Click “Thumbs Up”

by Michelangelo Corsaro

Andreas Angelidakis, together with co-curator Maria Cristina Didero, “reloads” the Dakis Joannou Collection in the DESTE Foundation for the exhibition The System of Objects


Page from The System of Objects
2013, DESTE Foundation, Athens
exhibition catalogue
Courtesy of DESTE Foundation, Athens

SOO2013-04-29 15.22.23

The System of Objects
2013, DESTE Foundation, Athens
installation view (Juergen Teller’s pick
for the fashion collection, American Apparel)
Courtesy of DESTE Foundation, Athens

Published in 1968, Jean Baudrillard’s The System of Objects focused on the mechanisms of consumerism, providing a classification system where categories of objects are used to define categories of social standings. Baudrillard’s critique outlined the semiotics of consumption, describing the structure it produces into the social order, and exposing the paradoxes of a psychology of want. In 1968 objects participated in a system that was about buying real stuff with real money. In less than fifty years things have changed to such an extent that consumption now involves objects, images and experiences that often are not for sale but instead consumed in exchange for a click on a “like” or “reblog” button. As the vestiges of money are more or less reduced to a reflection of its psychological value, for more than twenty years our relationships with objects have been gently drifting away, to the point where a tweet is currency one can exchange for a free download, some reciprocal Twitter exposure or a pack of crisps. Ironically it looks like a win-win (or rather lose-lose?) situation, for what seems to be most problematic in our accelerated consumption habits is our dwindling attention span. It’s the “economy of like”: Need to release some anxiety for consumption? No need to reach for the wallet, just click “thumbs up”.

With these thoughts in mind, Andreas Angelidakis and co-curator Maria Cristina Didero have put together artworks, Cypriot antiquities and design pieces to question how the function of objects has changed with the development of consumerism over the last fifty years. They tumbled through the works of the Dakis Joannou Collection with the purpose of “reloading” them into a new system of coexistence. Reloading instead of curating: not exactly as sliding a magazine into a rifle’s receiver to shoot another couple of rounds; more like reloading a web page (⌘ Cmd+R) to refresh its content and make sure it’s up to date. A semantic slip proving that there is no longer any such thing as outside the internet. While any sense of direction is lost in the dizzying flow of the exhibition, the succession of spaces coincides with a succession of different degrees of intensity: some works, like Pavel Altmejd’s Giant or George Lappas’ Truck, are displayed in full screen (⌘ Cmd+F), while others are endless series of thumbnails, like Triple Candie’s Museo de Reproducciones Fotográficas. And the whole exhibition is indeed created by gestures extruded from our online habits: selecting the works for the show was as simple as scrolling through a web page and reblogging its content, while walking through the design of the different rooms feels like opening a new tab (⌘ Cmd+T) or window (⌘ Cmd+N) in our browser — and in fact Angelidakis has opened several new windows in the building of the DESTE Foundation, literally breaching its walls on more than one occasion.

As the objects take their own positions in this complicated system, the mood aimlessly fluctuates in the radically different environments that compose the exhibition, including: the upright vision of Superstudio and Ettore Sottsass dancing together on the notes of Strauss’ Zarathustra; the dark room where Wolfgang Tillmans meets Ralf Ziervogel; the phallic presence of Franco Mello and Guido Drocco’s Cactus; some Italian putti, representing “Jesus and the omnipresence of God” in front of a blatantly erotic Jeff Koons’ painting. As Angelidakis himself suggests, the exhibition somehow recalls the Baroque tradition of vexation gardens, places where wealthy people used to promenade among grottoes, monstrous sculptures and similar divertissements in order to scare and awe themselves or, to put it more simply, fill their abundant leisure time with some exciting experiences. And it is a particularly interesting reference, especially if we look for some contemporary equivalent of those activities: because it is on the internet, most of the time, that we desperately wander, looking for not-yet-attempted amusements, and it is by the act of shopping that we seek what relief we can get from our socially necessary ennui. In fact, if it is somehow possible to re-read (or reload if you prefer) Baudrillard’s The System of Objects today, an actual system seems more likely to be recognized in the paradigm of the online shop than in the traditional model of the exhibition. It’s not a matter of preferences, because we know perfectly well that these are not two mutually exclusive models of display. It’s rather a matter of experiencing the effects of the reflections on reality. And probably even the most conservative curator who sees the exhibition, between one theoretical yawn and another, will soothe his anxiety for consumption with comments such as “I like this” or “I don’t like that”, as though passing in front of a shop window or scrolling through the catalogue of an online boutique.

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