Elisheva Levy, White Falcon Stereo, 2010, paper and White Falcon. Photo: UnveilArts.
The press release is almost universally considered the lowest form of art writing. It has shifted from its role as a promotional tool to become a short-attention-span substitute for the catalogue essay and (when copied verbatim in the media) for journalism. Often made available in the gallery space and downloadable from websites, press releases are written for an ambiguous audience that could include the public, media, students, collectors and funding bodies. They follow predictable formulae and are often laden with abstract rhetoric designed to present their subject (such as the exhibition, prize winner or work of art) as worthy of our attention and time.
With this in mind, reviewing an exhibition that takes a press release as its premise feels somewhat collusive. Session_13_Press Release was the second in a trilogy of exhibitions curated from a press release written by East London artist run initiative, Am Nuden Da, who then invited the curatorial collective, FormContent (Francesco Pedraglio, Caterina Riva and Pieternel Vermoortel) to realise the exhibition implied in their text. While FormContent curated the first and third instalments (Sessions 11 and 15, numbered in order of Am Nuden Da’s previous exhibitions), Session_13_Press Release was handed over to curator Joshua Simon, to diversify the possibilities contained within the 340-word release.
Session_13_Press Release Installation view (works from left to right): Asaf Koriat, Promise, 2008-2010, paper, MDF, markers and shredder; Francesco Finizio, Postcards from Promise Park, 2010, postcards and three channel video; Elisheva Levy, White Falcon Stereo, 2010, paper and White Falcon; Joe Scanlan, Red Flags, 2009, artist book; Harald Thys and Jos de Gruyter, Das Loch (The Hole), video, 2010; Mike E. Smith, Untitled, 2010, wire sculpture. Photo: UnveilArts
Am Nuden Da’s press release flirts with the clichés and expectative language of its genre. It celebrates ambiguity and art speak, however it also plays with tantalizing intellectual seduction, almost to the point of poetry. At the risk of falling into the lazy writer category, for the sake of illustration their opening sentences are reproduced below, the short sentences reflecting an obligatory ‘quote’ or reference. They begin:
Be my encourager.
Let me down for me to restore sense.
Be my denouncer, because all you need do is attempt for me
Succumb to the unexpected, to that of delightful bliss, to that of intellectual pursuit, to that of consequence—a consequence that your being commands, one you are obliged to hold.
A dry explanation follows, informing the reader ‘if anything this show is about matter in its entire register’ and outlining the exhibition’s key areas of investigation: Material, Subject and Question.
Given this prescribed though loose summary as a starting point, curator Joshua Simon seized the opportunity to explore his own existing area of interest: the commodity/object relationship and artists’ open negotiation of this relationship in their practice. Leaping from the text’s key buzzwords and treating the release with the same level of regard any curator might, he provided his own title for the exhibition, The Unreadymade, and scribed a considered curatorial statement. The exhibition itself—featuring the work of seven artists working in sculpture, video, works on paper and self-publishing—turned the audience’s attention away from the collaborative catalyst (Am Nuden Da), and toward the work of artists exploring the commodity as ‘the fundamental medium of all mediums’. Simon argues that negotiating the commodity is inescapable for the art object; the commodity becoming both source material and desired status. The diverse works in the exhibition illustrate this in both subtle and blatant ways.
Francesco Finizio, Postcards from Promise Park, 2010, installation view of three channel video. Photo: UnveilArts.
During the opening night, an artist’s self-conscious negotiation commodity was placed centre stage by Francesco Finizio who positioned himself as artist-salesman, sitting amongst his work, Postcards from Promise Park, 2010 a three channel video accompanied by a series of postcards with a small sign informing viewers they could purchase packs of the cards from him for £10. His presence enhanced the theatricality of the video and cards that document an amusement park constructed by the artist on a roadside wasteland. The park is sparsely populated by constructed figures and billboards that deliver promises such as ‘Dubai Daydream’ and ‘Free Park Ing’.
Across the room a more sinister and absurd drama was played out in Belgian filmmakers, Harald Thys and Jos de Gruyter’s video Das Loch (The Hole) (2010). In this work seedy materialism and consumerist ideology is embodied by fluoro-faced mannequins speaking in robotic tones. A bright red figure in dark glasses tells of his love for fast cars and Grappa, while a tortured neon yellow painter sits at his easel flanked by his wife who wears a vulture on her shoulder and repeats, ’Nothing will come of this painting Johannes, why don’t you make video films?’ Detached from her lament, poor Johannes tells himself: ‘The colours, it’s all about them.’
Asaf Koriat, Promise, 2008-2010, paper, MDF, markers and shredder. Photo: UnveilArts.
Colour becomes the commodity in Asaf Koriat’s Promise (2008-2010), a large paper rainbow created at one end by a series of branded markers that stain the strip of paper on its journey across a smooth wooden arch. The optimistic coloured lines find their end in a shredder secured to the down side, the paper and line dispersing into a sprawling mass of coloured strips that you feel you could jump into. Elsewhere Mike E. Smith turned an electrical coil into an imperfect white bowl, Elisheva Levy combined a dream guitar with a life-size paper tree in White Falcon Stereo (2010), and Joe Scanlan’s artist book, Red Flags (2009) weaved together the artist’s interpretation of prominent texts on ownership, the market, government and orientalism.
A tightly curated exhibition, Session_13_Press Release (aka The Unreadymade) engaged so subtly with Am Nuden Da’s press release it could have easily been realised independently of the project. By providing a curatorial statement Simon put the press release back in its box (so to speak) as a secondary, lesser text, causing it to also become a secondary, lesser premise. Viewers were given a clearer understanding of Simon’s interests and left to enjoy the works, the starting point of the show (the press release) a near total aside.
Had the starting point been a regular press release, treating it in this near-invisible way would have been more commendable, however the exhibition’s relationship with this particular release could have been more critically and overtly teased out. By comparison, in the previous and subsequent Session 11 and Session 15 instalments the release was by no means the elephant in the room. FormContent responded to the implied challenge of the text with a challenge: placing the full release in large vinyl lettering on the wall, causing viewers to confront it as a hybrid of didactic panel, curatorial premise and work of art. They accompanied the release with exhibitions that explored the circular references between text and exhibition, expectation and outcome. Gladly, the results of all three sessions revealed that the core objective of the project was neither to create a media stunt, nor to garner undeserved attention. Instead, what remains is a series of investigations into curatorial response and the role interpretative language plays in our understanding of artistic practice.
Session_13_Press Release (The Unreadymade) was held at FormContent, London from 3 December 2010 to 30 January 2011. Curated by Joshua Simon, the exhibition included the work of Francesco Finizio, Asaf Koriat, Elisheva Levy, Joe Scanlan, Mike E. Smith, Harald Thys and Jos de Gruyter.
 Am Nuden Da, ‘Press Release’ (Session 11, 13 and 15 Press Release exhibitions, 2010)
 Joshua Simon, The Unreadymade, accessed 29 January 2011 http://formcontent.org/exhibitions/exhibition
Originally published in Runway, Issue 18, EXPECTATION, Autumn 2011, pp 78 – 81.
Elizabeth Stanton is Communications and Publications Manager at Raven Row, London. Before this, she was Programme Coordinator at The Showroom, London. From 2012 until 2015, she...