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Carey Young – Body Techniques, 2007:
passive resistance and the artist as double agent

Carey-Young-Clore-Auditorium-Tate-Britain

Listening to Carey Young last night at the Clore Auditorium transported me back to my first encounter with Young’s Body Techniques at Tate Britain in 2010.  Executed in 2007, Body Techniques sees Young re-enact iconic conceptual performances from Kirsten Justesen, Richard Long, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, Dennis Oppenheim, Bruce Nauman and Valie Export against the backdrop of the uninhabited science fiction city landscapes that are the legacies of the oil-generated construction boom of Dubai and Sharjah.  Young’s Body Techniques resembles something of a corporate Dune, a post-technocratic Modernist ruin reminiscent of distant failure, and forgotten loss.

Perhaps it was Young’s evident solidarity with the political and aesthetic struggles of these landmark conceptual performances; perhaps it was her subtle extension of a dialogue these artists began at a seminal moment in history; perhaps it was the barren stillness of Young’s desert backdrop so audibly resonating other forms of silencing.  Carey Young’s work had a profound effect upon my soul.

Body Techniques seems to restage and reframe these iconic interventions as something that has yet to happen – a proleptic flash forward summoning the rise and fall of civilizations.  Young places herself directly in the camera’s eye, weaving a complex web of cross references and ambiguous ironies that invite dialogue and reconsideration between generations of artworks and artists and, even more acutely, between the ostensible radical opposition of the Islamic and Judeo-Christian cultural frames, oppositions that are both magnified and interceded by the higher orders of money and power.

CAREY-YOUNG-Body-Techniques-(after-Sculpture-II,-Kirsten-Justesen,-1969),-2007-lightjet-print-48-x-56-in.-(121.9-x-142.2-cm)--Carey-Young.-Courtesy-Paula-Cooper-Gallery,-New York
CAREY YOUNG
Body-Techniques (after Sculpture II, Kirsten Justesen, 1969), 2007
lightjet print 48 x 56 in. (121.9 x 142.2cm)
Carey Young. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

In Body Techniques (after Sculpture II, Kirsten Justesen, 1969), we see Young, in her characteristic business attire, cocooned in foetal position in the middle of an freshly paved road which runs vertically through the centre of the image and perspectivally fades into the distance of an unfathomable landscape.

Young presents us with the perfect geometry of a Delacroix-like Romantic scene -- the ubiquitous boulevard now replaced by low-sweeping structures resembling heavy goods loading bays, ominously painted yellow on the right and blue on the left, presenting an uncharted causeway framed by development, distribution channels and international flows of capital, while the artist passively prostrates herself amidst these forces.  Is it protection she seeks or rebirth, I wonder?   Young appropriates Justesen’s frame, first from the crate and then from the museum, placing it into the emergent corporate landscapes of the Biennale desert.  The frame in whatever form it seems always composed of the same material – money.

Young’s passive figure contrasts with her very active restaging of Richard Long’s A Line in Ireland, 1974, invoking both the metaphor of Long’s practice and that of a nation’s identity ripped open by the imposition of artificial boundaries, and the resulting political and economic struggles that are eventually guised by religious fervour.  Young‘s line reaches diagonally toward the horizon -- broken concrete rubble stretching across the landscape appearing to continue indefinitely.   Below the horizon lies the desert while stretching above is a skyline of rectilinear towers.  Rubble, the remains from an abandoned construction site, forms a boundary that cuts through an otherwise indivisible desert landscape framing a distant and possibly unreachable mirage.  Young is attired in her corporate power suit.  As an artist, hers is a delicate balance atop this boundary.

Despite the rhetoric of an insuperable ideological divide and the language of a clash of cultures, here the desert landscape bears the markers of transnational progress – construction and development.  Movements of capital transgress cultural and geopolitical boundaries, eventually usurping and redefining the discourses that govern nationhood, identity, law, ideology and culture.

CAREY-YOUNG,-Body-Techniques-(after-Dance-or-Exercise-on-the-Perimeter-of-a-Square-[Square-Dance],-Bruce-Nauman,-1967-68),-2007,-light-jet print,-48-x-56-in.-(121.9-x-142.2-cm).--Carey-Young.-Courtesy-Paula-Cooper-Gallery,-New-York
CAREY YOUNG
Body Techniques (after Dance or Exercise on the Perimeter of a Square [Square Dance], Bruce Nauman, 1967-68), 2007
light jet print, 48 x 56 in. (121.9 x 142.2 cm)
Carey Young. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

Resistance is likewise transposed in Body Techniques (after Dance or Exercise on the Perimeter of a Square [Square Dance], Bruce Nauman, 1967-68).  Responding to Nauman’s challenge, Young reforms the perimeter of the square (itself a frame) onto a sand swept desert using available readymade -- scaffolding materials.  Dancing along the edge of the square is Young’s tiny body, methodically matching step for step with Nauman, while in the distance behind six monochrome behemoths rise from the desert floor.  The desert with its unoccupied construction sites become her studio, while the frame, now a precariously propped vertical, assumes a mimetic connection that indulges in a moment of consubstantiality between frame and the buildings themselves suggestive once again of an oscillating identity.  Young’s performance strikes me as a mischievous yet resolute staging of resistance.

Quiet resistance contrasts with an unexpected and perhaps improbable solidarity with the worker in Young’s restaging of  Mierle Laderman Ukeles' Hartford Wash: Washing, Tracks, Maintenance: Outside, 1973, the iconic performance in which Laderman Ukeles scrubs clean the outside steps and entrances of the Wadsworth Athenaeum at regular intervals.  Years later, the artist (now in the form of Young) has traded in her overalls for a corporate suit.  She appear oddly out of place as she hunches over a mop scrubbing the steps of what appears to be the semi-developed outer shell of a low rise concrete apartment block.

CAREY-YOUNG-Body-Techniques-(after-Hartford-Wash:-Washing,-Tracks,-Maintenance:-Outside,-Mierle-Laderman-Ukeles,-1973),-2007-light-jet-print-48-x-54-3/4-in.-(121.9-x-139.1-cm)--Carey-Young.-Courtesy-Paula-Cooper-Gallery,-New-York

CAREY-YOUNG
Body Techniques (after Hartford Wash: Washing, Tracks, Maintenance: Outside, Mierle Laderman Ukeles, 1973), 2007
light jet print 48 x 54 3/4 in. (121.9 x 139.1 cm)
Carey Young. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

What is being cleaned here?  A futile act to remove the debris of Modernism?  Or does the artist engage in an act of self purification?  An affinity with the thousands of imported workers whose labour forms the invisible armature underlying these monuments of steel, glass and concrete?  Or perhaps more invidious is a shared guilt, a solidarity with the post modern worker, labelled ‘white collar’ whose intellect and creativity are servants to the demands of capital flows.  By placing herself directly in the position of the worker, Young queries how differently placed is the work of the artist, who is herself a form of “unpaid” intellectual labour, whose imagination and idea are systematically converted by markets to form image advertising, slogans, packaging, lifestyle marketing, and perhaps more insidiously, to expand capitalist aspirations into otherwise resistant markets and cultures.

As Young has noted:  Business thinking is now voraciously nimble, especially at the level of advertising, where new subcultures are quickly understood both as social demographic and new sets of trends.  Transgression rarely seems able to remain transgressive for long. [‘Gap Analysis:  An annotated report derived from an evolving discussion between Carey Young and Liam Gillick’ in Carey Young Incorporated (exhibition catalogue, John Hansard Gallery, ed. Stephen Bode (London: Film and Video Umbrella in association with John Hansard Gallery, 20012)) 42]

Body-Techniques-(after-Lean-In,-Valie-Export,-1976),-2007-lightjet-print-48-x-59 3-4 in.-(121.9-x-151.8-cm)--Carey-Young.-Courtesy-Paula-Cooper-Gallery-New-York
CAREY-YOUNG
Body Techniques (after Lean In, Valie Export, 1976), 2007
light jet print 48 x 54 3/4 in. (121.9 x 139.1 cm)
Carey Young. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York

In Body Techniques (after Lean In, Valie Export, 1976), Young re-contextualises Export’s inquiry into the boundary between inner and outer space.  Young’s camera brings us in closer to the unfinished high rise development.  A line of low concrete outdoor steps are blocked by a Serra-like barrier running diagonally across a horizontal plane toward the high rises emphasising the steps as a path to nowhere.  The boundary here becomes an explicit barrier to entry reflecting perhaps the invisible barrier that conceals the transgressions that are all too often permitted in the private space.  Young’s body, a solitary figure in an otherwise disinterested landscape, appears again prostrated, futilely draped, body curving about the steps, head hidden ostrich like downwards in the sand, her black stiletto heels comically appearing as the bird’s exposed plumage.  Body, a silent marker, adopts a stance of quiet resistance, becoming a line of demarcation between inner and outer space, both a reflection of the architecture of domesticity and the barrier it creates.

Quiet resistance re-appears in Body Techniques (after Encirclement, Valie Export, 1976).  Young wears a bright red business suit, and lies with her body horizontally converging around the curving curb of paved cul de sac surrounded by what appear to be scores of drab apartment blocks.  Young’s slim red figure simultaneously disappears into the landscape yet appears conspicuously out of place.  Her passive figure reflects an ambivalence that suggests action in art through a form of non violent resistance.  Her body as a blood stained question mark punctuating the landscape.


CAREY-YOUNG-Body-Techniques-(after-Encirclement-Valie-Export-1976)-2007-lightjet-print-48-x-60-in.-(121.9-x-152.4-cm)--Carey-Young.-Courtesy-Paula-Cooper-Gallery-New-York

CAREY YOUNG
Body Techniques (after Encirclement Valie Export 1976), 2007
lightjet print 48 x 60 in. (121.9 x 152.4 cm)
Carey Young. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery New York

Young’s engagement and dialogue with conceptual performance art is both poignant and searching.  It continues an inquiry which Young began as early as 2001, in her four minute video piece, I am a Revolutionary.  Young, in business attire,  is being coached by her trainer, a tall well dressed publicity coach in his 50s who attempts to teach her to repeat with conviction the phrase, ‘I am a revolutionary’.  Young paces about the smart office space repeatedly rehearsing the line as if with a drama coach, yet she continually fails to deliver this declaration in a manner convincing to herself or the viewer.

I am a Revolutionary might be seen  as a meditation, perhaps even a response, to the possibility of a revolutionary artistic practice – a dialogue with Joseph Beuys, questioning the role the artist as revolutionary.  Beuys’ attire and his strident march toward the camera in The Revolution is Us, 1972 seems out of step with Young’s tentative uncertainty, her exposed doubt and the forms of resistance she articulates in Body Techniques. 

To paraphrase Young's insights delivered at a Tate Symposium in 2008, the avant-garde in art is cyclical. The business world has usurped the language of imagination and creativity for its own ends.  The artist’s capacity to dissent is cyclical because the market absorbs dissent, repackages it and sells it back to the consumer under the pretext for identity, individualism and lifestyle choices.  [Carey Young, "Imagination, Engineering" delivered at Tate Symposium, Against the Avant grade? Duchamp, Man Ray, Picabia, 08/03/2008)].  Young stressed this point again at the Clore Auditorium, “The artist’s fails to act as a revolutionary force inasmuch as capitalism succeeds in diverting the intellectual energy and creative force toward its own ends.”

The doubt raised in I am a Revolutionary finds its answer in Body Techniques.  Here Young’s strategies are subtle and quite often amusing.  There is no attempt to openly declare a revolutionary war on capitalism.  She draws on strategies and forms of conceptualism, even treating conceptual works as ready mades, but her work demonstrates a desire to move beyond immanent critiques.  In Body Techniques, Young alternates between passive and active performances, the passive as acts of resistance, while the active offer moments of intervention, infiltration and insertion.  Young treats the artwork as a readymade, re-appropriating it now from the art market (and from the art historian).  Through her re-performances, she resurrects and reinforms these conceptual pieces.  She offers us a space where the artist might act as resuscitator, resistor, infiltrator, virus and double agent.   There is always a risk of being contaminated by the very pollutant she seeks to expose.  Yet Young’s work bears a hidden resistance whose apparent complicity and homeopathy just might, it seems, enable her work to catalyse the pollutant and draw it out, so that it might eventually float to the surface.

An extract from “Object Analysis: Carey Young, Body Techniques, 2007” (Rozemin Keshvani, Christies Education 3/6/2010).