“Songs Held In Offices”, 2006, is a seried of works by Art & Language (A&L). They consists of colourful paper chains mounted in shallow wooden vitrines. The chains are modernist in their coloured formality, set in minimalist boxes. The effect is a kind of Art Povera postmodernism. Until you consider what the chains mean.
The chain-link looped strips of coloured paper are a kitsch decoration for cheap parties. They are ideal for transforming the office into the site of a crazy party. They are decoration and an inducement to social activity, to human relations. In these works they are frozen and sealed into wooden boxes, stretching across a shallow white space that they are mounted to either side of. There’s a literal reading to be had of the work with the paper chains somehow representing songs and the shallow featureless space representing an office.
From reading A&L’s writing about previous projects it is obvious that the title is from the text of a sado-masochistic pornographic novel. Originally it read “dongs held in orifices”, but Mrs. Malaprop got to it. The loaded fantasy of interpersonal relations is rendered inept. Songs in offices implies an office party, which reinforces the idea of an office party.
Perhaps these chains are a record of social acivity. If so they have missed the point, parties are a collection of people, not a set of decorations. Perhaps they are meant to induce social activity. If so they have missed the point, they are too sterile and in too sterile a place in the gallery to accompany a party, and in themselves have not the power to start a party. They are indices of social activity, but to what end it is hard to say. They would look different during the private view, but we are not all invited to that. Ironically they will have caused that particular social context by being part of the work on display, but they will have done so only in as much as non-relational art does.
This is the social illiteracy of the managerialism-that-protests-too-much of Relational Art laid bare. The happenings and flea-markets of Relationalism are a socially exclusionary art hiding behind gestures of democracy and collaboration. Only the rich and/or well connected can afford to participate in the actual event or to buy a record of it. Relationalism looks like crowd-sourced art as Koons’s art was outsourced art and Warhol’s was mass-produced art. It is not. It is a socioeconomic allegory, but a mystificatory and inept one. Don’t look behind the curtain. This is not crowdsourcing, it is art by Steve Jobs.
These are embarrassing photos of Relationalism trying to dance at the office party. The competent Relational viewer will be frustrated and excluded by the work. The rest of us are actually given something to talk about amongst ourselves by it, although the Relationalist may not like what we have to say.