Magazine article Artforum International

David Raymond Conroy

Magazine article Artforum International

David Raymond Conroy

Article excerpt

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A DEEP EXISTENTIAL APORIA seemed to have settled over David Raymond Conroy's show at Seventeen gallery in London last year. Cheap, jerry-rigged wooden frames became miniature stage sets, offering an ambivalently melodramatic presentation of the kind of mundane consumer objects that are so much a part of contemporary daily life: sneakers, Beck's Blue beer bottles, a Big Mac. The mise-en-scene was literally scripted by texts mounted directly onto these structures, each offering a different glimpse into the life of the same character, an apparently middle-aged, middle-class male, who seems to live out a kind of perpetual identity crisis. A sample: "'Everything's fine,' you'll say. And he'll apologize because he's scared and wants to be a good man, liked by all and sundry. The thing is, he isn't." Perusing these texts, one began to suspect that the artist's own identity was at stake here, too--a suspicion confirmed in the gallery's back room, where a reconstruction of part of his live-work studio, with his clothes, a laptop, and other belongings squarely implicated him in this unsettled search for selfhood.

Indeed, the tangled interplay between authorship, consumption, and identity that defines our contemporary consumer culture is the fundamental focus of Conroy's practice, and the Seventeen exhibition offered his most probing meditations on this subject yet. Also included, for example, was a pair of YouTube-sourced video clips of two stand-up comedians in action. One poses a long-winded question about a smallish winged creature seeking to traverse a boulevard--an all-too-familiar topic that nevertheless has the audience laughing uproariously. The other presents a more ironically self-aware riff on being a bad comedian, but the delivery is excruciating, with plenty of nervous pauses, jokes that bomb, and palpably uncomfortable listeners. Here the artist articulates a fundamental conflict in his work between two value systems--one that prioritizes authenticity and one that emphasizes success---through a pairing that makes it abundantly clear that the former is no guarantee of the latter.

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Questions of authorship were also opened up (art) historically with a further piece in this ensemble, two cutout pages from Lucy R. Lippard's Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972 (1973), featuring a message from the short-lived New York collective Orders & Co. sent to the Uruguayan President Jorge Pacheco Areco in 1971. It reads: "The 5th of November you will simulate normal walking but you will be conscious that for this day Orders & Co. have taken possession of every third step you take." In the context of Conroy's exhibition, this command made me think of former Google CEO Eric Schmidt's menacing quip to the Wall Street Journal in 2010: "I actually think most people don't want Google to answer their questions.... They want Google to tell them what they should be doing next." Between these two moments, from an obscure project from the heyday of Conceptualism to our neocorporate present, the ubiquity of new information technologies--ostensibly offering an unprecedented freedom of choice, but in reality often providing only a limited range of algorithmically determined affirmations--has posed with dramatically renewed urgency the question of who actually directs our lives, complicating notions of agency and appropriation far beyond the boundaries of artistic practice.

Several of Conroy's earlier pieces have even more explicitly explored the ways in which new technologies both influence our construction of identity and establish new modes of visual experience. In his programmatic video Hauling, usually shown together with the sound piece It is not the past, but the future that determines the present, both 2011, he records a Safari browser window as images clutter and then declutter the frame via some algorithmic mechanism. …

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