While perhaps not entirely meaning to, TINA is utterly prescient. Not surprising that an exhibition would cover a contemporary topic, but the theme in this instance strips any notion of it as allegory, instead transforming the casual experience of exhibition-going into that of looking at portents, acute observations, and near-future motifs.
Developed over a period of two years, and drawing on the practice of her peers as well as her own, artist Olivia Plender has taken the Thatcherite phrase ‘There is no alternative’ as a lens through which to examine the effect of unrestricted policies in a liberal society. This is ‘liberal’ both in the sense of the free market landscape, as well as the primacy of the individual in the western world. But dramatically, since this project’s inception, the co-ordinates of such things have entirely shifted in the light of the greatest economic crash of recent times.
Presenting the work of Anja Kirschner, Pablo Bronstein, Goldin+Senneby, Melanie Gilligan and Ciprian Muresan, Plender asks what work is possible in this current economic context, and whether this climate produces a certain set of aesthetic conditions for the production of art. And with reference to this, Plender encapsulates a view of art production in the 21st century.
While Plender expresses her own personal surprise at the extent of the recent economic crisis, her project was conceived as a harbinger of the future, assembling artworks that refer not only to the financial bubble of success that has subsequently been exploded in the past few weeks, but also forward looking works that present multiple future views of the City, of art production, and of the muddy intertwining of the two. It is now exquisitely a project ‘of its time’, a fact made no more vividly apparent than by Bronstein’s meticulous drawings, collected and reprinted as an alternative tour guide to London’s postmodern architecture. Referencing Piranesi’s fictitious and allegorical prisons, they depict wry, apocalyptic landscapes, an archaeology of a crumbling City.
The work of the elusive Goldin+Senneby, meanwhile, is eerily engaged. ‘Gone Offshore’, 2008, is an ongoing investigation into Headless Ltd, inviting investigation of the offshore company, thereby contributing to the project’s sprawling nature, its identity and authorship.
The timeliness of this exhibition is not, however, without pitfalls. Placed firmly within the context of economic bafflement, TINA’s more sensitive approach to history, particularly evident in Anja Kirschner’s beautiful, minimal drawings, runs the risk of being eclipsed by the all-consuming present, where the nuances of critique lapse perhaps too easily into a crude and coincidental contemporaneous interpretation.
But if TINA is a show that creates a space to interrogate the history of capital and individualism, Kirschner’s work here is perhaps the most interesting in terms of suggesting the wider reaches of the project. A blue-print for Kirschner’s potential film- set is mapped out with small, angular lines which jut this way to suggest a stage or a loom, and that way, grimly extending into the shape of gallows. Neither off-hand enough to be sketch, nor precise enough to encompass a complete vision, these images delineate an interrogation of the life of legendary escaping robber Jack Shepherd, his death by public hanging, and his relationship with his assumed biographer Daniel Defoe.
Kirschner’s sketches neatly open up TINA’s original premise, which is not just to examine capital but also look at its effects within history, while Plender herself confronts such themes via visual parody. Her own work-in-progress, ‘Set Sail for the Levant’ follows the basic rules of a kind of Highland Clearance Monopoly. This boardgame begins with players thrown off the rural land by the landowner, and are forced to find education, property and wealth in the city. At each step of the way, players are forced into ever-more difficult economic circumstances, when ultimately there is no alternative left. The only way to win is to become a criminal.
Isla Leaver-Yap is MAP’s editor-at-large