Ryan Holmberg


MULTITUDE: ARTISTS SPACE - NEW YORK, NEW YORK

Taji Matsue, "Multitude", Japan #51, gelatin silver print mouted on aluminum

 

Sabine Bitter / Helmut Weber, "Multitude", Image source, digital print on vinyl

 

The 25 contributions to this group show seem to share just one thing: gallery space on Greene Street. There is no common theme addressed, nor any real formal similarity between the works. They differ as stone to hair, two of the many media employed. Rather, the works have been brought together for their common evasion of representation. To cite one essay in the exhibition catalog: “The migration of these works of art between production and materiality refuses fixed meanings, proposing instead a movement across the space of interpretation.”In this, the curators of the show have been inspired by the concept of the multitude, as developed by Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri in their book Empire. There, the multitude is recognized diversity, brought together by global capital flows, and joined by real common interest and not the imagined communities of race, class, or nation.The multitude is always in the process of forming itself and never static; it is, in Hardt and Negri's words, in “perpetual motion.” As promised, this exhibition delivers work of indeterminate meaning.

One realm through which the multitude passes in this show is that of urban discourse. image.source, by Sabine Bitter and Helmut Weber, is large at ten feet wide and four and a half feet high. From afar, one sees a black and white aerial shot of an anonymous city scene. Depicted is the Bijlmer housing project in Amsterdam, surrounded by nameless urban and industrial developments. From close up, one sees that it is a computer printout on vinyl, the cityscape made up of asterisks, backslashes, equal signs, and other icons. There are also some letters, occasionally enough strung together to form legible language. Upon closer inspection, one finds that these fragments are sections of text by Walter Gropius and Rem Koolhaas, among others. The city is literally made up of the written discourse of architecture. But here, in image.source, the text is broken. It is made incoherent by the noise of random typographic data. The noise of the city, real inhabited space, it seems to say, exceed the ordering visions of utopian Modernist and contemporary theory.Taiji Matsue's desert, a set of gelatin silver prints mounted on aluminum and hung three square, are all nine low contrast pictures of dry and often mountainous topography. None, however, seem to be of deserts. None of the nine bare the standard features of landscape in Art History. Shot from an elevated angle, without vista or horizon, all nine bar the sublime, a major category in landscape representation and bound to both Romantic aesthetics and nationalist myths. None offer features of a landscape recognizable on anything other than taxonomic terms. All dead and desiccated-or at least appearing that way through the bleached gray of each photograph-none are familiar figures of the beautiful. Only texture is framed; none are picturesque. They are landscape neither of nationalism nor of tourism.

The issue of nationality occurs (as to be expected in an exhibition addressing globalization) again and again. And often with surprising result. korean shaped coral by Jean Shin is constructed of multiple similar shapes, each torn to roughly resemble the Korean peninsula. They are all then stitched together, one atop another, each turned slightly, fanning out to form something ambiguous, brown and biomorphic. Given the component pieces-Korea-shaped paper-the resultant marine form seems accidental. Though of hands and forms of recognizable national identity, this paper coral is recalcitrant to functioning as a metaphor for national identity. korean shaped coral, like many of its neighboring works in the exhibition, has a touch-and-go relation with its referents, being rather noncommittal to all but one, and that is the uncertainty of art.

Another work of Korean concern, concrete slate border by Sung-Hee Choi, is essentially a broken slab symbolizing north-south peninsular division across the 38th parallel. As a surface to be walked on and across, it offers neither a particularly exciting phenomenological situation nor a particularly complex simulation of reunification. Its cracked and broken state is a simple literalization of the hopes of South Korea's so-called “Sunshine Policy”. And though the geopolitical issue is an important one, given such concrete form and transparent reference, it does not fit this show. For the show's strength is in its limber cohabitants, a flexibility of meaning not available in this political analogy. Overt and sustained political commitment to a single object destroys the efficacy of the multitude.An interesting confluence emerges, somewhat unannounced. The work of art, after all, an entity traditionally noted for its perpetual escape of full conceptual capture, would seem a close corollary to the mutability of meaning empowering the multitude. This camaraderie may prove to be the exhibition's most challenging. For if it holds, one of two things must give: the ambivalence of art or the political efficacy of the multitude.

Ryan Holmberg
New Haven, Connecticut
2002