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What happened? Everywhere I look there are demons. I open my Instagram, I see the latest hot edgy group show in a cellar somewhere in Eastern Europe where animes with demon dicks are sippin’ some g next to a minion with witches tits being penetrated by an intentionally poorly crafted glazed ceramic sculpture that seems to resemble some kind of fragment of a gothic cathedral. Not sure if I’m im- or depressed.
Either way, without this show having ever existed it already contains so many ingredients of the secret formula on how all contemporary art looks like. Obviously, I’m talking about a specific type of contemporary art. The kind of contemporary art where you would see stuff hanging from the ceiling on those metal chains you buy at your local Baumarkt for 2 Euros per Laufmeter, the kind of installations out of tree branches, mud and clay or whatever material you choose as your “rough natural earthy” element combined with “synthetic objects” such as silicone blobs and laser cut PVC bits, broken computer hardware or anything that could serve the job as a metaphor for an apocalyptic gesture in a posthuman universe drowning in a pond full of alien sperm and chia seeds. I’m talking about the kinds of shows where you see those cool painted-on pointy shoes as sculptures being surrounded by pieces of patchworked fabrics effortlessly lying on the non-white cube style off-space floor. And outdoor exhibitions.
Of course let’s not forget to mention the myriads of meticulously executed paintings of mythical creatures equipped with pop culture features looking like they would want to slit your throat with the aforementioned glazed ceramic if they were real.1
Who are those scary monsters though and where are the nice sprites?
I guess it started all out in 2016 – the year of fidget spinners, the year of exhibition view platforms starting to shape our tastes in contemporary art, and obviously the year of Trump. But one certain thing in 2k16 that shaped us edgy art aficionados the most is the resurrection of the tribal.2 Do you remember how they suddenly popped up everywhere and didn’t want to leave for almost as long as 2 years? Remember how we all secretly thought they were super cool and how we - not-so-secretly - did works that somehow referred to the formal language of tribals in one way or another? And have you noticed that they’re STILL kind of around? Of course we remember tribals from the early 2000s and of course most of us never had a serious connection to them in the sense that we never had tribal tattoos made on our arms, legs and upper asses / lower backs. Rather we remember them as being something funny, edgy and trashy – in other words the perfect requirements for the postmodern gaze to grab it and make pseudo-meaningful and / or ironic art about it. And what does it actually mean? I don’t know but it looks kind of wild and evil and could refer to something that the cool kids from Prague would like. Meanwhile this little tribal got transformed into a manifold of creatures, beasts, dungeons and drag-ons3 and demons, most of the time in the form of appropriated Jonathan Meese style paintings and those pointy sculptures. And every day those little demons appear on your phone and scream: I want you to feel uncomfortable, I want you to feel anxious, I want you to feel the exhausting complexity of our globalized planet, I want you to feel uncanny.... wait, what was that word again?
Originally coined (in the art world at least) by Mike Kelley at his show at Tate Liverpool and mumok in 2004, the uncanny has recently been discussed heavily in the context of technology and robotics, having had its peak at the 2016 Berlin Biennale curated by DIS Magazine. 3D Renderings, robots as performing sculptures, the uncanniness of being conscious of our pathetic bodies in relation to the digital selves. Ed Atkins.
As we all know we eventually got tired at one point of looking at all this kind of stuff and Ed Atkins: we got stuck in the uncanny valley and we wanted to get out of there asap – but how?
If something oversaturates perception, the medium becomes visible – and that is usually its death. Consequently, we had to find something new. And to overcome the uncanny we had to find something that is at least as uneasy and dark as the feeling of the uncanny. And so the evil somehow arrived on our phones.
I have this weird association with the upcoming of the Junge Wilde painters and neo-expressionists being fed up with minimalisms promise of removing the subject from the artwork trying to create t.h.e. most objective and therefore honest and pure art. Anyways, these mostly white male painters around the Kippenberger squad in the 80s countered the mostly white male minimal sculpture bros by adding (their) personality to art again, to make it more dirty, to make it more dandy, to make it more catchy, to make it more edgy.
And that’s exactly what the evil in our contemporary art wanted from us a few years ago – to overcome those clean computer aesthetics, the never ending discourse about our virtual normality, posthuman accelerationist theories and the debate on how to collect gifs and wavs and tifs and movs.
It’s kind of bringing back the good old manufactum thing that we secretly missed so much when we were being cyborgs from 2012-2016 and now we can even touch the art by double-tap on your feed.
A lot of this evil stuff works best in a kind of pseudo-mythology kind of way where you can just steal stuff from some medieval legend that no one even knows and mix it with something that could be related to the cOntEmpoRary cOnDitIon and boom you can be a cool artist getting 100+ likes on your artwork, I promise.
It’s the same with tribals – you can just use that kind of formal language and make something out of that. In half an hour you have an insta-approved artwork + you don’t have to come up with anything that is actually meaningful to you and thus make yourself vulnerable because it has kind of become a universal language that “everyone” understands. Originating from Maori tribes and having been culturally appropriated extensively in the 2000s, in contemporary art the tribal literally doesn’t mean anything anymore. It’s kind of like an empty gesture being made by insecure 19-year olds wanting to be cool artists or something like that.
Why is the evil thing so appealing though? Again, because it inevitably reflects on the fact that the world will not exist anymore in a few decades anyways. Not only does the evil thing reflect on that but also plays a key role in the destruction of our planet – since this kind of art will sadly not be interesting to anyone anymore soonish, in a few years we will be the ones drowning in this pond full of plastic and MDF, exhibition views and used canvases depicting clowns crying tears out of epoxy…
As I’m drifting off into those thoughts I suddenly start to feel uncanny again, I remember Ed Atkins. I remember Ed Atkins’ work at the 2019 Venice Biennale and now it all makes sense to me. Video screens depicting 3D renderings of this medieval village, earthy peasants crying accompanied by burnt wooden text boards with a huge stack of rococo dresses4 in the space. It’s really touching, I love it, it’s the best work at arsenale, it’s immersive, it’s uncanny and.... its EVIL
I start to realize that this may be the most contemporary work I’ve ever seen, just because it’s the ultimate hybrid of the uncanny and the evil BOOM!!!
If the art world would be a game you could win, Ed Atkins would be the winner of the art world at this moment. Congrats Ed Atkins you just got the prize for the most relevant art piece not only in the art world but at the fucking Venice Biennale. I love you Ed Atkins. Render me like one of your trans girls.
tbh I’m not sure if all of that actually happened in 2016 but let’s say that it was so to validate my point ↩
the term „drag-on“ was coined by Julius Pristauz at his 2019 performance „Singer Songwriter Seamstress“ at Grazer Kunstverein ↩
didn’t Elon Musk and GRIMES meet via Twitter over an unfunny remark about how rococoesque technoaesthetics have become…? I don’t remember… ↩