exchange / abstraction (2014) present a series of emblematic tales on the traumas of contemporary capitalism. The work mimics punchy TV editing styles, dips into voguish 3D computer animation and makes use of well-worn digital cross-dissolves and “datamoshing”, a technique of intentional digital image breakdown popular in recent music videos. The ambiguous signification of these images and materialities double up to become uncomfortably explicit: the “flicker” technique, for example, manifests the mediating quality of exchange, while the altered code in datamoshing produces an analogue of the reshaping and suspension of time in financial exchange. The images created by this technique, however, gloss over such a signification. Amid the hypertrophied commercialism of these condensed narratives and over-blown effects, it is an animated allegory of a hand and a vase that delivers the most overt statement about everyday life, subjectivity and expropriation in contemporary capitalism.
Finally, Patricia L Boyd’s Adhesive I (2014) repurposes an image from proposals drawn up by an architectural firm for the restructuring of Gasworks’s building in 2002. The image depicts a question written on the exterior wall of the gallery, inviting the local community and passers-by to participate in the remodelling of the organisation. Reposed here as a lo-res screen grab, this originally earnest question now brings to mind the lack of certainty faced by any building at a time of intense property development and speculation. The aluminium frame Dear Nothing (2014) is a 1:1 replica of part of the metal structure outside Gasworks, which functions as both a billboard and a security barrier. Dear Nothing addresses the structure as an ideological form, entrusting the readymade frame to organise views of the rest of the exhibition. As with Boyd’s recent sculptural installation Metrics (2014, currently on view at Modern Art Oxford), these works steal and simulate existing forms, using strategies of recombination and reformulation that consider, at a formal level, urban, social and economic processes of abstraction.
Dependency is the fourth exhibition of The Civilising Process, a year-long programme of exhibitions and events at Gasworks inspired by German sociologist Norbert Elias’s eponymous 1939 book, which looks at the development of the tastes, manners and sensibilities of Western Europeans since the Middle Ages. Between October 2013 and November 2014 Gasworks is working with invited artists to tackle a wide range of issues raised by this book in an attempt to understand their relevance for contemporary debates and practices.
Dependency 20 June 2014 – 3 August 2014 Open: Wed-Sun, 12-6pm With: Patricia L Boyd, Moyra Davey, Melanie Gilligan and Marianne Wex