Excavated for your viewing pleasure – works from the seminal semiotext(e) event. Presented alongside contemporary responses to the thematics of societal control, penal discipline and anti-psychiatry. Alicia Rodriguez investigates.
In 1975, an early incarnation of the Semiotext(e) group organised an event that brought together counter-cultural icons and philosophers to engage in discussion surrounding anti-psychiatry, societal control and penal discipline.
Schizo-Culture: On Prisons and Madness included contributions from Michel Foucault, John Cage, R.D. Laing and William S. Burroughs. Addressing a number of socio-political issues, the event itself has achieved near mythical status in Semiotext(e)’s archive and has informed generations of creative, critical thinking.
This archive is excavated for a new project titled Schizo-Culture: Cracks in the Street, which takes place at SPACE in Hackney, alongside a selection of new works commissioned as a response to the original, seminal event.
The main annexe space is immersive and each piece contributes to a larger installation. Between television sets clustered in opposite corners, the ‘expanded Schizo-Culture archive wall (and vitrines)’ displays posters, articles, letters and magazines that fluidly illustrate the event.
A 1971 interview with Michel Foucault plays next to a 2014 piece titled Through the Letterbox, which features footage of Gilles Deleuze’s seminars at Vincennes, edited by Marielle Burkhalter, Fuori Orario, Graeme Thomson and Silvia Maglioni. Large format diagrams are suspended from the ceiling, and collections of Semiotext(e) publications are placed for browsing on an inviting chipboard shelf.
Mary Barnes, who was famously treated at Kingsley Hall in East London by R.D. Laing (undergoing a near complete behavioural regression) is a fascinating artist to look at in relation to the doubts regarding mental institutions in the 1960s and 70s. Barnes’s Head is a purposefully daubed, swamp coloured face about the size of a human head, but in the shape of a vague triangular mound. Its yellow features sag with apparent fatigue. Although the date of the work’s manufacture unknown, it becomes impossible to view this work outside of the captivating context under which Barnes produced art throughout her career.
Like many cultural icons that suffered from mental illness, her life has fed so heavily into her work that it continuously affects the viewer’s perception of it. However, I shamefully knew nothing of her upon entering the exhibition, and found myself drawn instead to the naïve and urgent tiredness that emanates from this piece.
With direct reference to institutional critique and the pharmaceutical market, Methylene blue diluted by female ejaculation is a stark, challenging image suggesting that the institution of psychotropic drugs is embodied in people, and therefore tied irreversibly to nervousness and anxiety. Methylene blue is generally regarded as the first fully synthetic drug, dating back to 1876. It has since contributed towards the development of mental health medications. By diluting the chemical with female ejaculation and using it to execute a simple line drawing of a dildo, Sidsel Meineche Hansen explores the internalisation of the (bio)political through material and making.
Hansen’s practice is research-based, and her investigations into gender politics, psychoactive drugs and semiotics are linked in many ways to those of Beatriz Preciado. Preciado’s Contra-Sexual Contract sits by the gallery entrance as an appendix to the exhibition, offering further ideas regarding the societal, linguistic problems of determining gender by sex. Both pieces are important inclusions within the exhibition, supplementing the context of mental health, politics and art making with queer and trans theory.
Silvia Maglioni and Graeme Thomson’s two channel video installation and so I’ll make myself believe it that this night will never go takes place partially by the side of an unknown, six-lane highway in Paris and partially in the surface of a computer screen filled with online news feeds and twitter pages. A hand writes in neat cursive across the screen, which constantly updates.
The scenarios are looped simultaneously side by side. A man on the hard shoulder reads Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia aloud. The identity of his audience is unclear, if he has any: the passing traffic, the city that lies beyond the road, or himself, perhaps developing a better understanding of the words by enunciating them out loud. His voice is lost, bewilderingly, but he continues indifferent. A third image is introduced, of a woman speaking in a crowd: muted, her words are interpreted instead by another female voice. Maglioni and Thomson (Terminal Beach) have been collaborating since 2005, considering such diverse subjects as multiplicity, transformation, science fiction and political theory.
Archive material is used in Schizo-Culture to construct a joined-up spider diagram in which each artefact drifts seamlessly between contemporary art works. A working process of an environment, the show is fully engaging whether the viewer is aware of the source material or not.
This is evident in the dark, graffitied stairwell of the gallery, which is filled with the sound of Jean-Francois Lyotard speaking at the original Schizo-Culture conference. Beneath the staircase, three films by Plastique Fantastique and 0(rphan)D(rift>) are looped on a monitor. The nine-minute audio piece appears to descend from the floor above, which creates the illusion of an important manifesto occurring just out of reach. This combination of the historic and the contemporary provides a unique context for the work, allowing both elements to inform and shape one another.
Schizo-Culture: Cracks in the Street is, overall, a discussion. It takes the form of both an exhibition and a series of events, pursuing this socio-political dialogue into an area that is still acutely relevant. It is sometimes problematic, sometimes precise, and I do not have a great enough knowledge of Semiotext(e)’s diverse history to fully understand it.
However, antagonisms towards the institution, psychiatry and gender continue to need a space within contemporary art. This exhibition begins to offer that.
SPACE, London (E8)
Schizo-Culture: Cracks in the Street
October 3 - December 7