Abstract Capitalist Realism
Alastair MacKinven reflects on his current practice
One thing I have discovered as an artist is: you are what you last exhibited. During the final cold months that brought 2007 to a close, I was London’s nude artist after I exhibited my first performance film work, ‘All The Things You Could Be By Now If Robert Smithson’s Wife Was Your Mother’. It is true: I did strip off and crawl through a stand-in for Nancy Holt’s vagina that I had spent a good part of six hours building by moving 14 tonnes of earth with a shovel.
Early in 2008 I was the Super Glue artist, after I Super-Glued my hand to Camden Arts Centre’s floor for a performance entitled ‘Cut Off My Hand To Spite My Cock’. I did this act fully-clothed and the tag of ‘nude artist’ was dispelled.
I was then accused of being a painter, a painter with a capital ‘P’ after my exhibition Et Sic In Infinitum at the ICA, London, May 2008. Apparently I had achieved skill with the old oils and brushes. The default word, ‘beautiful’, was used to describe work I thought to be nightmarish paintings of the hellish recursivity in exhibiting and viewing art. I wanted the work to point a finger at the audience and accuse them of being decrepit old spastics who need the aid of grab bars to help them do another lap of another gallery. ‘What beautiful colours!’
But maybe this last label, ‘painter’, is the closest to being accurate because it is true: I paint. In fact I paint every day, Saturdays and Sundays included. This is not meant to be braggartism on my part, but more a sad indictment that I don’t know what to do with my free time (which is all my time). So I keep a studio, a ‘making’ studio, not a desk space ‘thinking’ studio, but a large turps-stinking painting studio with a storage annex. Everyday I go and paint regardless of the nature of my next show. If I did not make this trip I know I would soon slide into abjectness: naps at 1pm, first drink at 3pm. I would then start tucking into the five boxes of Tramadols I have squirreled away after a couple of surgeries I had at the beginning of this year. And, yes, I am sure frequent masturbation would fill the long hours. And so I spend £6,000 per year to keep myself occupied and my brain out of the NHS supplied opiate clouds.
My next exhibition, ABSTRACT CAPITALIST REALISM, [ACR] is less than a month away, for which I will enact the role of painter again. Within my role as painter, theorist and the only practioner of ACR, I have chosen to position ACR painting outside of the typical binary painting dialogue: dead/alive. Personally, I like to think of bullshit jingoistic dualistic propositions—dead/alive, chocolate/vanilla, Beatles/Stones, Little Boots/La Roux—as being purely a journalistic concern. For one such lazy hypothesis the journalists get two stories. Not only can they declare painting dead, but they can also ‘out’ some new young Dr Frankenstein as the re-animator of painting, the genius who gave the kiss of life to painting’s fetid corpse. I must clarify my position: I think the notion of painting as being dead or alive is bullshit. What is interesting, nonetheless, is that through repetition of this idea it has found life regardless. It has been plucked from the primordial oozing mass of the unnamed and now occupies a cultural position from which other cultural positions frottage against.
But is it not true that Frankenstein’s reanimated corpse of painting is just an uncomfortable embarrassment. In fact, painting-back-from-the-grave is like the turd that remains after the flush; it brutally reminds us there is a parallel dimension of excremental crud just inches from where we stand. The Return (turd/painting) is the rupture between the two parallel dimensions: our everyday phantasmatic deceptive space and the nightmarish real.
That said, I wish ACR to occupy a third position, that of the un-reanimated painting, painting which has no life yet is not dead. It is the un-dead: Zombie painting. I define ACR as Pop painting, or Capitalist Realism as indicated in the title. They are the same: Pop was victorious and now is the ubiquitous term to describe work involving capitalist desire. I see Pop/Capitalist Realism as Zombie art—the unreanimated, painting which occupies the third position. The Zombie, of course, is a metaphor for life under capitalism. Zombies are replicating, unthinking, desiring entities. Their eating of brains is not for sustenance because there is no life to sustain. Their eating of brains is to remove the rational from the living and proliferate the non-thinking and desiring ethos. This is why the final Zombie/human stand-off is always at the shopping mall (the cathedral of desire). The storehouse of the Pop subjective. Therefore Pop/ Capitalist Realism is the perfect armature for the third position, it is the conduit between the two dimensions via the downpipe (now down/up pipe) of culture.
Abstract Capitalist Realism is un-reanimated painting. It uses the artifice of Pop art to hang a discourse of non-existence through the multifarious layers of abstraction. It is typified by the crisis in our late-capitalist reality. Apparently, before Mother Russia was brutally killed off by the patriarchal west, the Soviet Union’s currency exchange falsely inflated their rouble to a perpetual higher worth than the US dollar, despite its supposed valuelessness in the market. ACR’s worth shall always be equivalent to that of Mayfair on the monopoly board.
ACR is collage as this is the only remaining art form from the early 20th century. Collage, collage, collage. The dung heap of past cultural movements is to be eternally re-assembled in ever-changing Sisyphean act that attempts to prove ‘I exist’. If you take the 1950s, for example, I have to ask which do you mean? The 1970s fifties as exemplified by the Fonze of Happy Days. Or do you mean the 1980s fifties of, let’s say, The Stray Cats? Or the 1990s fifties of Mark Lamarr, who claims to be an authentic 1950s’ simulacrum.
Those who talk of invention and/or creation are the transcendental no-hopers who have yet to learn there is no ‘ME’ in ‘I’. These are the ones who believe in ‘Aliveness’ and that video, PXL 2000, 8mm, 16mm, 35mm, High-8, high definition, black and white photography, colour photography, sculpture, baking, fimo-ing, ceramics, scatter art, neon, thingmajig, and geegaws, do indeed have an elevated power of expression due to their newness when, in fact, ‘newness’ is only the morphing of the medium for the proliferation of the repurchasing of what we already own. It is all just brains to a zombie and it is no different to the passage from 8 track > cassette > vinyl > minidisk > dat > mp3 > dna data injections. Just ask Madonna, at any point in her career: plump Italian club kid > Goth > Cowboy Madonna > Marxist Ché. For the illusion to remain you must keep flushing the toilet.
ACR is a paradox. Although an abstraction, ACR is an abstraction that is constructed from essential reality, or realism, or elemental truths. The flame that lights the boiler, the water that washes our crevasses, the bricks that shelter our evolved hairless body, the electricity that powers the laptop that Googles Nicolas Bourriaud. These truths have adopted an abstracted form that functions to blind or functions as the clean, empty toilet bowl. When our synaptic Self reacts with panic, when the ‘unseen’ decorative pattern is revealed from within the envelope that wraps around the bill – it says, ‘Pay to live motherfucker, and if you have to paint decorative paintings to do so, well, fuck you, get to your studio asshole’.
[Scene at the private view for Artist D at gallery X]
Artist A: I didn’t realise minimalism was so big this year.
Artist B: What makes you think minimalism is big this year?
Artist A: I have never seen so many fucking squares in one room my entire life!
Alastair MacKinven in an artist living in London Alastair MacKinven: ABSTRACT CAPITALIST REALISM, HOTEL, London, 30 October–5 December