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ANTOINE OFFICE, ANTOINE CASUAL, installation at Carl Kostyal, London (12 December 2014 – 4 January 2015). © Artie Vierkant, courtesy of Carl Kostyal.

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ANTOINE OFFICE, ANTOINE CASUAL, installation at Carl Kostyal, London (12 December 2014 – 4 January 2015). © Artie Vierkant, courtesy of Carl Kostyal.

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'Maid in Heaven / En Plein Air in Hell (My Beautiful Dark and Twisted Cheeto Problem)', Inside the WhiteCube Mason's Yard (15 July - 27 September 2014). © Parker Ito, Photo: Jack Hems, courtesy of White Cube.

Image/Object: Artie Vierkant and Parker Ito.

Ivan Knapp

Artie Vierkant’s recent solo show at Carl Kostyal felt significant. Perhaps it was because the opening was knee deep in young gallery/auction house-networkers/sincere-curatorial-ambitionists, perhaps it was because it came at the end of a year in which post-internet art stopped being particularly different from a lot of other contemporary art or perhaps it was because Artie Vierkant symbolizes so much of what the aforementioned generation want to think of as “their” type of art.

There have been a number of shows in London over the last year which you could juxtapose with Vierkant’s – Ed Atkins at the Serpentine, Ed Fornieles at Chisenhale, Constant Dullaart at Carroll/Fletcher, even Blaine Southern’s group show that opened a couple of nights before Vierkant’s. But the one I want to seat it next to, for reasons that I hope will make themselves apparent, is Parker Ito’s show at White Cube Mason’s Yard.

In case you missed Ito’s show I have pasted below a few unpublished thoughts that I wrote at the time:

The exhibition is a collaboration between an alter-ego of Parker Ito – Parker Cheeto (a.k.a Parker Burrito, Deke 2 and Olivia Calix) – and various other sympathisers of parafictitious identities (Nora Berman, Blackwidow LA, Carey Garris, Justin John Greene, Celia Hollander, Daniel Lane, Lee Marshall and Orion Martin). Nowhere in the show is it apparent where one identity stops and another begins, all are swallowed by the whale.

The paintings, wallpapered Instagram photo’s, superimposed confessional lists (alternately social media “like” lists and reliquaries of contemporary art practice cliché), pseudo-hysterical video, chains, flowers and LED light strips (motif as meme, signature as sculpture) are signed off by no one. Similarly porous is the line that provides the limit for parody. This is immersive parody – a parody of internet existence – itself a parody of image production – itself a parody of art production. It is aggressively horizontalised – a horizonless world of ubiquitous images and no hierarchies. References abound but they all get lost in the harbour – a paintbrush icon leers over the bridge at Giverny, Joyce is given the full art school angst treatment, LA skate culture and tattoo aesthetics join forces to lay down a critique of Abstract Expressionist painting.

As a statement it reads: “I am myself a product and producer, and, as such, know myself to be an empowered and fully aware manipulator of the sequences and patterns that structure the age of the image”. Of course the sub-text is that the masses are also produced producers but operate in ignorance of the fact. Which is more terrifying? Is it terrifying? Is it worse to manipulate in wisdom or in ignorance? Or is manipulation moot, an ineradicable feature of merely hanging around? This is the best part of the show, its refusal to accept responsibility on the grounds that there is no responsibility to be taken – it is an admirable celebration of nihilism and complicity.

When Ito becomes Cheeto the subject stays the same – you can put lipstick on a pig and it’s still a pig (an unnecessarily harsh analogy but a fun one). There is no boundary between image and object for Parker Ito and his acolytes. That was made plain by his friend Artie Vierkant’s The Image Object Post Internet essay way back in 2010. But once that distinction has been thrown to the birds its absence weakens the mutually constitutional oppositions that support neighbourly categories. Specifically – if the object exists as an image, and vice versa – the subject may likewise dispense with its separation from the object. This seems to be the case for Ito. He is residual in his art (in a pointedly referential way – unlike the stain of subjectivity discernable in any act of creative labour) as both form and content – turning himself into image as an object for proliferation. Parker is both subject and object at all times and in all places.

This is what makes the confessional nature of the lower galleries (lists layered over Instagram photos) both empathetic and awful. They make you want to draw a line in the sand, to summon his intentionality and confirm how ironic he is really being – but the frustration of not finding a stick with which to make that distinction fades as you realise what a fallacious intention it is anyway. It doesn’t matter – at all. His self-awareness is not really your concern, this subject-object, this image carousel, does not necessarily require reflexivity. This is a common criticism of New Aesthetics (not that Parker Ito should be filed in this category by the way – but they share some common ground), that it lacks critical distance from itself. It is also an observation recently made by Ed Atkins (in an interview with Oliver Basciano) about American artists in general – he cited Warhol and Koons. But what makes Warhol and Koons great is precisely their assimilation into their art, their affirmation of the world as it is, terrible and tragic and corrupt. This is how you beguile. You could also say that this similarity, this evisceration of distance (a fashionable internet symptom in which time and space are cheated), in this case critical distance, makes Parker Ito a distinctly American artist. But to do so prompts a chain (a series of interconnected links) of questions. The first of which is whether the condition – of existence as both image object and subject, as produced producer of sensorial and immaterial labour - articulated by his work is one tethered to the American online experience, or whether it is intrinsic to the online experience internationally? If it is the former then is the socially prophetic basis of the argument this work makes is undermined? Or is it that critical perspectives wilt inevitably in the glare of the screen?

Without depth perception, without the critical faculty to determine one thing from another, it is easy to get lost. It may be possible to be found again, but it is an energy sapping game when repeated ad infinitum. Ito’s performativity has this game embedded in its logic, almost as a symptom of its dissociative nature. Ito’s internet is a fairground ride – to exit is to surrender existence.

The Parker Ito show, more than any other that I can think of, highlights the potential perversity of Vierkant’s operating principle, that the internet erases previous upheld interruptions in the sequence of the image becoming an object becoming an image.

As the Ito show demonstrates, when the subject enters this sequence, she does so in a performance of the eternal transformation of the same. Because the image object economy is propelled by an economic system in which culture is increasingly just plain old capital – the labour of mediation produces data that facilitates the potential exploitation of that labour. The indistinction between the material and immaterial image/object is finds its correlative in the indistinction between immaterial and material labour.

Vierkant’s show, I think, is aware of this troublesome conceit. The protagonist of the show is a character called Antoine. Antoine exists in several physical collages and also in two screens facing away from each other (but attached and therefore a single object) in which Antoine is animated through stock movement capture data in office dress and leisure dress. Antoine performs at work and at play exactly the same movements (there is no noticeable difference, and the fact that he is animated by the anonymous motion of others rather reinforces this point). The distinction between different types of activity is withdrawn, cultural capital (leisure movements) becomes the indistinguishable from the capital accumulated through what we might call traditional modes of labour (working movements).

That Vierkant ascribes this automaton an arbitrary name is what differentiates the premise of his show from that of Ito’s. Whereas Ito maintains the fallacious performance of subjectivity recycled through identity, Vierkant is cynical enough to concede that the entering of the subject into a frictionless sequence in which images function as objects and vice versa confers onto the individual either the vacuity of existence as mere image – a surface, robbed of her agency, onto which the world is written – or as an object that can be described in almost identical terms (hollowed out on the one hand and passive and produced on the other). Within this system the subject is visible only in the tracks it leaves in the banks of big data.