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Back to Reviews 96

Douglas Gordon,
Something between My
Mouth and Your Ear
from "Life/Live"

Gillian Wearing,
Video still from
Boys Time,
from "Life/Live"

Angela Bulloch,
Space Invaders with Laser
Base Switch Stools
from "Life/Live"

Bank with Simon
Martin and John Stezaker,
Cool Tears,
from "Life/Live"

letter from paris
by Jeff Rian

"life/live: the art scene in the united kingdom"

at the musee d'art moderne

Set in the horseshoe-shaped Musée d'Art Moderne in Paris, "Life/Live" consists of installations by individual artists, eight "independent mini-shows" of artist-run spaces (Bank, Cairn Gallery, City Racing, Cubitt Gallery, Imprint 93, Independent Art Space, Locus+ and Transmission), a selection of videos arranged by Angela Bulloch in the huge, womb-like, arch-shaped Dufy room (where his mural is permanently on view), and a presentation of reviews and magazines called the "Kiosque."

Organized by the young, likable, Swiss-born curator, Hans Ulrich Obrist, the show was interesting for what it tried to accomplish--an introduction to recent UK art--but unfocused. It needed both a "concept director" and a show designer. Obrist is more of an encyclopedist than synthesizer. I met him in Grenoble in 1988. He was around 17 and on a tour of France, and already a tenacious art dog. He never stopped. He knows every artist, needs rest cures from overwork, overstimulation and exhaustion, and can be counted on to turn up anywhere and everywhere. He's become a nonstop curator, but it's his enthusiasm and the sheer volume of names that he can utter that makes him a phenomenon.

Highlights (for me) were Gillian Wearing's video called Boys Time of four boys doing nothing; Matt Collishaw's video of a mother panhandling in a giant snow bubble, called Small Comfort; Richard Billingham's Nan Goldin-ish portraits of a dysfunctional family; Douglas Gordon's blue room sound installation, Something between My Mouth and Your Ear, playing radio hits from 1966; and Angela Bulloch's installations that include an old Space Invaders game you could play and a video salon in the Dufy room.

Disappointing were Dino and Jake Chapman's shipping crate with a peep hole, not quite revealing a Duchamp-like photograph inside because the strobe was too fast; Christine Borland's installation around the forensic modeling of a murder victim's head; John Latham's Flat Time, an "envelope theory of everyone" which included schematics and maps and red-painted objects; and the room given over to David Medalla, a nomadic, collaborative artist, who showed photographs, a painting, a slacker installation and a Foam-core house model. Any of Medalla's works might be interesting in a gallery, but as a group here they lacked cohesion. The eight installation rooms were much the same: raucous mixes of styles that blurred one artist with another in a cacophony of names (nemesis of the `90s). The Kiosque's table of magazines and fanzines provided material for perusal, but I was glad to leave after each of my three visits.

However, on each metro ride home, images clung like thought balloons: e.g., Gillian Wearing's video of idle kids mixed with Douglas Gordon's sound piece to bring to mind the small, sincere, noncommercial, homemade music of Palace or Folk Implosion, the low-tech logo T-shirts, a homemade rave. Photographs and video clips have become sketches for a techno-fauve brand of art that rises out of feelings and not from what jazz musicians used to call "wood- shedding" or what classical musician call "chops." And maybe grunge art will one day be called a period style or the proto-art of some great movement to come, like the way inventors cobble together a mess of an atom smasher for later folks to gussy up, make sleek, and shake the world.

As for Obrist, his meteoric rise to his curator's aerie needs incubation. We'll all wait and see.

JEFF RIAN is a writer living in Paris.