I spent an educational afternoon at the Houldsworth Gallery in London today, where I went to view an exhibition titled ‘Learned Helplessness’ by the Royal Art Lodge. Each piece of art there is tiny – a small square of 2×2 inches, but has a message that comes out if you take the time to take in all that it is trying to say. I especially liked ones like ‘Kleenex Animism’ and ‘6’1-5’3′ which are among those pictured above (click on it to see a larger version). The latter, which shows a headless man, is a bit gory, but it is well-portrayed, in my opinion. The whole exhibition gives you a lot to think about, in terms of messages. For those who don’t really get it from looking at the images above, you have to BE there.
I was going through a book displayed at the venue that explained the rationale behind the Canadian collective’s art, and was surprised to note that Marshall McLuhan (yes, him again – he seems to be haunting me these days-his words came up in a scene in Mad Men when I was watching it yesterday as well!) and Charles Leadbeater were quoted by writer Guido Bartorelli in his introduction to the group’s work. I can’t find the essay or I would have linked to it (it’s very good), but essentially Guido says that the work of the group can be said to be low-definition art, or ‘cold media’ as defined by McLuhan: “its lexicon is by nature synthetic, stylised or grainy and the viewer is required to make a substantial effort to complete it, to fill in the gaps”.
Of Leadbeater, Bartorelli mentions the former’s work ‘We Think’, a book that was published earlier this year whose first three chapters can be read online and his Pro-Am Revolution theory, (i.e Professionals-Amateurs), which in essence says that today, thanks to the advances of technology, an amateur can pursue his interests to the level of a professional, and add to a body of work – as happens with Wikipedia. So, according to Bartorelli, things like Wikipedia, like the work of the Royal Art Lodge, are a good example of low-definition work, in that they are open to interpretation by pro-ams. (As a side note, I think Wikipedia, relevant as it is, is being used as an example by one too many writers – Clay Shirky also comes to mind, apart from Leadbeater – so much so that it is losing its power as a story-telling element. Familiarity and all that.)
Anyway, the point is that what I planned as a relaxed art viewing turned into a very informative day from a media point of view, and reinforced what I said just a couple of days ago – most meaningful communication these days involves the user.