Imagine the art exhibition as a blockbuster action movie: perhaps something like The Expendables (2010), in which hefty stars like Sylvester Stallone and Bruce Willis are brought together (at last!) to spray bullets, pummel and high five: powerful presences brought together. Mark Leckey, in his first major public gallery show in London since winning the Turner Prize in 2008, has brought together some other powerful presences – brands – as though they were the stars of his show. Artists, galleries, electronics companies: all flattened into brands. Samsung! Henry Moore! Serpentine! Fiorucci! Hyde Park! Entering the Serpentine, one is confronted with a trailer for this exhibition – the one that is happening now – announcing the presence of these in his show.
Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore (1999), Leckey's grainy film compiled from VHS footage and stripped-down music samples, is on view here, as a cornerstone to the exhibition. In this film, young people in clubs, dancing to Northern soul or Nineties rave, lose it on the dancefloor, euphoric with music, drugs and wild movement. The names of clothing labels: Gucci, Kappa, Fiorucci, can be heard, recited within the music: exotic-sounding words that summon Italian glamour or ancient Greek symbols, and one starts to see those brands as stepping stones towards this transcendent state: people coming together, wearing and inhabiting some possibility at the edge of a branded item, and becoming transformed by it. A huge sculpture of speakers next to the film, a dominating, monumental presence, plays out the soundtrack.
Brands are slippery, multivalent things – those in advertising and marketing often discuss "brand DNA", or the "heart of the brand". Leckey's installations and films show how these things get inside us, and change, if not our DNA, then something important about our makeup as beings. Music does this too, it has a physical presence comprised of bases and trebles that changes us physically and mentally, and in the central gallery Leckey has staged a face-off between Henry Moore's Upright Motive No 9 (1979), a tall, dominating bronze sculpture of hulking, yet elegant form, and another of the artist's large sound-system sculptures, with speakers piled high and strapped together so that they reach the height of the Moore. Sounds occasionally emit from the sculpture, challenging and conversing with the bronze figure.
If Leckey is interested in getting under the skin of a bronze art historical object, and a British artistic brand in the shape of Henry Moore, in another work he tries to get into the "mind" of a refrigerator: the Samsung RFG293HABP, an "intelligent" appliance that understands information about its contents. In a green screen room, we see the black glossy fridge, open ajar, and hear an electronic voice that narrates its mind: "it's so cold here in the dark", while on two screens we see the green screen activated with different backgrounds. We see the fridge travel underground, taking up the heat of the earth and turning it cold. We see its makeup, its insides, its technological wonder. This funny, yet coolly melancholic work suggests that the future might be out of our hands, and might rather be found in the chilly grasp of the technology that has made us.
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