Flat Earth Society
Alan Butler and Hazel Lim
January 23 - February 07 2008
The idea for this exhibition is based on a series of concepts, which stemmed from a symposium hosted by ASEF, in Paris 2003, loosely themed around the idea of the ‘globalisation of contemporary art’. The initial premise for the project set out to investigate how parallels in communications, information technology and media systems in the East and West affect the styles, mediums and trends in contemporary art practice, Flat Earth Society began to take a different shape, resulting in the two exhibitions taking place in Dublin (the Lab Gallery) and Singapore (the Substation Gallery) in January/February 2008. Rather than creating artworks that investigate the nature of globalisation in contemporary art practices, Lim and Butler, have instead created a series of artworks which themselves are testament to these theories. The works on show in both Flat Earth Society exhibitions investigate various ideas related to communication, consumerism, mass production and information control. The two artists have taken their own approach, not as Asian or European, but as artists who live in very similar societies on different sides of the planet.
Alan Butler has made a series of artworks based around the idea of how economic, media and political forces are interchangeable and how their ubiquitous nature allow resulting artworks exist comfortably within East and West platforms. A common vernacular within the reading and understanding of media systems and parallels in modes of living that are driven by the evolution of communication systems and manufacturing of desires for the purpose of financial progress and competition run through the artworks by Butler in this exhibition.
Though Butler’s works are clearly inspired by the digital, his work also includes non-digital media such as the delicate drawings on paper in, the 'Unsolicited Correspondence’ series, inspired by information from the spam folders in various email accounts. They are a document of the persistent barrage of unwanted emails sent to people all over the world every day from automated computer systems. These pieces return the authorship to humans in their hand-rendered format, signed by the fictional computer-generated names attached to spam messages. Similarly the ‘Veiled Logo’ series of pencil on Thai Silk paper present corporate logos, which have been cropped in half, yet may remain recognisible in an attempt to highlight the ubiquitous nature of marketing and corporate activity.
Two computer generated lambda prints, that hang next to the video, depict faux-neon emblems in Arabic text that read Sanfur (transliterating as Smurfs) and Al-Shamshoon (transliterating as The Simpsons), entitled 'Not much further my little...' and 'The cause of and solution to all of life's problems...' respectively. The neon texts, as a medium of consumerism, act merely as icons to represent the spread of western culture and its adaptation to different audiences while still retaining its ultimate goal; to make money. The moralistic nature of The Smurfs and The Simpsons programs behind an Arabic veil will inevitably generate similar consumer bi-products to the western model and likewise influence a generation of children and teenagers in Arabic societies.
A broader extension of these ideas in a simplified form is ‘Sim Lim Kiddy Leash’ a baby’s soother attached to a colour-matched BS 1363 (British 3-pin electrical plug) this allowed (Singapore also uses the same 3-pin electrical plugs). Taking its name from Sim Lim Square in Singapore - a large multi-storey electronics mall housing hundreds of shops. The building itself gives the impression of consuming more electricity than a small country, with thousands upon thousands of televisions, computers, gadgets, stereos, lights, air-conditioning constantly running and always pacifying consumers of all ages with the latest technology and the best deal. With consumerism in mind, these artworks are available in a variety of different colours (blue, pink and white) and are of a large edition for each colour.
The sculpture ‘Can’t get you out of my head’ consists of a plasticine Buddha icon with its head replaced by a rotating LED video globe. The Buddha uses the format of the yellow ‘fat Buddha’ the origin of which is disputed. As opposed to the traditional thin Buddha found in temples in the east, it is thought that the ‘fat Buddha’ came about when Buddhism arrived in China, circa 100AD, nobles, whose physical image would not have been thin or athletic, would have funded its dissemination. Another theory is the icon emerged when Buddhism arrived in Europe and its representation would have been influenced by Greek and Persian art. Also a reference to Nam June Paik’s ‘TV-Buddha’ (1974), this Buddha reaches enlightenment through an endless stream of corporate logos, cartoons catchphrases and vacuous imagery spinning through its head. This relentless stream of information is mirrored in the absurd video, ‘An Icon of Public Insignificance’, which is a computer-generated animation inspired by the spam folder in the artist’s email account. The video presents a variety of logos, products and genres of ways to sit at home and have your money sucked out of your wallet though your computer (equating the Apple logo with the one-up mushroom from Super Mario Bros). Throughout the course of the video, representational imagery streams out of the logo for the mid-90’s computer-game ‘DOOM’ (the artist’s self-confessed, only long-term computer game addiction). Its soundtrack is a steroid-pumped, drum n’ bass-meets-karaoke, version of a 1977 movie theme tune synonymous with male sexual prowess.
At the entrance on the ground floor is 'Lovely Lady P.A. System', which consists of two large audio speakers upholstered in the fabric (designed by Pierre Balmain in 1972) from the uniform of Singapore Airlines (SIA) cabin crew. The SIA flight attendant or ‘Singapore Girl’ is somewhat of a national icon in the country. With strict age and weight regulations, their employment conditions may seem sexist and backward to EU residents, but this process of branding people for people-as-branding-marketing is a huge part of the success f the company. The piece was created with this in mind to present audio works relating to the idea of using people as a device to sell products or services. For Flat Earth Society, the 'Lovely Lady P.A. System' presents a series of ‘Myspace.com Audio Portraits’, which were created by simultaneously recording all audio information from the multimedia clips on various individuals’ myspace.com pages. These audio pieces are snapshot documentation of how the myspace.com page could be labeled some sort of modern day self-portrait, while the restriction of formatting and censorship on the myspace.com website confines it’s users to some variety of uniform individuality.
The image 'Reduco et Distinguo' (latin for ‘Reduce and Divide’ or ‘Reduce and Distort’) comes from the ‘Great Seal of the United States’ printed on the back of the American one-dollar bill which is also used to approve official documents. The emlem reads ‘Annuit Coeptis’, meaning ‘He approves our undertakings’. The bottom half of the emblem has been abstracted to a barcode state and the addition of some plant-life growing from its top fades to obscurity through digital pixilation.
Hazel Lim has created a series of artworks, which reflect on her own research and practice, whilst considering the exhibition’s theme for the medium/format of the work. Her small-scale origami creations attempt to hold a very economic use of words, materials and resources, not to mention transportation costs to rival digital media! While investigating a theme that can so easily lead to loud, obnoxious or distressing formats, Lim’s artworks in Flat Earth Society exist as the antithesis of where Butler’s art-making and research processes have lead him. Yet the familiar format of Lim’s work provides ease of accessibility for viewers in both Dublin and Singapore. Her handmade (in mass) origami books set up a self-imposed format for the artwork to exist within. The eight-page format of each book allows her create only poetry and abstract visual narratives with eight words/images per line and one line per book. Each poem chronicles 8 books. There is a certain simplicity to these artworks due to their delicate nature and their economy of language. However one might see their format as restrictive. The medium requiring discipline and order may parallel elegantly with the original idea of the exhibition, which examined regulated and standardised platforms for communication, which use the communicator as much as the communicator uses them.