Chasing Ideal Representation

In their latest offering, Adrian Fortuin and Riley Pam-Grant probably don’t want you to immediately grasp what is being presented. And although that might begin as a source of frustration, it ultimately gives the installation an unexpected staying power.

Objects In Transit is a multidisciplinary collaboration between Adrian Fortuin and Riley Pam-Grant that began with a shared interest in the physicality of objects existing in spaces of consumption, and the virtual representations and manifestations there of, that transition and transcend the multiplicity of boundaries from the physical to the virtual. This work exists in the form of expanded video, sound and performance installations.

Their latest audio-visual performance dubbed, “Objects in Transit-Already Present,” took place on the 6th of December, 2018; as part of a multi-artist exhibition called, “Kids These Days” at the TMRW Gallery in Rosebank, Johannesburg.

In its constitutive components, the routine isn’t all that complicated. The installation involves the two artists stationed behind a table complete with two keyboards, a connected laptop, and a manual projector underneath feeding images to the blank wall behind it, in a purple and blue fluoresecently lit room.

The first projected image captures the project’s underlying ethos:

“The life of a contemporary object begins at the conception of its ideal self or version. This often takes the form of a mediated image which seeks to uphold the plastic nature of perfection in a commodified territory.”

These words would operate as a refrain, inscribed into future images, and complemented by its periodic utterance through a robotic,computer-generated voice standing out in a brooding, spacey soundscape. It sort of functioned as a subliminal reminder of what was unfolding: the piece living out its own critique, beginning its life as a self-conceived ideal. The performance happened live, with the artists layering images for projection, and at times drawing them with childlike precision. The routine appeared wholly improvised, with the artists lacking the rehearsed quality of systematic performance. This was given away by the moments of brief consultation between the pair, and short periods of indecision over what to do next. But instead of the audience simply viewing this performance raw, directly and up close, it was projected onto the screen and back to them- a mediated portrayal that concealed the imperfections of its original production, through idealised re-production. A straightforward process is elevated to exaggerated representation, and the audience member simultaneously consumed the real, and the representation of the real. The artists submitted to the screen’s deathly perfection.

As this all transpired, it was clear that the project takes inspiration from the late Jean Baudrillard, and his criticism of a neoliberal, postmodern culture where models and maps dislodge us from the real world, and where representation precedes and determines the real. But exactly how did we end up here? What role does transit, play in the construction of the perfect object?

The installation is laden with transitory content. The space housing the installation is itself a transitory one, acting as the point of entry into the adjoining gallery, and a point of exit out of it. As a result, the room was visited by an evanescent audience, impatiently passing in and out of the space almost as if it lacked national identity and thus could only demand momentary presence- and sure enough, real time commentary of this spatial relationship was expressed through a projected image peppered with airplanes, and stamped with the question, “Is this duty free?” The identity of the subjects consuming the installation became muddied by their brief participation in it, leading to their transformation into an object part and parcel of the installation, one literally and figuratively in transit.

But what ideal representation do we search for?

The Screen’s Deathly (Im)perfection: It felt apt to use the most blurry photo I’d taken.

Objects In Transit provokes more questions than they provide answers, and admittedly, this is the role that art is typically considered to play. But it does so to a very high degree of abstraction, and toward subject matter that many accept as an inevitable feature of contemporary life, that is, questions around the perversion and pervasiveness of consumer capitalism. One wonders if this is interrogated too abstractly, to the point of alienating audiences in one sense while nudging them to consider their consumer capitalist alienation in another. Such concerns are inseparable from the broader questions of what role art should play in society, and to what extent it should be accessible not only in its production, but also in the ability for audiences to partake in grappling with its meaning. The South African art market is gradually developing a sensibility for multimedia art, which given its nature, can be very overwhelming considering that every medium used, be it the audio or visual, is an integral part of the whole and worthy of critical examination. How responsible should the artist be in guiding audiences through this examination, without compromising their ability to do so independently?

There’s lots to process and unpack in, “Already Present.” Sure, the installation could do with leveling down its obscurity. Surprisingly though, that might also prove to gift it a unique property. Most pieces of art, such as a painting or sculpture, are consumed all at once in a single moment of consumption. Which is to say, that the consumer comes to a more or less fully formed conclusion about their thoughts and feelings towards the work, with any residual rumination taking place not really to further make sense of it, but more to sentimentally recall the effect it had on the consumer.

This work is different, enforcing a different mode of consumption that itself is ongoing and in transit. From consuming the performance live, to now as I wrap up this review for publication more than a week later, I am still beset with trying to ascertain its meanings, while re-evaluating the meanings I once ascribed to it. What began as a source of frustration, gives the installation an unexpected staying power, plugging the consumer into a seemingly never-ending critical examination of what was presented. Already and always present. Having seen different instantiations of Objects in Transit’s work, each showcase exhibits a markedly different character despite beginning at the same point of departure. Not only is its meaning constantly shifting in the minds of those that consume it, but equally so in the minds of those creating it.

Like all of us, Objects in Transit is chasing ideal representation. And perhaps, what will give the project longevity, is the very contradiction about any pursuit of perfection and ideal representation that it highlights- it does not exist.

Fortunately in this case, the screen’s deathly perfection, is the source of Objects in Transit’s life.

(For more Objects in Transit, check out their podcast, “The Screen’s Deathly Perfection.”)

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