It is. It’s a grimly Adornian thought about now, about kitsch, the threat of the seductive, the wicked witch or some other smooth-talking phantom of consumerism’s triumph, but yes, I do think this. That the death of the matte screen for computers, TVs, tablets, or telephones is a terrible disaster. It’s a vain and obscuring gleam, the gleam of a current vanity, but nothing so grand as a vanity of vanities, rather the vanity of not owning up to short sight or a slight deafness, of not seeing that we can’t see the screen because we have come to believe only in its factitious and meretricious intensity, in its definition, some other unqualified quality. The gloss is even something that we might call the “inconsiderate,” dressed up as transgression or self-satisfaction, which are much of a muchness in the funding regime of art now.
Troubling, because a lot of artists whose work I truly love—Liz Price, Ed Atkins, David Haines—work, in one manner or another, in video or in drawing, at the highest edge of definition, and I neither squint nor shade my eyes when I see their work. Rather I fall in with it, into it, and the ineluctable unfolding of its discomfort. In Atkins’s Ribbons the definitional perfection of the avatar, its double definition that is both electronic and muscular, supposes a confusion in desire as such, in a relation between seeing and being, perhaps, but in its collapse, its deflation, it floats the Longinian notion of “divine afflatus” as an ironic afterthought of now and now’s desires, puffed and deflated by the duplicity of shine and perfectibility, blown into kitsch as well as its negation.
In Haines the almost ascetic excess of his attention to the vast world of contemporary gay sexualities, especially chav, sneakers, scally, cheap drugs, and low-level filth and S/M and internet self-porn, the slow drawn-out conflation of the mark with iconography as such, generates a radical splitting of the signifier from an adherence to the perceived, a new kind of proposition.
While in Price, in her very different relation to an archive of motifs and techniques, sampling itself becomes a kind of metamedium of which video is no more than a possible support. The scrolls of text in Price’s work, in SUNLIGHT, the scrolling dynamics of her soundtracks there or in The Tent, their counterpoint and strange harmonies, relegate Jenny Holzer to an age of the numeric-pastoral, a moment of too-literal an optimism and an optimistic literalism, rooted in a simple craft of lighting effects and an archaic sense of what should be said.
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