Propeller Group, “Television Commercial for Communism” (2011)

Post-colonial studies, the legacy of 19th and 20th century colonialism and imperialism, a hit on the academic circuit, underlies the raisone d’etre of the New Museum’s Triennale, The Ungovernables, the 2nd Triennial devoted to global contemporary art. Artists are presented as “actors in the world around them rather than commentators,” and portrayed as “negatively ungovernable.” The show’s emphasis on a series of global “urgencies” casts a wide net focusing more on the message than the medium, which is both the show’s strength and its undoing. While it is vitally important to examine the legacy of post-colonialism, the hyper-development in BRIC countries (Brazil, Russia, India, China), the discourse of 21st century globalism and fluency of visual culture promulgated by interconnected networks are on the verge of superseding the discourse of colonialism. This show has not reinvented any aesthetics, and curator Eungie Joo cites the issues of military dictatorships, fundamentalism, financial and economic crisis and “international interventions and failures to intervene” as her stated preoccupations. That polemic is an unwieldy one, and certain works echo it more succinctly than others.

Amalia Pica’s “Venn Diagrams (under the spotlight)” (2011) (photo by Hrag Vartanian/Hyperallergic)

My award for “Most Inane Concept By A Ruling Junta” goes to Amalia Pica’s “Venn Diagrams (under the spotlight)” (2011). Apparently Venn Diagram intersecting and overlapping circles were banned from primary school curricula during the military dictatorship or “dirty war” in Argentina because they were feared to encourage “seditious models of collectivity.” The issue of aesthetics fall by the wayside when stacked up against this frightening realpolitik .

The Propeller Group founded in 2006 in Ho Chi Min City strikes the bull’s eye with TVC Communism. Working in the offices of TBWA/Chiat/Day, a multinational advertising firm that represents Pfizer, Apple and McDonalds, they documented strategy sessions to brand or at least rebrand Communism to give it a new look. The resulting video, “This Is The New Communism, Everyone Is Welcome” (2011) is a tour de force of the medium attacking its own message without batting an eyelash.

Pilvi Takala, “Working at Deloitte for a Month” (still) from “The Trainee,” (2008). PowerPoint presentation, 2 min. Courtesy Galerie Diana Stigter, Amsterdam.

Pilvi Takala manages to one-up the Propeller Group through her devilishly caustic 2008 installation documentation of “The Trainee/Welcome to Deloitte,” which was partially funded by the Finnish Cultural Foundation. Using the cover of a thoroughly respectable middle class endeavor, “non-doing” as her thesis, she infiltrates the inner sanctum of Deloitte’s training process for new marketing employees, documenting her indoctrination ever step of the way. Letters, key card and a first day task list are framed as evidence. In a secretly filmed video she deadpans asking a fellow trainee, “Is this a really good way to think?” “Yeah, Yeah” is the reply.

Her over the top moment comes when she spends the day doing nothing but riding the company elevator up and down all day. That earns her a problem report at Deloitte with the ominous subject header “Market Trainee” stating she has a “mental problem” and how should she be handled? Flipping the bird back on them she hones her razor eye on their indoctrination in the name of propriety and good manners justifying her penetration by bullshitting she is researching a “brand campaign.”

“The rhythm of time is different,” she tells her handlers adding she has some “brain work” going on to “localize a global brand for marketing.” She’s lucky Deloitte didn’t tar and feather her after the fact.

Both these time-based pieces take the ‘soft’ but insidious approach by infiltrating the infiltrator. Mexico-born artist Jose Antonio Vega Macotela, a real gem in this exhibit examines infiltration and exchange differently in his multipieced Time Divisa series (2008-2010) about the smuggling distribution methods of an actual a prison. He examines exchange, finance and social relations in an uber-controlled situation, both as a real, documented system and as metaphor. Using inmate’s tattoos, shreds of cloth and systems of transit and distribution he literally maps the contraband flow of 100,000 pesos meticulously documenting each node of distribution by using discarded fingernail clippings.

Macotela also turns his gimlet eye to produce a sculptural installation “Habemus Gasoline” (2008) exhibiting an in-house Tequila distiller. Mexico, the 6th largest provider of crude oil exports one million barrels a day to the U.S. to be refined. Once refined, the oil is sold back to Mexico as gasoline, an arrangement that enormously benefits U. refineries. Vega Macotela uses local technologies that make tequila, mescal and potable water setting up a makeshift refinery in the gallery.

Jonathas de Andrade, 4000 Disparos (4000 Shots) (still), 2010. Super-8 digitalized, 60 min loop. Courtesy the artist and Galeria Vermelho, São Paulo

Jonathas de Andrade’s “400 Disparos [4000 Shots]” (2010) are single frame black and white images of four thousand men walking at a frenzied pace through streets of Latin America.  The sheer volume of blurred faces conjures up memories of those who were disappeared by dictatorships throughout the continent, and are the unsung, and probably the real unmentioned heroes of The Ungovernables.

The Ungovernables: 2012 New Museum Triennial runs through April 22 at the New Museum (235 Bowery, Lower East Side, Manhattan).

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Ellen Pearlman

Ellen Pearlman is a writer and new media artist who lives between New York and Asia, where she is a PhD candidate at the School of Creative Media, Hong Kong City University.

3 replies on “The Ungovernables Flips the Bird”

  1. “Post-colonial studies, the legacy of 19th and 20th century colonialism and imperialism, a hit on the academic circuit, underlies the raisone d’etre of the New Museum’s Triennale, The Ungovernables, the 2nd Triennial devoted to global contemporary art.”  
    post-colonial studies is not *the legacy* of 19th and 20th century colonialism!  it is the study and critique of 19th and 20th century colonialism, among other things.  ugh.

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