New York

View of “Mark Leckey,” 2014.

View of “Mark Leckey,” 2014.

Mark Leckey

Gavin Brown's enterprise | 620 Greenwich Street

View of “Mark Leckey,” 2014.

The white cube. The black box. The green screen. Mark Leckey’s “A Month of Making” heralded the latest of these color-coded exhibition conventions. First the modern museum delimited the contemplation of painting and sculpture to supposedly neutral, blank-slate conditions; then it folded the filmic apparatus into darkened, immersive environments; now it furnishes backdrops for rehearsal and other modes of cultural labor once sequestered from public view. At Gavin Brown’s Enterprise, a green screen and a blue screen stood side by side, populated by assorted objects, such as a plaster cast of William Blake’s death mask; Richard Hamilton’s Diab DS - 101 Computer, 1985–89; and Herman Makkink’s cock-shaped Rocking Machine, 1969–79 (familiar to many as a prop from a grisly scene in Kubrick’s Clockwork Orange). Iterations of these objects kept reappearing elsewhere, as scaled-down facsimiles produced by 3-D printers, or as looped animations flashing over LED screens. Embodied experience gave way to apparitions of ongoing mediation and premonitions of imminent change. The screens served as a stage, in both senses of the word: a frame for posing and a step in a process.

“A Month of Making” ran from May to June. This review was written shortly thereafter, in July, though, given Artforum’s production schedule, you’re not reading this any time before October. In the interim, portions of the exhibition were shipped to Leckey’s retrospective at Wiels Contemporary Art Centre in Brussels, which (presumably) opened in September. Already, then, Leckey has leapfrogged this text—an apposite feat for his temporally knotty practice. Few artists so incessantly reshuffle past motifs, or make such frequent recourse to previews, proposals, and other proleptic formats. The resulting tangle of recursions and future anteriors thwarts the easy tracing of any individual threads. “A Month of Making” had no fixed origin, but a provisional chronology might begin in 2010, when Leckey was invited to curate an exhibition for Hayward Touring. Over the course of two years, he dragged jpegs and other media files into three desktop folders, labeled MAN, MACHINE, and ANIMAL. (“This isn’t curating,” he enthused. “This is aggregating.”) Hayward staff located the objects depicted in Leckey’s cache, then secured the necessary loans to exhibit them together as “The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things,” which debuted at the Bluecoat in Liverpool, UK, in 2013. Leckey then sought to convert these objects back into data through laser scanning. “A Month of Making” showcased a smattering of original “dumb things,” but was primarily dedicated to 3-D printing an ever-expanding set of replicas destined for Wiels. Leftovers from a past exhibition thus mingled with ingredients for the next.

Leckey first announced “Dumb Things” in a video uploaded to YouTube in 2010. “What I’m proposing,” he explained, “is that the show in as far as possible is set in the Past and the Future at the same time.” Here, Leckey alluded to durations somewhat longer than the intervals in his exhibition calendar. Directly between the green and blue screens were two oversize cardboard cutouts of artificial hands, one a wirelessly controlled robotic prosthesis, the other a thirteenth-century silver reliquary. This thematically crucial pairing posits that today’s networked logic of “smart” objects reinstates medieval doctrines of divine matter. There’s a dangerous naïveté to conflating Big Data with Holy Spirit, since doing so obscures the actual actors and agendas that guide technology’s design. Smart appliances are beguiling enough, smart bombs less so. That said, it’s worth considering whether the transitional function of Leckey’s green screen might also possess a theological dimension. After all, it promises that everything will be digitally recorded and enhanced, preserved and perfected, uploaded into a state of grace.

Colby Chamberlain