A topic of much talk at the Frieze Art Fair is Frieze Projects, a programme of site-specific commissions that aim to make each visitor rethink the way they interact with the art that’s around them. According to Projects’ curator Neville Wakefield “this year’s Projects create aesthetic opportunity out of the uncertainty that has become the hallmark of our troubled times.”
It’s uncertain how troubling times have been for buyers here. Still, the £500 cap placed on work made at Stephanie Syjuco’s Copystand: an autonomous manufacturing zone probably seems like a bargain to punters who decide to buy a cardboard replica of work they’ve spotted on another stand. Until they realise they’ve just spent £500 on a cardboard replica by an unknown worker of Syjuco’s.
The concept poses as any other commercial gallery fronted by Syjuco. Alongside her, a troupe of three real-life artists make copies of work that sits in the fair with affordable and often found pieces of material. This work deals typically with topics of appropriation, authenticity and ownership. According to Syjuco, her conception reflects contemporary art in this way. “So much contemporary work revisits topics of modernity and utopian ideals but in a very slick way. I wanted to do something different.”
Syjuco’s Copystand was accepted into the fair to her own surprise. Having submitted two proposals, “a conservative safe bet and this” Syjuco explains “this is braver than I thought the projects could be.” It seems visitors were also sold by Copystand, Syjuco disclosed, “we sold so much on the opening day and have had to work hard to replace what had gone.”
Yet, for all her talk of autonomy and supposed interest in alternative economies it is still a stand in the Frieze big tent in which the same people are making, selling and buying objects as would happen most any other year…the conceptual twin has not veered far from its parents. What’s more, outside the pages of Frieze and the fair, issues of modernity that are discussed here might look a little long in tooth, no matter how much the substandard recreations charm with youthful verve or naïve roughness. It speaks to newspaper readers with a bite-size knowledge of art history and would be laughed all the way back to the Short Introduction to Activism if it was presented next to work created in real-life autonomous spaces. Asked why the copies aren’t just given away Syjuco answered, “it didn’t even cross my mind.”
Patronising sub-statements are avoided in Jordon Wolfson’s String Theory, who received the Cartier Award 2009 for this relational gem. The first part of the exhibition takes visitors on a tour of the fair with a physicist who translates String Theory into English from Maths. In short, (the one-on-one tour lasts 45 minutes) as the scientist grasps for words that make sense of this complex concept for comparative imbeciles, he makes two points that are essential to the work: (1) every feature of the world is a reaction to the vibration of a single string, and (2) there are 10 dimensions rather thant he 4 of which everyday folk are aware.
With this in mind, the second half of Wolfson's project makes sense. Wolfson sits on the grass in Regent’s Park, directing two actors who enact a transcript of a previous tour, shouting occationally, “increase sex” or “louder”. Visitors watch whilst the tour is narrated to them by the intense actors. Thus, Wolfson adds a new dimension to the experience each visitor has had inside. In doing so he interprets through a live event a feature of the theory that visitors inevitably found baffling before.
You’d do well to say string theory becomes clear from this work. After 45minutes of aural bombardment whilst having your vision violated by the plethora of display, concentrating on anything becomes difficult. However, not only would you have enjoyed a one-on-one conversation with a stranger by participating in the work but Wolfson hopes that the art world and the science world might appear fewer light years apart. Certainly similarities between the two include confusion, but the two pull apart again in the scientist’s search to describe things simpler whilst complex terms and long words mask insecurities in the art world. (There's that push-pull again that Wolfson was shouting about to the actors.) Nonetheless, as a consolation, my guide let slip how he yearns for a creative absent from physics and an essential to sanity. Phew, the link became clear and Victoria Miro’s show of a giant polished penis that looks like a snail doesn’t seem so stupid once again.
Images from Top to Bottom: (Stephanie Syjuco, We Interrupt Your Program, Courtesy Frieze Foundation and Frieze Art Fair; Jordan Wolfson, Your Napolean, Image of String Theory Tour, Photo By BFerguson; Jordan Wolfson, Your Napolean, Image of String Theory Tour, Photo By BFerguson)