What Is What
(A Play In One Act)
September, 2017

Cover image: Bekah, 2017
Watercolor and acrylic on paper
11 x 8 in

What Is What, a one-act play, was published in The Annual of The Serving Library (Fall 2017-Spring 2018), accompanied by an essay-length introduction regarding changing economic and political frames and, relatedly, the political potentials of art. The script was adapted from a live, roundtable event that occurred in March 2016 at the closing of Greater New York at MoMA/PS1. Both essay and script are available for free download at servinglibrary.org.

The What Is What cover image is a portrait of Rebekah Mercer produced in early 2017. "Bekah," as friends know her, is a wealthy political strategist credited with placement of Steve Bannon and Kellyanne Conway in the Trump White House. She is a daughter of Robert Mercer, himself an owner of both Breitbart and Cambridge Analytica, and a partner at hedge fund Renaissance Technologies. Media reports convey that Bekah would prefer that her efforts to influence politics go unacknowledged, her image remain unrecognized. The portrait was created for sale at an auction to benefit voter registration efforts in New York’s 19th congressional district.

January 21 - March 26, 2017
Plug In ICA, Winnipeg, Manitoba

Video, 00:05:58.
Script adapted from Luc Boltanski’s On Critique: A Sociology of Emancipation (2011), narrated via modified IBM Watson Text to Speech API, “Allison." “Summertime” (George Gershwin, 1934) performed by Anne Brown with the Decca Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Alexander Smallens, 1940; Ray Conniff and His Orchestra & Chorus, 1960; and Simon Gale & Vienna Symphonic Rock Orchestra, 2006.

Neon sign, 36" x 7" x 4.5".
Fabricated by The Neon Factory, Winnipeg

Wooden frame and chroma key screen (14' x 8' x 8'), studio lights, HD camera, live video feed, DV monitors, video loop, dimensions variable.

Exhibition photos by Karen Archer.

FIRST CLASS, SECOND THOUGHTS, INTERMINABLE SWELL is an exhibition of new work by Angie Keefer, an artist admired for her deep discursive engagement in the visual arts. Her work moves between design and publishing, writing, performance, installation, and teaching, and is often unsettled in its reflexive linking of symbolic or material form with the fluctuating activity of financial and knowledge markets.

Three new works are presented as a unified exhibition divided among two distinct spaces, separating the viewer’s experiences as witness and performer. FIRST CLASS, SECOND THOUGHTS, INTERMINABLE SWELL occupies Plug In ICA’s exhibition breezeway on a monitor wall and our street front gallery, which Keefer turns into a production studio and showroom. These complex works capture and project the image of their audience, implicating viewers in a historic trajectory leading towards the contemporary, commercial delineation of first class status.

FIRST CLASS is a video centered on the representation and development of the chaise lounge. Using art historical images, from the earliest known depictions of a kline appearing on Greek pottery, to post-Enlightenment paintings of reclining women, Keefer constructs a visual history underlying the design and marketing of modern, first class airline seating. While a montage of these images passes through a small but ornate gilded frame on a stark white wall, a voiceover script adapted from a passage in sociologist Luc Boltanski’s On Critique is read by a female automaton. In this short distillation, Keefer quotes Boltanski’s formulation of class structure based on varying agency for rule-making, bending, and breaking.

A neon sculpture, SECOND THOUGHTS, intermittently flashes the word ‘second’, obscuring the word ‘thoughts’ every second second. As Keefer states, “The metaphorical transference of a numbered sequence to designate rank is misleading in the case of class, where we’re talking about one class and ‘the other’ regardless of which point of view one assumes, unlike a temporal sequence, in which first precedes second.” Both ‘first’ and ‘second’ artworks in the exhibition reference marketing innovations that apprehend our thoughts. A neon sign, the epitome of bright and flashing 24-hour storefront advertising, is used to redirect our attention to the seller’s intentions, while the development of ‘first class’ as a marketing category bluntly capitalizes on aspirational fantasies of domination.

Though the exhibition’s title implies an ordered sequence from first to second to infinity, viewers encounter the exhibition in reverse. INTERMINABLE SWELL is presented first in the breezeway, before entering the galleries proper. Over four synced monitors, a video capturing a seamlessly rolling ocean wave created from stock footage appears suspended in the interior exhibition space. Inside the gallery, is a curved, freestanding sculpture, the chroma-key blue backdrop for the video composite in the breezeway, which is continuously streamed by a live camera feed.

Keefer intentionally reverses language in relation to the viewer’s experience, thus destabilizing reference points that might otherwise orient the exhibition as a system of presentation with a conclusive logic. In a previous work, Fountain (2013), Keefer linked the variable action of videos of moving water to changes in futures markets for commodities such as wheat, rice, and oil, as well as gold and currency. When stared at for thirty seconds or longer, the waterfall images could induce a physiological aftereffect in viewers, setting the surrounding room in motion. This motion is echoed in the ghostly effect of INTERMINABLE SWELL, as it transposes the viewer from one place to another— from apparent fixity to the foreground of an endlessly progressing wave—while restricting the viewer’s vantage at any given moment to only one or the other point of view. Meanwhile, socioeconomic markers, from the chaise lounge and art historical references, to neon signage and Boltanski’s class analysis, provide a context for dislocating ourselves amidst a systemic jumble in constant flux.

Curated by Jenifer Papararo

Source: Plug In ICA