PRINT May 1992

Critical Decor

CRITICAL DECOR IS THE NAME adopted by a pair of English artists, David Pugh and Toby Morgan, who have worked together since 1990. Much of their work consists of confrontational, polemical texts that read like House versions of Theodor Adorno or Nietzsche, these installed directly on the walls of the exhibition site. Sometimes a single word will do, such as “Void” or “Silence.” Both of those works seem to refer to the law-and-order aspect of esthetic closure, which is understood by Critical Decor to be the reigning ideology of the current art scene in England. But that pessimistic outlook has never kept Critical Decor from jumping into the fray, Situationist International–style: a recent work took the form of a full-page image in the newly launched English art-and-design magazine Frieze. Picturing the sisters Camilla and Harriet Guinness wearing identical T-shirts embroidered on the front panel with the phrase “White Eurotrash With No Future,” the work addresses those who live in what Gayatri Spivak has termed the “geriatric ward that is the North,” pushing to the limits the notion of (Eurocentric) self-criticism as public spectacle. It is also an intriguing take on the idea of détournement, where the media “site” becomes an advertisement of its own death. Because we in North America tend to read the work of English artists across a narrow band of already assimilated “international” art rather than within the local cultural context of England, the particularities of (local) strategies and struggles remain invisible. Critical Decor seems to suggest that the concept of “local” culture is a romanticization, an empty concept drawn from the bankrupt ideology of “oppositional” culture. Where “texts” were once fetishized as a cipher for criticality and subversion, Critical Decor now relates them to the production of such trivial cosmetica as the cheap logos of High Street fashion chains. Their work raises the interesting question of the real cultural cost of the “internationalization” of English contemporary art, which cannot even call itself a heritage industry. The very name “Critical Decor” is meant, in the first instance, to point out an “(im)possibility”: a world where decor is all and yet where one still holds out for a signal of the hope of criticality in decorous forms. Like the “space” of a Daniel Buren, where the absence of anything un-decorous is taken to prefigure the existence of a social and political space where a transformational practice might again be possible, the ideal “space” of Critical Decor is the Void—where “everything is (im)possible.”