‘CO-WORKERS’: This Show in Paris Signals the Death of Binaries

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Co-Workers, installation view. Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Photo: © Pierre Antoine

Sliding doors dominate the entrance to the exhibition “CO-WORKERS – Le réseau comme artiste in Paris. Each time the doors open and close they produce a muffled nad peculiar sound that sets the eerie mise-en-scene created by New York collective DIS. Curated by Angeline Scherf, Toke Lykkeberg and Jessica Castex, the show brings together more than 30 artists including Hito Steyerl, Future Brown and Jon Rafman who investigate the concept of production by developing ideas of co-working. Cécile B. Evans’ flat screens sit next to Aude Pariset’s and Juliette Bonneviot’s fish tank, and other disparate practices and objects are shown together in a network of their own, blurring the divides between art and non-art. We met the co-curator Toke Lykkeberg to talk about the end of binaries as opposites, reinventing the individual and how artists have become prosumers.

Lets start to with the sliding doors. It’s a pretty uncommon opening for an art exhibition.
Toke Lykkeberg: The show starts with doors sliding open. There are a couple of other sliding doors in the show. This is part of the scenography that DIS has been in charge of. The many transparent and reflective surfaces lend the show a certain lightness so visitors sort of float through the space. It’s like a space of flows of images, of data in a networked world. But it also reflects life in airports, malls, Apple stores and Starbucks. I know this mise-en-scene might recall ethnologist Marc Augé’s non-places. In the 1990s, in the wake of the introduction of TGV [French high-speed trains], he was interested in a new kind of solitary passenger who left places behind at high speed. But DIS has been more interested in the connected and social individuals, who linger, meet up, chill or work in environments with good Wi-Fi and a ubiquitous rather than transitory quality. Places are not negated, but rather mixed. So it’s a world in which many divides seem to disappear like the barriers between work and leisure, private and public, commercial and non-commercial space and what is inside and outside, for instance of a museum. The show discusses the divides between what we once called “the virtual” and “the real”, between nature and society, the biosphere and the technosphere, east and west, and many other such binaries that no longer work as opposites.

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DIS, The New Wholesome (tags: flip flops, dishwasher, gap, sniff), 2013. Courtesy DISimages
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DIS, The New Art Handlers (Jan Davidsz de Heem, Still Life with Lobster, 1643), 2013, Curated by Bjarne Melgaard with David Rimanelli. Courtesy DIS Magazine

The display of “CO-WORKERS” makes me think of Dan Graham’s work. Is it a kind of Dan Graham 2.0?
If 2.0, then I would say: yes. Dan Graham’s work is a reflection on and of the modern world and its modernist architecture, but Co-Workers is not discussing the concept of the modern world in general.

So the exhibition is about the contemporary world? What kind of world would you say we live in right now?
Of course we wanted to create a show that reflects what is around us. While working on the show we realised that our surroundings were changing while we – and many others – were studying them. The problem with art called contemporary is that it is more fleeting than ever. When things accelerate around you, it is very difficult to be contemporary or “with time.” We’re rather out of time.

If I look at this display made of glass and steel, forming a space within the larger space of the exhibition hall, it is hard to tell the works from each other.
We wanted to give each individual artist, group or collective his, her or their own space, but we did not want to cut it off from the rest of the show. Today an artist stands out as an individual, but at the same time as part of a network. They are “networked individuals.” Sometimes you cannot tell one work from the other. The works are shaped by overlapping yet personalised networks. It is almost impossible to separate the part from the whole, the individual from society, they constitute each other. Bruno Latour explains this idea in the following way: If you want to check out a person, you Google his name, for example “Bruno Latour”. The more links you find about “Latour” spread out across the internet, the more he comes together as a person. You might feel you lose yourself in the network, but it might also be where you resurface.

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DIS, Competing Images, 2012, Art pictured: Selection display: Ancestral prayer, 2012 by Timur Si-Qin. Courtesy DIS Magazine
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Hito Steyerl, Liquidity Inc., 2014 (still), HD video file, single channel in architectural environment, 30 minutes, Edition of 7, with 2 APs, Image CC 4.0 Hito Steyerl. Courtesy of the Artist and Andrew Kreps Gallery, New York
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Ryan Trecartin, I-Be Area, 2007, Video Duration 1 hour, 48 minutes ARG# TRN2007-002. © Ryan Trecartin, Image courtesy of Andrea Rosen Gallery, New York

Do you think this is an aspect of our contemporary world – gaining something by losing parts of our individuality?
Douglas Coupland says somewhere in his recent writings: “At the moment we don’t know which will triumph: the individual or the mob. It might be the biggest question of this century.” My answer to the question would be: both. The individual might only reinvent itself, if it gives in to or adapts to its surroundings. You can only shape an environment that you are a part of. By resisting today’s world or simply keeping it at a distance, you don’t change its course. To a certain extent, you might rather have to lose a bit of control in order to regain influence. At least, many artists in the show work along these lines. An oft-heard critique of contemporary network theory is that the individual, the human subject is without power. By reflecting on these networks we might however empower that disempowered individual to impose itself in the networks.

Following your definition of network, one could think of an organism.
If you want things to circulate in a network you need mediation from one node to another. This mediation might be undertaken by an intermediary or a mediator. In the case of the intermediary, there is no transformation of content from one point to another. However, when an image travels from an exhibition space to a camera, to a computer, to Photoshop, to Facebook, to Instagram and ends up as a bad quality print, there’s transformation. There are mediators translating the image so information is both lost and added. Artists work with such mediators in the same way they now work with bacteria, animals, plants and so on. So I’m also interested in networks at the intersection of bio- and techno-sphere.

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DIS, The Island (KEN), 2015, Created in collaboration with Dornbracht and co-designed by Mike Meiré, Photography Heji Shin. Courtesy the artists
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Ryan Trecartin, I-Be Area, 2007. Co-Workers, Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris. Photo: © Pierre Antoine.

For a few years, there’s been a discussion concerning the question whether we should slow down our lives or adjust to the speed of information technology developing faster and faster. Is the exhibition a comment on or even a contribution to that discussion?
Around 10 or 15 years ago the French artist Pierre Joseph said: “In order to understand how a car works, you have to take it apart.” But artists today rather get inside the car and drive it. If we understand the world as networked then there is no outside anymore. Artists are less interested in utopias and more in the potential of the world we inhabit. We should accelerate some things, others we might slow down. But I don’t believe in history given in advance, ie, that there is a certain goal to reach at the end of the journey. Therefore, I am not sure what it might mean to speed up the process we are in the midst of.

So taking up your metaphor of the artist as a car driver, you understand an artist today as what you call a prosumer: a producer and consumer at the same time.
Yes, that’s another dichotomy that I would like to mention as example of the end of the great divides, namely production and consumption. What characterises the artist today is that he is a prosumer, to a certain extent, part of a network where production and consumption are difficult to tell from each other. So today I see artists more as mediators or prosumers.

Text by Marie-France Rafael

“CO-WORKERS – Le réseau comme artiste” is on show at the Musée d’Art modern de la Ville de Paris and runs until 31 January 2016

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