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Pattern of Force

The exhibition title is taken from a 1968 episode of the cult TV programme Star Trek. The well documented episode Patterns of Force focuses on the possibility of Nazi ideology being transposed onto a ‘primitive planet’ in the year 2534 by the planets new leader; the Starship Enterprise’s historian. Systems of government, interrogations and the infamous Nazi uniforms are invoked by the historian as a solution to the feuding and fighting of the planets two groups of inhabitants. The rationale being that 600 years after the Third Reich and with an ‘objectively’ historical perspective it is valid to invoke these methodologies as, in his opinion, the Nazi’s created “the most efficient system of government ever devised”. The episode is casually referred to as the “Nazi-planet episode” and has been both criticized and lampooned for using inappropriate historical references for the purpose of entertainment and also for getting some of the uniforms wrong.

The notion of inappropriate relationships to war and its by-products is encapsulated in the concept of ‘military technology trickle’; the way in which technologies developed for military purposes filter down to use by wider society. This phenomenon is evident in our consumer goods (video, computer games, mobile phones) that are available due to the research and production of military technologies. Jackson Pollock’s ‘drip paintings’ of the late 40’s and early 50’s made using Dupont Ducolux house paints (only available due to the development of enamel paints used for insulating the interior of shell casings) being an example of contemporary arts relationship to this process of production.

Gordon Schmidt’s piece Reverse Engineering appears as a painting or biro pen drawing but is in fact a grid-work of blue, white and red threads rendered in a simple hatching stitch to form the image of a ‘bulls eye’ target. During WWII the bulls eye was adopted by the Royal Air Force as their insignia after the image of the Union Jack (which was being confused with the German cross by British soldiers) was abandoned. The R.A.F roundel was co-opted in the 50’ & 60’s by visual art and popular culture and after being worn in various forms (eye patches, t-shirts etc.) by The Who it subsequently came to symbolise Mod culture. This particular composition of concentric circles is now registered by the R.A.F as their trademark. Schmidt’s pieceis reminiscent of the ‘title’ of Mike Kelley’s work More Love Hours Than Can Ever Be Repaid (1987) As with Kelley’s piece the value associated to labour, industry and time are connoted, the time involved in making Reverse Engineering is visible and immense, reinforcing an intentionally virtuous quality within the work.

In Dave Mears Social Structure Dave Sherry merges himself (the artist) with the TV bushman and survival expert Ray Mears. Sherry presents himself as a Ray Mears follower taking the indispensable skills learned from Ray Mears into his own reality. Whether intended by the artist or not this performance takes place inside a Starbucks, who being the largest coffeehouse company in the world have a major hold over the options of beverage consumption and city dwelling lifestyle of the general populous.

In the photograph we see the result of Sherry’s use of tape and stirring sticks to make a structure. Like Vladimir Tatlin’s unrealised Monument to the Third International the ‘bridge’ as Sherry calls it is a model, an unfulfilled ideal. The piece could be read a proposal for how to survive or escape Starbucks colonisation. One of the refreshing things about Sherry’s performative works (the performances themselves as well as their documentation in photographs and videos) is that although they involve the artist carrying out often ridiculous actions usually in public spaces they are not exhibitionistic, instead they seem to come out of a need rather than a desire to perform these acts. You get the idea in a lot of Sherry’s work that he is forcing himself to do or not to do something (previous works include Avoiding Eye Contact for One Seven Day Period (2003) and I Haven't Touched Another Person in Months (2003) in a sense much of Sherry’s work is a testament of his endurance.

The article World in Motion by Jan Verwoert suggests that what is in pertinent in contemporary art is the “reinvestment of individual desires into the seemingly anti-subjective formalism of Geometric Abstraction” (freize magazine, issue 84). Pedersen’s Gunther Structure, a large-scale structure of 8 thick wooden panels, 6 panels faced with large colour photographs of a youngish male (Gunther), attempting perhaps to define his individualism by subscribing to a 90’s heavy metal uniform (long hair, trench coat and heavy metal band t-shirt), can almost be viewed as a literal actualisation of that notion. Pedersen describes his photographs as ‘events’. The relationship between time, place and experience; the specifics that make up the ‘event’ are connoted within the piece. The 6 photographs all differ slightly, in dimensions, perspective and of course time. The process undertaken by the artist when photographing the subject becomes re-enacted by viewer as they encounter the work. As well as obvious associations with modernism (or perhaps I should say ‘new modernism’?) the piece invokes constructivist notions of transformation and emphasis on the individual as being unique.

In both the aforementioned works by Pedersen and Sherry there is a formal interplay between the man-made and the man as well as a questioning of the possibility of the individual existing in a mass-produced world. Where Gunther Structure clearly looks like a piece of contemporary art Schmidt’s and Sherry’s works are veiled in the possibility of being something else. This is perhaps because within the work the individual is also the creator, making something that has a possible value outside of the market.

Going back to the ideas mentioned at the start of this essay the initial thinking about Patterns of Force was to make visible the underlying influences of socio-economic factors on the creation and contextualisation of artworks. The pieces mentioned here do not tackle this concept in a didactic manner instead they manifest in various ways a vision of the contemporary ‘individual’ whose relationship to politics, war, economy and freedom is under critical debate.

Karen Cunningham 2007


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