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“Alex as Andy,” Towards a Unified Theory of MI!MS (2013), photo Andy Holden (all images courtesy Andy Holden)

LONDON — Andy Holden’s current exhibition at the Zabludowicz Collection, Maximum Irony, Maximum Sincerity: Towards a Unified Theory of MI!MS 1999-2003, tells the story of five friends, Holden among them, who decided to write a manifesto titled Maximum Irony, Maximum Sincerity between 1999 and 2003. It does this through presenting things they made at the time, alongside video and photo re-enactments from key moments in the movement played by young actors. On the exhibition, Holden notes: “As with the starting point of most of my works, the exhibition is partly a question, which was present in previous works such as the Pyramid Piece and Cookham Erratics, of examining crucial moments in the development of subjectivity and foundational encounters that then go on to dictate much of a subsequent world view.”

But something else interested Holden, too: the central idea of the manifesto — irony coupled with sincerity — still felt relevant to Holden, despite the fact that ten years have passed since it was written. This was echoed in numerous reviews and essays he found online, such as articles referencing the ‘New Sincerity.’  Yet, as Holden notes, “The difference with MI!MS, was that it was actually an attempt to start a movement and make work according to a manifesto, rather than identify and group things in culture that had a shared sensibility.” In this interview, Holden discusses the exhibition in depth before talking about a new project he is presenting at Performa 13, which has been in development for two years.

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Towards a Unified Theory of MI!MS, (MI!MS logo revisited) (2013)

Stephanie Bailey: What is the overall aim of the exhibition Maximum Irony, Maximum Sincerity: Towards a Unified Theory of MI!MS?

Andy Holden: The piece hopes to examine the current powerful pull of nostalgia that dominates so much of culture; reunion concerts, reforming bands, restaging exhibitions.  In the exhibition it does some of these things with both irony and sincerity, looking at how the way we recall the pasts structures much of the way we make sense of the present.

SB: MI!MS was developed to, as you state, escape the cynicism of the times. Do you see a difference in the times that the manifesto was written to those we live in now?

AH: I think one of my suspicions was that the cynical times as we saw them were as much to do with adolescence as any real understanding of culture at large. Although we were preoccupied with the difficulty of using serious subjects or emotional imagery without it being read ironically, this feeling that somehow the ironic, detached position or the cynical position, was somehow the most sophisticated one was something we wanted to genuinely resist. Not to be jaded was seen as a consequence of not knowing enough and therefore not to be trusted, and this troubled us.

The idea with casting teenagers from Bedford to play the original members, who are the same age as we were at the time, was to look at the relationship between the ideas in the manifesto and adolescence as a transitional stage between a sincerity that comes with childhood and the reflexivity and irony that starts to enter your head as a young adult.  It was curious to watch the young actors take the dialogue that I had recorded with the original members and transcribed and begin to embody us and the ideas of MI!MS.  It was curious to see the teenagers try and embody this now.

Andy Holden, “Poppins Scene,” Writing the Manifesto, MI!MS (2013)

SB: How is Maximum Irony! Maximum Sincerity reflected in the exhibition? 

AH: In the case of the exhibition, this is a work about MI!MS and also a work of MI!MS. To make a single object that is MI!MS was always very hard, as it was as much a feeling about something and therefore difficult to solidify. Often, it works through a group of objects or images, where the seriousness of the endeavor comes through and the imagery that at first seems sentimental or clichéd becomes again serious or emotional.

Music was, and is, a good vehicle for making a work of MI!MS. We used the language of the pop song and the teenage band to stage performances that produced things that were definitely MI!MS. The exhibition hopefully makes sense of this, through restaging the music of MI!MS with a children’s choir and school orchestra and the reforming for a reunion concert my teenage MI!MS band, Brave Soldier. I think because MI!MS was so interested in the potential of art to engage again with emotion, the conventions of the pop song and the affect of certain chord changes became a space to explore this.

Zabludowicz Collection, installation view of Andy Holden, MI!MS

SB: As an artist, would you position yourself within the realm of philosophy and theory, thinking about the ideas you deal with?

AH: Exploring the way thinking alters the way we construct and perceive objects is crucial to my practice.  Thinking and making exist symbiotically for me, craft allows a way of thinking through objects and objects can provide ways to thinking about how thought processes are formed. Hopefully, if an exhibition works it will present a combination of objects and ideas that provide a way of thinking about something potentially quiet abstract.

SB: There is also this sense with MI!MS, in that in the exhibition you presented a moment of true idealism; do you believe that such manifestos could work today?

AH: I wonder if the time of manifestos has passed, I don’t know, it seems now like a historical idea, although one I’m nostalgic for, as they seem to come with a sense that ideas are shared and collaborative.

I think the notion of ownership of ideas is changing with the Internet and ideas of stylistic coherency are shifting. I think revisiting MI!MS and the manifesto was a way of thinking about some of these things and to pose exactly that question to myself: Would it be possible to write a manifesto now, and what was it that made it possible then?

Andy Holden and Peter Holden, Lecture on Birdsong, Art Now live Tate Britain (2011)

SB: Finally, what are you presenting at Performa 13?

AH: For Performa I’ll be presenting Lecture on Nesting, a work I’ve been developing over the past two years in collaboration with my father. My father is an ornithologist who has written a number of books on birds and together we look at the structure and materials of bird nests in quite a lot of detail. We collect examples and show these, with him discussing them from an ornithologist perspective and me talking more as someone interested in materials. The work then is about the conversation between two different disciplines, but also father and son, with the subject of how to make a nest having obvious connotations in relation to the two of us presenting the talk.

It was a project that I begun around the time of first reading Bruno Latour and thinking about objects as actors; the bird nest is an interesting object in that it makes clear a network of relations between site, material and design. But it was also a consequence of finding myself living back home with my father and the project became a good way of forming an interesting dialogue that made us both consider the subject the other was passionate about through discovering that the ways in which we approached a subject had many similarities. The work is hopefully just informative, presenting information around materials and bird behavior that can be used as research for artists, as well as providing a different way to think about how objects are constructed and how this might effect the way we think about art objects.

Maximum Irony, Maximum Sincerity: Towards a Unified Theory of MI!MS 1999-2003 is on view at the Zabludowicz Collection (176 Prince of Wales Rd, London) through December 15.

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Stephanie Bailey

Stephanie Bailey covers contemporary art and culture from around the world for publications including ART PAPERS, ARTnews, Artforum, LEAP, Modern Painters and Yishu Journal of Contemporary Chinese Art....

5 replies on “Towards a Manifesto of Irony, Sincerity, and Nostalgia”

  1. “Thinking and making exist symbiotically for me, craft allows a way of thinking through objects and objects can provide ways to thinking about how thought processes are formed.” Interestingly this sounds like a situated aesthetic type of externalism.

      1. Thinking and making, making and thinking, which comes first? If you are an artist, this is very real as it is what you do.

      2. Various externalist theories of mind propose that the mind is not just the result of what is going on inside the nervous system but is constitutive of the environment and that we actually use the environment to think. In turn these externalist theories imply a situated aesthetics beyond the familiar form and medium analysis where a project is continuously emerging in an environment external to any single artist.

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