Thursday, 12 July 2012

Ami Clarke, conceptual artist


In early 2012, I interviewed the artist Ami Clarke about her show at The Container in Tokyo. The Container is literally that, a shipping container that has been inserted into a hair salon. The show was a disappointment, featuring a video of a clip from the 1960s TV show "The Prisoner" showing a large balloon bouncing around, a smaller video of an eye blinking, and "Unpublish," a couple of sheets of paper containing an imagined conversation with Bradley Manning, a US soldier arrested for leaking classified information. According to the press release the show was supposed to be a profound exploration of issues surrounding information control in the internet age. I interviewed Ms. Clarke by email.


CBL: What is the connection between "The Prisoner" and our modern state of information flow that your work purports to critique? Surely the problem we have today is too much freedom rather than not enough.

AC: The press release is always a slightly irksome thing for me in that there is a desire by the gallery to overly describe the work in some way. I think that the work should be seen on its own terms. You do not need necessarily to know the details/reference. These details configure during the making of the work, but don't necessarily remain in the open. I think people commonly pick up on "The Prisoner" as sharing some traits with current times with respect to 'data-mining', in the persistent attempt by 'the Village' authorities to extract from 'Number 6' why he has resigned. Western ideas, re:- the cult of the individual and the sovereignty of the subject so imbricated in capitalism, lurk somewhere within these ideas.

CBL: Even without Wikileaks and Bradley Manning, it's quite apparent what America is up to. His leaks add nothing, except perhaps a little superfluous detail to the picture. Agree?

AC: Absolutely, but I think the details that were disseminated are said to have been a crucial part of raising public awareness of the corrupt practices in the countries dealing with the US.

CBL: Anyway, isn't objective knowledge becoming some kind of commodity that you can "buy" in "packages" to support whichever subjective viewpoint that you are inclined to take?

AC: You could be right there.

CBL: The exhibition leaflet talks about "late capitalism"? Shouldn't that be Latte Capitalism (people texting and FBing from Starbucks)? Politically what is your position? Using terms like "late capitalism" suggests you see revolution just round the corner. What kind of revolution are you anticipating?

AC: Ha! Well, I'm not expecting revolution of any sort we've seen before, so it would be hard to identify it as such, but there are changes afoot. It could of course go either way, i.e. stricter control of the internet replacing the freedoms we have got used to so far, which come of this early Wild West stage. We have an exhibition with several well known speakers talking: Paul Mason, financial editor of Newsnight (author of "Why its kicking off everywhere"), Andrew McGettigan and Nathan Charlton (Big Ideas) coming up at the project space I run: Banner Repeater, that discuss some of these ideas further: "How its kicking off everywhere". It's a shame you're not here - I think they're going to be great.

CBL: Why don't you just release your videos on the internet? What do they gain by being seen in the Container? Is this a recognition that there is too much distraction on the internet and that only by showing things away from it will they be seen? Does the internet, FB, Twitter and the flow of information represent a kind of sensory/ cerebral overload and blindness? Isn't this the way that truth is distorted along the lines of "You can't handle the truth (because there's too much of it)"?

AC: Sculpture can be about time and space ... and video for me for a while was also about these qualities similarly found in film and video, but recently I've become much more interested in the image and the relationship between the moving image and the audience. The work's specific in that it deals with this encounter with the image. I would hesitate to say more than that. It's quite possible to experience this, I think, without any prior knowledge or context that may come of "The Prisoner." The collection of material presented parodies a research project in that it proposes an experiment in looking. The image, in its variety of appropriated media, begs the question: what is it I'm seeing/experiencing? The clumsy lo-fi effect of the early object/prop, reductively being replaced by more homogenised images, via the Renault advert, and the most recent CGI footage, goes beyond any simple comprehension. Any single point perspective is abandoned to the immersive experience confronting you in such a small space. Whilst employing some familiar tropes in de-constructing the moving image it doesn't point to an easy reading of this by doing so.

CBL: Why did you go for such a diffuse and frankly unreadable style in "Unpublish"? I might have missed something, but it was certainly a chore to plough through. Is it a reflection of the breakdown of objective language with objective reference points and the paradox that more communication is ultimately less communication?

AC: The publication touches upon similarly misleading ideas regarding technology, open-ness and democracy. The management of on-line data is exceptionally open to abuse in that it is very easy to delete so that no trace is evident of it ever having been there. You would have had to know it was there in the first place. Julian Assange (Wikileaks founder) whilst in conversation with Hans Ulrich Olbrist talks about ideas relating to this, which he calls: "Un-publishing." Contrary to what we may suspect, traditional print media has a potentially longer shelf life, through the wide distribution of papers that resists the censorious reach of the authorities, commercially or politically motivated, hence the printed material form. My text work is often influenced by the sound of words; their rhythm and syncopation, and takes an improvised form. As you say there is an avoidance of an easy reading and one that I hope employs a licentious, and sometimes humorous approach to the material. I've had some favourable feedback specifically from younger students, which interestingly implies it’s not entirely opaque. I've been interested in art writing for a while now and the reading room and project space, I mentioned before, has an archive dedicated to artists published material. We're sited on a railway platform at Hackney Downs train station that has 4,000 people a day passing through, and one of our ambitions is to broaden this audience a little. I realise it's perhaps early days for this material to become more widespread, but It's very interesting times in terms of publishing, and the development of the form of the book. We're at the ICA this Saturday for the Publish and Be Damned fair here in London.

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