Shooting Blanks — Liam O’Brien

Metro Arts — 29th August – 15th September 2012

Shooting Blanks Liam O’Brien’s practice utilises the artist’s body both as subject and medium to reveal the personal and professional dilemma of the artist under late capitalism. Shooting Blanks addresses the commercial pressures inflicted on the artist and art establishment from a fresh perspective which builds on the concerns of his previous performances. In these past works, O’Brien interrogated the limits and agency of his body through video, photography and ‘happenings’ as a sort of psychological problem solving tool that resulted in a plethora of failures. I use the word ‘failures’ because to date, O’Brien’s work has solved none of the problems he set out to debunk. Instead, he has documented fruitless, futile struggles that have only unearthed more complexities, more considerations. Acting these problems out as experiments onto his body, O’Brien’s failures manifest in events of complete self-flagellation reoccurring into infinity (i.e. <em “mso-bidi-font-style:=”” normal”=””>To laugh in the face of futility(2009), (2010), (2012)). Yet, the sensuous colours, careful framing and professional editing he employs renders these self-persecuting failures as undeniably beautiful works of art. It’s as if O’Brien’s conceptual anguish has developed parallel to his technical ability. Each new work is more aesthetic, yet more hopeless than the last. Consequently, his signature combination of resolved process and futile intent has always been unnerving, confusing and dark to witness and I cannot say I know of another Brisbane artist who uses their art practice as an opportunity to be so utterly hard on themselves.

This back catalogue of beautiful, harmful failures has eventuated in the exhibition you see here. Shooting Blanks presents lucidly the duality of O’Brien’s artistic predicament – the quandaries commercialism poses for both the status of artist and artwork. It has been argued through Marx’s theory of alienation that the artist is the only individual left in society who is not isolated from the products of her labour. This argument has been thoroughly challenged first by the ready-mades of Duchamp, then again by the simulacra reproductions of Warhol. But far more recently, the contemporary works of post-modernist artists Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and Takashi Murakami mark a transgression from this critique. Far from utilising the language of mass production to dissect the motivations of the capitalist system, these artists utilised the mass production of their works with an ambivalence that demonstrates complete complicity toward the status of the mass produced, fetishized object. This shift from critique to compliance now prevents the art object from analytically engaging with its modes of production. By mounting three cheap, mass produced paintings straight from Ikea onto the gallery wall, O’Brien reveals the outcome of this ambivalence when it filters down to the working class. In Barking up the wrong tree, O’Brien has installed an ornate plinth in front of Ikea paintings which supports a silver bowl containing a chicken’s yolk mixed with the artist’s semen. In this installation he lays bare the incompatibility of capitalist and artistic values. Although this gaudy commercialism is clearly deplored by the artist, the inclusion of his semen as part of the installation acknowledges his unavoidable participation within the same system of aesthetic consumption.  Wanderlust – a video of the artist attempting to break through a transparent glad-wrapped barrier – illustrates the personal pressure to travel abroad in order to establish himself as a legitimate emerging artist. Travel, in this sense, becomes the signifier of O’Brien’s journey to attain a ‘professional’ legitimacy – to start CV padding and ladder-climbing the artistic hierarchy. The pressure on the artist to present as a glad-wrapped, finished ‘product’ ready for mass consumption is obvious. It is a requirement which, try as he might, he cannot fulfil due to his better nature. Nevertheless he relentlessly (and fruitlessly) tries.

On one side of Shooting Blanks we witness the pitfalls of commercial art; on the other we witness the pitfalls of academic art. O’Brien argues that the current objectives of both have been made vulgar through the pressures of capital. As an artist, O’Brien finds himself unavoidably in the push and pull between both worlds, and is forced to navigate between them. He is conscious enough to understand his situation but, just like his past predicaments, he is unable to locate an escape route.

 

Liam O’Brien’s practice utilises the artist’s body both as subject and medium to reveal the personal and professional dilemma of the artist under late capitalism. Shooting Blanks addresses the commercial pressures inflicted on the artist and art establishment from a fresh perspective which builds on the concerns of his previous performances. In these past works, O’Brien interrogated the limits and agency of his body through video, photography and ‘happenings’ as a sort of psychological problem solving tool that resulted in a plethora of failures. I use the word ‘failures’ because to date, O’Brien’s work has solved none of the problems he set out to debunk. Instead, he has documented fruitless, futile struggles that have only unearthed more complexities, more considerations. Acting these problems out as experiments onto his body, O’Brien’s failures manifest in events of complete self-flagellation reoccurring into infinity (To laugh in the face of futility (2009), (2010), (2012)). Yet, the sensuous colours, careful framing and professional editing he employs renders these self-persecuting failures as undeniably beautiful works of art. It’s as if O’Brien’s conceptual anguish has developed parallel to his technical ability. Each new work is more aesthetic, yet more hopeless than the last. Consequently, his signature combination of resolved process and futile intent has always been unnerving, confusing and dark to witness and I cannot say I know of another Brisbane artist who uses their art practice as an opportunity to be so utterly hard on themselves.

This back catalogue of beautiful, harmful failures has eventuated in the exhibition you see here. Shooting Blanks presents lucidly the duality of O’Brien’s artistic predicament – the quandaries commercialism poses for both the status of artist and artwork. It has been argued through Marx’s theory of alienation that the artist is the only individual left in society who is not isolated from the products of her labour. This argument has been thoroughly challenged first by the ready-mades of Duchamp, then again by the simulacra reproductions of Warhol. But far more recently, the contemporary works of post-modernist artists Jeff Koons, Damien Hirst and Takashi Murakami mark a transgression from this critique. Far from utilising the language of mass production to dissect the motivations of the capitalist system, these artists utilised the mass production of their works with an ambivalence that demonstrates complete complicity toward the status of the mass produced, fetishized object. This shift from critique to compliance now prevents the art object from analytically engaging with its modes of production. By mounting three cheap, mass produced paintings straight from Ikea onto the gallery wall, O’Brien reveals the outcome of this ambivalence when it filters down to the working class. In Barking up the wrong tree, O’Brien has installed an ornate plinth in front of Ikea paintings which supports a silver bowl containing a chicken’s yolk mixed with the artist’s semen. In this installation he lays bare the incompatibility of capitalist and artistic values. Although this gaudy commercialism is clearly deplored by the artist, the inclusion of his semen as part of the installation acknowledges his unavoidable participation within the same system of aesthetic consumption.  Wanderlust – a video of the artist attempting to break through a transparent glad-wrapped barrier – illustrates the personal pressure to travel abroad in order to establish himself as a legitimate emerging artist. Travel, in this sense, becomes the signifier of O’Brien’s journey to attain a ‘professional’ legitimacy – to start CV padding and ladder-climbing the artistic hierarchy. The pressure on the artist to present as a glad-wrapped, finished ‘product’ ready for mass consumption is obvious. It is a requirement which, try as he might, he cannot fulfill due to his better nature. Nevertheless he relentlessly (and fruitlessly) tries.

On one side of Shooting Blanks we witness the pitfalls of commercial art; on the other we witness the pitfalls of academic art. O’Brien argues that the current objectives of both have been made vulgar through the pressures of capital. As an artist, O’Brien finds himself unavoidably in the push and pull between both worlds, and is forced to navigate between them. He is conscious enough to understand his situation but, just like his past predicaments, he is unable to locate an escape route.

You can find the original of this catalogue here.

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