Nau mai, haere mai, welcome to eyeCONTACT, a forum built to encourage art reviews and critical discussion about the visual culture of Aotearoa New Zealand. I'm John Hurrell its editor, a New Zealand writer, artist and curator. While Creative New Zealand and other supporters are generously paying me and other contributors to review exhibitions over the following year, all expressed opinions are entirely our own.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Corroding global corporate power

SWAMP: Fire sale
MIC Toi Rerehiko
3 July - 22 August 2009

Like Les Liens Invisibles, the Yes Men and Cildo Meireles, SWAMP (Studies of work Atmospheres And Mass Production) is an artist collective - a couple of electronic/cybernetic boffins committed to undermining the global power of high profile corporations like Coca Cola, McDonald’s, Starbucks and Wal-Mart. They (Matt Kenyon and Doug Easterly) make a wide range of disruptive projects, but the efficacy and ultimate impact of what they do in terms of practical consequences, probably doesn't amount to much. However palpable disruption doesn’t seem to be the point - rather it is the spreading of subversive ideas, a rallying protest against corporate greed.

Some of the projects are deliberately half baked: Matt Kenyon sneaking around Wal-Mart with a wire going through a hole in his cheek to power a cam hidden in his mouth with which he tries to scan the bar code of every product in the store; a machine with a needle strapped to an American soldier’s arm that stabs them each time another U.S. casualty occurs. The work is really about political rhetoric and symbolic action rather than practical intervention. It is knowingly farcical – satirising consumerism or the military.

In fact it is the feather-brained silliness of some of these projects that gives them their appeal, the fact that SWAMP have these nutty ideas that they can built their machines around, and then construct a political argument to justify their existence. They obviously love making these electronic gizmos, irrespective of their real impact in the profit-making global world of corporate capitalism. They are gestures.

Some of them are also very funny (though like film-maker Mike Moore, SWAMP cheat when it suits to gain the advantage) - like the robot that greedily sucks up puddles of Coca Cola which it then stupidly sprays on itself so that the ‘corrosive’ properties incapacitate it. Or a rubber plant purchased from a hardware franchise that is automatically watered (or neglected) according to the firm’s fortunes on the stock market, and which they have guaranteed to replace if it dies.

SWAMP’s show takes up the whole of the MIC Toi Rerehiko space, and is a sparse hang. A couple of the exhibits (Puddle and P.O.P. Portraits) weren’t functioning properly when I visited, and the foldout catalogue information is a little skimpy (though the interview is excellent), but these artists have a superb website containing lots of ‘promotional’ videos. Some of what they do has lost currency with Obama’s election, but is still intriguing. Like the yellow letter-writing paper with rows of micro-dotted data on the Iraqi civilian death toll in its lines, that was sent in correspondence with Bush and the U.S. Congress.

The advantage of the exhibition is that SWAMP’s gadgetry is there to be examined closely if you wish. You can explore their website first to whet your appetite, zero in their repertoire of delicately engineered cybernetic devices and various electronically encoded receipt or note papers, pick out your favourites and if intrigued further, call in on the show for a closer inspection. An unusual exhibition.

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