A Review of Oceans Without Surfers, Cowboys Without Marlboros at PM/AM, London
Situated on the Old Marylebone Road, the white facade of the West London gallery PM/AM juxtaposes the surrounding red brick buildings. The gallery's white neon sign is reminiscent - not in a sleazy sense - of those found in the red light district of Amsterdam. It's punchy, memorable and certainly entices you into their space. Originally a garage for collectable cars, the interior remains relatively untouched with exposed concrete, yellow parking lines and a disused car lift emphasising its character. Large open-plan spaces like this are few and far between in London, so the atmosphere feels similar to that of a studio in Berlin or New York.
Currently on show is the group exhibition Oceans without Surfers, Cowboys without Marlboros, a title invented by Richard Prince in reference to his process of re-photographing commercial photographs in the media and imbuing them with alternative narratives. The exhibition brings together a broad spectrum of international, contemporary artists such as Beni Bischof, Ry David Bradley, Kingsley Hill, Doug Rickard and Paul Anthony Smith appropriating imagery from print media, CCTV streams, Google Images and Google Street View suggesting the continued prevalence of the issue initially recognised by Prince. The question of authenticity and ownership in our post-Internet society is one that is prevalent amongst each artist in their unique creative outlets.
Through his appropriation of luxury fashion adverts, Beni Bischof addresses the subject of the self and its relationship to photography in the 21st-century. Undoubtedly, the ubiquity of social media and its relationship with the camera has changed the way in which we observe one another and our surroundings. We perform for the camera as we use it to document our daily activities and project the image of ourselves that we wish others to see - Bischof plays with this idea. The images which he appropriates are adapted and defaced through the insertion of his fingers. Take, for example, Untitled (Meta Finger 7), where the model's nose has been replaced by Bischof’s finger. The fingers are almost puppet-like as they perform and adapt the original image. These Dada-esque works are humorous yet also jarring as they disrupt our conventional understanding of beauty through their decontextualisation.
Doug Rickard’s approach to the far-reaching medium of photography is similar to that of Bischof given that digital manipulation is at the core of both their practices. Yet while Bischof focuses on the power of photography as a cultural signifier, Rickard explores the ramifications of photography as a computer-based medium and the effects that this has on the individual and society as a whole. Influenced by his studies of the history of the United States and Sociology at the University of California, San Diego, Rickard’s series A New American Picture focuses on the realities of the countries disillusioned social structure.
By re-photographing street views from Google Maps on his computer screen with a tripod mounted camera (#41.779976 Chicago, IL (2007), 2010), Rickard focuses on the many forgotten of America, where poverty and isolation are prevalent. He uses low resolution images from Google Maps as a platform to reinforce the realities of photography as part of the internet phenomenon. Where feelings of abandonment and becoming disconnected from others are a growing issue and personal privacy is slowly dissolving. What's more Rickard unravels the truth behind the American Dream, behind which the number of disenfranchised individuals is all too transparent.
Oceans without Surfers, Cowboys without Marlboros is a thought-provoking exhibition that allows each artist to independently and successfully explore the challenges of the ubiquitous medium of photography and its relationship to humanity and society. It is difficult to walk away from the PM/AM space and not question the role of photography, because it illustrates the ways in which technological developments have manipulated and altered our assumptions of its creative validity.
Exhibition on show from 30th September – 7th November 2016
Written by Lara Monro, a contributor to Arteviste.com