Freud's and Baudrillard's theories of the 'death drive' and its consequences influence a wide range of artists
Upon entering Necrospective, Catalyst Arts’ latest exhibition, the aesthetic is comparable to a David Cronenberg feature. A barrage of discordant noises and multiple flickering video images assault the senses. The lights are dimmed and the volume is loud – from the get-go it is clear that this is not art for the faint of heart.
The show is designed to explore both Freud’s notion that a natural human desire for self-destruction and a return to the inorganic (defined as the ‘death drive’) causes people to ‘act out’, and Baudrillard’s theory that this is embodied by the results of science and technology.
Freud states that the death drive is indicative of a subconscious human desire to return to a state preceding mortality and a time before we became distinct from one another, while Baudrillard expands on this, believing science’s prerogative to be the reconstruction of a ‘homogenous and uniformly consistent Universe’.
Functioning as a commentary on the relationship between these theories, it is understandable that Necrospective is brash (even nightmarish) upon first glance, a meditation on the presupposition that in our technology-driven environment, humanity has managed to create a synthetic infrastructure – one in which the death drive is satisfied, absolving us of responsibility for our actions and distorting what is real.
With this philosophical agenda in mind, the first piece, Motohiko Odani’s video installation, ‘Rompers’, seems appropriate. Shown on 13 screens of varying size, ratio and age, this film explores a dystopian view of the future in which we no longer have any reference point to what is real.
With mise-en-scène comparable to a children’s television program, ‘Rompers’ shows mesmerising clips of a carefree young woman juxtaposed with a jerky stop-motion frog chorus. The woman’s movements begin to ape the off-kilter animations, and the lines between what is natural and what isn’t begin to blur.
The colour balance of each screen is different, with some in grainy black and white and others displaying the short film in piercing hyper-real high contrast, which leads one to ponder which version we are being sold is the truth. Amusing and disturbing in equal measure, This is arguably the most engaging piece in the exhibition.
Elsewhere another video piece is projected against a wall, Alexis Milne’s film ‘Safe Riot’. In actuality a projection of a projection, this film is comprised of real footage of London’s G20 riots with footage of a fake riot in the foreground, shadowy figures tossing debris at the scenes of uproar.
While raising similar questions of which interpretation is to be believed (we are watching a video of a video, in which both protestors and police are also filming each other), this piece unfortunately lacks both the depth and playfulness evident in Odani’s installation, instead coming off as a politically juvenile one-trick pony.
Takeshi Murata’s fiercely innovative short film ‘Monster Movie’ is shown on a lonely iMac, relatively unassuming when compared to some of the large-scale pieces on display.
Controlled chaos reigns supreme in this glitch-art heavy installation: hand-drawn animations and appropriated footage from vintage monster flicks accompany compression artifacts to create a swirling Rorschach-like digital world. As mesmerising as it is technically impressive, this is datamoshing at its finest.
All of these pieces are underscored by the threatening rumble of ‘Mana’, a sonic sculpture by the exhibition’s curator, Thomas Johnson. Housed in a ramshackle fridge, a CD player and set of amplifiers emit a soundtrack created by Johnson himself by manipulating his own voice.
Imbuing the fridge with a sense of life (the foreboding sounds quite possibly representing the machine’s own electric death-knell), this piece goes some way to bridging the gap between technology and humanity.
Comparatively quiet is the final installation in the exhibition, Craig Fisher’s ‘It’s Uncanny’. This, a sculpture of a car-crash scene created almost entirely out of felt, feels like an inversion of the other pieces on display. Rather than hitting us with technological aggression head on, here we see a potentially visceral scene with all hints of violence removed.
When these cars collide, no sound can be heard save for the warm soft rub of felt on felt. It is easy to imagine the cars being pulled about by hand and popped back into their original condition with ease, removing us from the serious nature of the situation. In this sense it is comparable to the disassociation felt when seeing such images in a movie or on the news.
As an exhibition based around a strict philosophical supposition, Necrospective does exactly what is says on the tin. Granted there are fewer pieces on display than this reviewer may have wished for, and on a return visit for a second look the ‘Mana’ sound sculpture is unfortunately either broken or switched off. However, most of the installations provide plenty of food for thought on an interesting theme.
Necrospective runs in Catalyst Arts until August 31.