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Zombie 'Pataphysics and Trains Why Not

by Brian Reffin Smith
Muses Maschine Art Laboratory
13 June 2014 – 31 July 2014
Berlin, Germany
Exhibit website: http://tinyurl.com/kydxyon

Reviewed by Pablo Denegri
Communicator in Visual Arts, Electronic Musician


Zombie 'Pataphysics and Trains Why Not at Muses Maschine Art Laboratory is a computer art exhibition with (almost) no computers at sight that includes the use of models as ready-mades or objets trouvés, technologically operated toys, hacked interactive software works, appropriated and digitally modified photographs and illustrations, sound and visual installation and performance. The convergence of media, the fusion of genres, and playful spirit of these works seem to have a history in the creation of complex situations by the Fluxus movement and in Duchamp's sense of romantic irony in the ownership of works and objects with the intention of making a transgressive gesture that shakes traditional languages in a kind of anti-art.

However, after an initial false cloak of synthetic ingenuity unfolds, it becomes clear that the vast work of this veteran in computer-based arts proves to wide-ranging and complex to analyze from the traditional perspective of aesthetics and art history. In many cases it systematically escapes from this kind of analysis, basing itself on its own rules: "...the sadness of computer art is that it does not know its past" can be read in his 43 Dodgy Statements on Computer Art.

It seems difficult, at this stage of his career, to cover or even differentiate in Brian Reffin Smith the computer artist, the art teacher and the pataphysician: If the physicist says: "I have a computer, and it makes art", the metaphysicist says: "If I had a computer, would it make art?" and the Pataphysician says: "I don't have a computer... and it makes art!"

Smith proposes the figure of the zombie (as suggested by Derrida like an idea of transgression and by the Situationists as an example of the coexistence of opposites: "Living / Dead") as a perfect prototype of an art critic, which we would all have inside us and that would not be affected by emotional factors, making decisions for us and informing them so that we take them as our own. In fact, these works are explicitly warned against their emotional and conceptual aspect. Here, devices and technical systems, partially or fully involved in the process of creation, act as a "guarantee" and mediator in the order of how these objects, installations and images are displayed. The objects of model toy trains laid out on the floor or deconstructed-reconstructed on the walls in the form of vines are placed with cold and sarcastic distance, implying a political tension regarding the notions of status of the work of art and the concepts of authorship.

The relationship between 'Pataphysics, the science of imaginary solutions (and the parody of that same science), the zombie theory, and the concepts of computer art developed by Smith himself, provides a constricting framework and a model for the production of these works. Religious and ideological icons, symbols of capitalism and communism (like the Portrait of Angela Märkelin made with bits of railroad tracks and the Communist Manifesto as Railway lines), and the specific references to art, are placed here provocatively valued at the same level, with sharp irony and a non-linear, seemingly banal juxtaposition – complicating an immediate relationship between words while inducing a reflexive sense.

With its “are you the train or are you the tunnel” chorus performed live by the artist, the leitmotif from the Zombieohrwurm in a form of post-punk reminiscent pop, works as the result of a false thought experiment evolving in a certain (or uncertain) climate of existential tenor. Unfolding from this disaffected forms that constitute a contradiction as irreducible sign it causes us to go beyond in metamorphosis into new paradigms of interpretation that look less contaminated in the first instance with the common affections and preconceived concepts – just as the zombie art critic does.

During the performance the artist is wearing a sweater with a pattern of question marks, multicolored shoes and goggles and a fox tail. In a ritual gesture, indifferent between the mystical and the absurd, he encourages us in this symbolic transformation into zombies by the use of rugs around the head referring to the first (real) zombie Haitian slaves. Act preceded by Smith with a solid: "this is fucking serious."

Last Updated 5th August 2013

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