The title ‘Plan B’ suggests that an alternative choice was made during this exhibition’s conception – either this or that, not ‘A’ but ‘B’. When plan ‘A’ implodes its alternate, plan ‘B’, is mobilized – and occasionally ‘B’ can turn out to be an ideal choice, as is the case for this exhibition. The title begs for an interrogation of choice and an examination of alternatives within dichotomous relationships – the street/the gallery, Pop Art/Fine Art, consumerism/altruism, mainstream/subculture – asking the viewer to contemplate positional distinctions and to make choices. ‘Plan B’ also questions those binary divisions by bringing together street art and Pop-influenced works that challenge material and conceptual conventions through their seamless incorporation of disparate styles and imagery. Street art is something considered to occur ‘out there’ in the urban landscape, and it is informed by both revolutionary thought and quotidian commercial materialism; bringing that work ‘in here’, into the gallery, breaks down barriers between the venerated exhibition space and the gritty environment of the city street. In the 1960s Pop Art obliterated the distinction between commercial and fine art, inserting an anti-establishment ethos into the conventional gallery space and challenging the viewer to consider the constitution of a work of art. Street art endeavors to build upon the legacy of Pop through provoking the deliberation of cultural, sociological and aesthetic content from inside the white cube of the gallery. The gallery legitimizes street art by deeming it a worthy subject for rigorous intellectual discourse and by making it commercially viable. As street art is based on radical ideas that eschew artistic conventions and position it in critique of the gallery, it is somewhat ironic for street art to reside in the space that it critiques. This suggests that ‘Plan B’ is blurring binary distinctions, and creating a material and discursive space that includes ‘both’.
In Ikke and Queen EMESS incorporates Pop elements in a street manner, being satirical whilst paying homage, through his use of bold colors and the iconic images of George Washington and Queen Elizabeth II. Those visages, which were replicated from American and British currency, epitomize the ‘brand’ of their respective cultures and signify money. In Danish Ikke means “no” or “isn’t it so”, and its homonym in American English, “icky”, means distasteful or gross. EMESS incorporates the face of the founding father of America, a veritable King akin to Britain’s Queen, into IKEA flat pack instructions, linking the US ‘brand’ with Sweden’s leading corporate entity – associating the naissance of the United States with consumerism, relative quality and built-in obsolescence. Isn’t it so?
Shepard Fairey’s Obey currency pieces offer a simulacrum of money, which critiques aspects of political economy. With the phrases “indiscriminate capitalism”, “supply and demand” and “obedience is the most valuable currency”, inscribed in juxtaposition with a grasping hand and a skull, Fairey asks the viewer to contemplate the use and exchange value of goods purchased through submission and compliance. This work strongly correlates to the contemporary political and financial landscape – many countries are in recession, currencies are destabilized, banks have been nationalized, billions are being spent on wars, and taxpayers are carrying the burden of the mounting costs, with no end in sight, thanks to the rampant greed of a privileged few.
Expired by STiNK!, combines graffiti inspired figurative elements, depicting human and environmental decay, with descriptive language indicating technical failure and loss of protection. The construction of the piece is reminiscent of a dollar bill – figurehead in the center, rectilinear shape, with writing incorporated into the image – which may allude to the role of economic capital in the decomposition of the individual and/or the state. Ernesto Canovas’ Bombs, Bombs, Bombs and Honey I’m Home bring to mind notions of fetishism (commodity and otherwise), destruction, fantasy, and escapism, attesting to the breadth of what money can buy for the individual and/or the state.
The objects in ‘Plan B’ are signs that express or communicate ideas. The sign, in linguistic terms, is comprised of the signifier (the form or art object) and the signified (the concepts it conjures in one’s mind). Shared meaning is developed through a shared understanding of the signifier, which is a socially constructed phenomena. The polysemic quality of art objects can create confusion on the part of the viewer – they can have different meanings for different people, based on their individual cultural norms and understandings. There may not be a defining feature common to all of the works or artists in ‘Plan B’, yet a relevant pattern of cultural significance can be found in the artwork’s relationship to money – literally through the depiction of imagery co-opted from actual bank notes in the work of EMESS, figuratively in the work of Fairey’s simulated currency, tangentially in the structural composition of the piece by STiNK!, and notionally in the work of Canovas – and in money’s relationship to the global financial crisis. ‘Plan B’ provides an excellent opportunity to engage with artwork that encourages the viewer to think differently about ordinary things, such as cash, in context with contemporary social, cultural and political concerns.
text by Kimberly Keith, Researcher, Centre for Urban and Community Research, Goldsmiths, London
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Two Window Project
Torstrasse 154, 10115 Berlin