London

Mark Leckey, BigBoxStatueAction, 2003/2011. Performance view, May 12, 2011.

Mark Leckey, BigBoxStatueAction, 2003/2011. Performance view, May 12, 2011.

Mark Leckey

Serpentine Galleries

Mark Leckey, BigBoxStatueAction, 2003/2011. Performance view, May 12, 2011.

On entering Mark Leckey’s exhibition “See, We Assemble,” visitors encountered the show’s video “trailer.” Before a video-production green screen sat an upturned speaker cone filled with puttylike cornstarch dyed the same bright color. Sound emanated from the speaker, causing it to vibrate and gradually solidifying the material—thus announcing a leitmotif that would run throughout the exhibition: physical transformations brought about through unseen forces. In the video, a Samsung logo drifts across slowly, made surreal by an electrical thrumming. Next, still images consciously depict various layers of mediated remove: The nearby Albert Memorial is seen first in situ, then against a green screen, then as an online publicity image. A Fiorucci advertisement appears, then a Henry Moore exhibition poster; then both are shown being photographed with a Samsung smartphone. The trailer sells us the show, distilled down to evocations and affect.

The way this video divides the show’s contents among three brands—Fiorucci, Samsung, and Moore—was mirrored in the exhibition itself, with each given a room. In the central space, a svelte Henry Moore sculpture, Upright Motive No. 9, 1979, stared down a stack of speakers. This was the mise-en-scène of Leckey’s performance BigBoxStatueAction, 2003/2011. In it, Leckey sing-speaks and plays sounds at the sculpture, apparently trying to communicate with it and somehow move the static matter. When first performed at Tate Britain, this work was more of a face-off than a serenade as Leckey launched beat-heavy electronic music at Jacob Epstein’s bulbous alabaster Jacob and the Angel, 1940–41. Leckey pushed and one felt as though the blocklike figures pushed back. Eight years later, the skinny bronze Moore of the Serpentine performances was less responsive to Leckey’s action, despite his entreating calls: “Persuasion, gotta get some. I persuade you.” Nevertheless, the strange aesthetico-scientific premise, making one imagine the mixing molecules of sound and sculpture, still retains its strength.

Leckey’s influential video Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, 1999, was shown in an adjacent gallery, along with one of his signature speaker stacks. The work charts the evolution in UK dance subculture from the 1970s Northern Soul revival to rave via the “European Sportswear” sartorial style that in Britain is called “casual”; Leckey’s title suggests that brand-defined social identity catalyzes new subcultural forms, the emptiness of consumer brands turning out to be the perfect conduit for rave’s weirdness.

In the context of the exhibition, one read Fiorucci against Leckey’s more recent take on brand-led living, GreenScreenRefrigeratorAction, 2010. In the installation, a high-tech black Samsung refrigerator stands in front of a green screen. Monitors display a video of the fridge with other images inserted behind it: Diagrammatic visions of its cooling functions mix with reveries about nature and the universe. Leckey’s vocoder-mutated voice intones something akin to the fridge’s thoughts; images float through like the fridge’s dreams. Critics disappointed by this new installation may have understandably taken it for some nouveau-Pop artwork, either relishing or critiquing the fetishistic luxury, matte-black appliance. At first the green screen is perhaps also unimpressive, since video technology’s ability to disconnect the parts from the spatiotemporal whole of the image is a well-known phenomenon today. But to dismiss the work on such grounds is to overlook its genuinely thought-provoking obstinacy. Leckey’s commonplace strategies hide an unsettling riddle regarding the status of the commodity today: that it remains the same while the flimsy, unstable world around it can be dropped in and out; that it is relational, its surroundings adjusting to it while it adjusts to them; that although its context is insubstantial, the commodity is solid and becomes an anchor for a panoply of significations and sense impressions. The implications are intriguing, and one hopes that Leckey will elaborate on them in future works.

Melanie Gilligan