Rooting out James Cauty’s new exhibition during its short stay in the Hoxton Arches, I found myself swerving down a back street plastered with ripped posters, kicking past rubbish to a scratched metal door below the railway arches. It inched open to access a dark space, illuminated by blue flashing lights and saturated with the sound of sirens and helicopter throb. Out stretched a vast and detailed miniature landscape of darkened hills, industrial parks and tower blocks, windows smashed in, vehicles left abandoned hanging over the edges of bridges. This bleak scene was inhabited only by police cars and frozen hi-vis jackets, crowding around a burning church, examining a dead dog, the only visible humans in the wake of god knows what weird catastrophe.
Writing the above paragraph I get the strange and distinct feeling that I am being steered. For one thing the convenient press-release style printouts left in piles at the side of the space set the post-apocalyptic tone, and the casually-scrawled photocopied map serves only to point out the highlights as if designed to jog a reviewer’s memory. “Drive thru”, I see, and remember that neat visual pun; “0% crime” refers to the miniature policemen in a quieter area amusing themselves with a bit of impromptu golf. I think of one of the tiny policemen peering off the edge of the miniature landscape at the semi-painted wooden base and metal barrier fence; perhaps we have something in common.
The way that the show is put together is overtly knowing. It even says as much in the press release; “[e]xhibition-going today most often culminates in – even depends on – the gift shop experience, and visitors to James Cauty’s bleak dystopian world won’t be disappointed”. In addition to the painstakingly constructed disaster landscape there’s a back room full of saleable excerpts cutely presented in jam jars (see the cute reference in the landscape below), their very commodification a comment on living-room news-watching safe voyeurism, following on from his work Riot in a Jam Jar about the G20 riots. This stuff isn’t new for Cauty. He was part of the KLF, well known for writing a book named The Manual that details how to achieve a number 1 with zero musical talent, and then apparently following their own advice to produce a string of hits. At the bottom of the little map it says, “Thank you – Come again”. I might be paranoid, but I do feel a little like he’s taking the piss.
Even the main artwork itself is deeply paranoid. The landscape portrays an imagined catastrophe, the lack of motivation or explanation enough to be very unsettling; its population does nothing to help, every person imagining themselves to be on the outside, the observer. The ‘real people’ have gone; there’s not one civilian, only the odd reporter or evacuated public figure among the hordes of law enforcement scratching their heads and trying to work out what’s happened.
This is somewhat reminiscent of the young population of this country, hunting for an occupation in a country with very little industry left, material production and manufacture having been sucked up by international trade and all but abandoned. Now our emphasis is on service and cultural production, entertainment, information, everybody serving coffee to or writing about everybody else. Sat before my computer I am perfectly well aware that that includes me. I start to search out other reviews, trying to find out if any other critics have found themselves caught in this feedback loop.
Cauty is talking about an aftermath, and here is my aftermath. In my memory I create a model of a model, incorporating the barriers deliberately delineating the work in its bare-brick urban space, the back-street outside a ready-made context. With the dislocation of remembering the disembodied scene can float free, convictionless and institutionalised, whatever once was creative and sincere forgotten in the casual carelessness of comfort. This is our world. Even the criticism is pre-written, and I don’t want to play any more.
In this interview for the morally confusing Vice magazine, Cauty describes the point in the model-making process when the figures arrived. “… all the police were there toward the outside of the table, looking over the edge. They’re aware, for the first time, that there’s an end to their world.[…] It’s possible to get into a place where all dissent has been crushed. So they find themselves living in a perfect police state. But it’s actually quite boring; there’s nothing to do.”
His comments make sense in the political context of his Riot in a Jam Jar works, a reaction against a particular event, with its own fairly primal political connotations. As Cauty says, “…I’ve always liked the idea of dissent. Of just saying “no” to The Man. Maybe I should have grown out of it, because there isn’t a Man.” This comment is revealing; he is the eternal dissenter, defined by a rejection. In this work he has made the Man win; the results are underwhelming, an aftermath that settles to boredom, with no enemy left to fight. But perhaps that is where, as an artist, he finds himself. Since everybody now is a commentator, an observer, on the outside, we find ourselves with nothing to do.
The Aftermath Dislocation Principle will be showing in the Piet Hein Eek Gallery, Halvemaanstraat 30, 5651 BP Eindhoven, Netherlands from 24 November 2013 – 22 March 2014