Los Angeles

Carter Mull, Hearts of Gold, 2013–14, digital video, color, sound, 7 minutes 22 seconds.

Carter Mull, Hearts of Gold, 2013–14, digital video, color, sound, 7 minutes 22 seconds.

Carter Mull

Marc Foxx Gallery

Carter Mull, Hearts of Gold, 2013–14, digital video, color, sound, 7 minutes 22 seconds.

The digital video Hearts of Gold, 2013–14—the sole work in Carter Mull’s exhibition of the same name—centers on an “artist’s book” constructed on the broadsheets of the New York Times. The newspaper format, of course, once heralded the end of the book as a memory-storage technology, its pulpy pages as transitory as the information imprinted thereon. While newspaper content was, for a time, preserved on the celluloid rolls of microfiche, the effort was highly selective. Today, in the age of big data, all recorded content can be made immediately and indiscriminately available for posterity, while newspapers have plummeted in number. If a new paper is founded, it is often with heightened self-consciousness of its ephemeral nature. Mull likewise highlights the temporal aspect of his book; its newsprint pages are layered with speedily improvised collages and painterly sketches reminiscent of Pollock. The result might recall Guy Debord’s collaboration with Asger Jorn on the 1959 book Mémoirés, structures portantes d’Asger Jorn, or, in a more programmatic sense, Marshall McLuhan and Quentin Fiore’s attempts to remodel the book form for a postliterate readership. Here, however, we take leave of the bound-paper delivery mechanism entirely: Mull’s book exists only on digital video, where words and pictures are from the first moment conjoined in numerical code.

There is a spread in The Medium Is the Massage (1967) where the hands of a reader are photographically doubled in the margins of the text. In Mull’s video, we are also shown hands, but these hands move, leafing through the book for us. The video is tightly focused on this act, as manicured fingers turn and smooth out pages in a manner that is both vaguely erotic and indifferent. The tabletop on which the book is placed is chroma-key green, suggesting that it could be anywhere and nowhere; however, the camera periodically pulls back from this mise-en-scène for a Brechtian reveal of a cluttered studio. The “talent” seated behind the table is downtown LA scenester Alanna Pearl, sporting a “cholita Barbie” cut, thick black-framed glasses, a shirt similar to a Shenzhen bootleg but made in Los Angeles, turquoise hot pants, and yellow platform sandals. Pearl’s mash-up style speaks to a moment when fashion’s ever-accelerating process of coding and recoding might have finally reached a rate indistinguishable from stasis—like the freeze-frame that stands in for a velocity beyond our representational capacities. No less than the book she manipulates, she has become an illegible palimpsest.

The baroquely attired LA model Chebo occasionally appears alongside Pearl, acting as videographer, while the artist, as director, flits in and out of the frame. With an interest in tracing the interaction between autonomous art and everyday culture in social networks, Mull befriended Chebo, Pearl, and an online group of self-styled tastemakers—kids who see no contradiction between the words brand and identity—and recorded their activities within various set-up situations in his studio. On the video, via voice-over, a girl dreamily intones a series of self-promoting statements, such as “I broke my own brand,” that alternate with more theoretically inflected ones—“You live in an arcade,” “Your body is merchandise”—effectively repurposing the critical literature of modernity, from Marx to the Frankfurt School, for strictly postideological purposes.

For Mull’s protagonists, such language no longer sounds a note of alarm; it is an entrepreneurial mantra. One could go on about reification and how quickly forms of critique are subsumed by the profit motive, but this would be redundant. Like the hands that pass over the pages of his book, Mull’s video registers little more than a distracted curiosity in this state of affairs in which a ceaseless pileup of information has crashed any remaining historical framework. A blinking cell phone lies beside Mull’s book as a complement, not a competition, opening more windows onto a world that will increasingly be tried on for size rather than read critically at a distance.

Jan Tumlir