Kerry James Marshall
We live in a time when branding has become an art form, political debates are played out as soap-operas and fashion makes a commodity out of street culture. Shelf Life presented thirteen artists and collectives from UK, Europe, South Africa, North and South America who simultaneously embrace and challenge consumerism in their practice. Several of the artists included in the exhibition were previously unseen in this country, though well known or emerging in other parts of the world.
Shelf Life presented a selection of artists' who provide a space for reflection on personal expression, cultural differences and incidental occurrences - the 'human' aspects of our constructed world. Some of the artists use appropriation to the point where language is both created and unravelled. Others make visible the incidental or transient situations which create the personality of a city.
The artists included are united in re-evaluating art historical values; situating the art in the gallery as well as in the street, using readymades and crafted objects, challenging distinctions between high and low art. Together their practice forms an invisible network of resistance to the homogenisation of culture, and crosses social and political boundaries as a result.
Curated by smith + fowle, Shelf Life was a collaboration between Gasworks, London and Spike Island, Bristol. Both organisations occupy a unique position in the UK in that they break down traditional divides between artistic production and presentation by including artists' studios and international residency programmes within the gallery environment. Architect Andreas Lang was commissioned to design the installation of the exhibition at both venues. In his redevelopment he challenges the way art is looked at and will unify the fundamentally different architecture of the galleries. Shelf Life was presented in the galleries, the studios and the surrounding urban area.
Shelf Life included three international residencies, Dario Robleto will be resident at Spike Island and Will Rogan and Robin Rhode at Gasworks.
Bitterkomix (SA) a comic strip was first published in 1992 by Anton Kannemeyer and Conrad Botes and has been produced annually since. Bittercomix acts as a forum for the expanding list of contributors to comment on South African society, focusing on taboos politics, and predudices of the Afrikaans culture.
Maria Hedlund (S) produces photographs that reveal the imprints and scars left on everyday objects and architectural features through constant use. The grease marks, smoke stains and ingrained dirt appear in stark contrast to the otherwise immaculate interiors, acting as reminders of the wear and tear that is the reality of human presence in a constructed world.
Paul Khera (UK) has designed a contemporary typeface for post-soviets that is disseminated free via the Internet. The typeface provides users with a corporate-style visual identity that also includes activist slogans hidden in some of the letters, acknowledging the current collision of consumerism and socialism in the former USSR.
Kerry James Marshall (US) takes inspiration from the tradition of Marvel comics to produce his own comic strip Rhythm Mastr. In this ongoing project, black super-heroes take centre stage in a story that crititques inner-city American culture by pitching African archetypes against the forces of cyber-technology.
Euan Macdonald (C) questions how we process what we see in his drawings and videos. In Interval (1998) he picks up on incidents in urban environments, blurring our notions of what is real and imaginary.
Freddie Robins (UK) challenges a fashion-conscious, self-obsessed culture with her textiles. Her knitted garments are mutants that questions the labels designated by society, challenging what is deemed 'normal'.
Dario Robleto (US) is inspired by the endless potential of recycled sounds, lyrics and phrasings afforded by sampling. He transforms vinyl records into new objects that rely on the associations of their prior existence.
Robin Rhode (SA) uses photography, video and performance to explore the expression of territory, pride and respect in graffiti subcultures. He is inspired by his childhood memories of unforgiving rites of acknowledgment in his physically animated chalk street drawings.
Will Rogan (US) makes interventions using simple gestures and quiet humour to challenge complacency. In his paint drip series (1999) he lets paint drip down the façade, creating a thin line of pure colour that maps the imperfections of the wall. In untitled (1999) he films Robert Linder in a succession of fashion shops and department stores putting on layer upon layer of clothing until unable to move, without as much as a glance from the shop staff or fellow customers.
Santiago Sierra (M) who is participating in the 2001 Venice Biennale comments on economic power relations, particularly focusing on the exchange value of labour. In 8 Foot Line Tattooed on six Renumerated People, 1999, he persuades people, without tattoo's, to have a 30cm long line tattooed across their backs for $30.
Gabriela Vaz (P) looks directly at how individuals are judged by their handwriting, a common practice in southern Europe. In Life Stories - Short (2000) Vaz employs a graphologist to ananlyse diary extracts written by two seemingly different people, playing with traditional sociological profiles.
A catalogue is available from the bookshop.