Mark Leckey. (Openings)

By Higgs, Matthew | Artforum International, April 2002 | Go to article overview

Mark Leckey. (Openings)


Higgs, Matthew, Artforum International


Writing in the first half of the nineteenth century, Honore de Balzac set out to distinguish the flaneur-artiste from his lowly, run-of-the-mill counterpart. For Balzac, the ordinary flaneur was little more than a pedestrian--a poseur at once dazzled, seduced, and confused by modern life. Only the sophisticated artist-flaneur, blessed, as Balzac determined, with superior insight, was able to truly experience the chaotic splendor of metropolitan hubris. Balzac's artist-flaneur--a dandyish, somewhat detached figure--would appear to have anticipated, by almost a hundred and fifty years, the transient urban drifter of Guy Debord's late-1960s Paris. Balzac's maxim "To stroll is to vegetate, flaner is to live" amplifies the Situationists' own disgust with and singular rejection of bourgeois passivity. For Debord, as for Balzac's artist-flaneur and Baudelaire's dandy, modernity could only be experienced head-on, regardless of the consequences. Given Debord's notorious contempt for contemporary art, it is hard to say with any certainty what he would have made of the head-on work of British artist Mark Leckey, but one can't help feeling that he might have (begrudgingly) acknowledged in him a kindred spirit. Part drifter, part dandy, part flaneur-artiste, Leckey is the author of no more than a handful of works, which ruminate--with an incongruously Proustian melancholia--on the social, emotional, and spiritual fabric of contemporary British youth culture.

After what might be read as a promising start--showing his neo-geo-inspired undergraduate works alongside the first medicine-cabinet sculptures of a then little-known Damien Hirst in "New Contemporaries" at London's Institute of Contemporary Art in 1990--Mark Leckey effectively disappeared. At the very moment when the British art scene was beginning to heat up, Leckey dropped off the map. His "comeback," the video essay Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore, 1999, was a revelation, as unexpected as it was disquieting. Compiled from found footage, Fiorucci charts the rise of British youth dance subcultures, from the talcum-powdered, amphetamine-fueled dance floors of '70s Northern Soul all-nighters to the Ecstasy-fueled raves of the late '80s. Described by one commentator as the best thing they'd ever seen in a gallery, Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore is an extended paean to the unadulterated bliss of nocturnal abandon. A documentary of sorts, Leckey's video chronicles the rites of passage experienced by successive generations of British (sub)urban youth. While obviously celebratory, Fiorucci is ultimately concerned with a collective loss of innocence; its subtext, an examination of the ritualistic behavior of heterosexuals on the threshold of adulthood. Leckey's young--ostensibly male--protagonists exist in the tungsten glare of the moment, blissfully unaware of (their) culture's inevitable passing. As one musical genre succeeds the next, so too are fashions consigned to the dustbin of history. Fiorucci revels in its detail: At one point an authoritarian voice-over intones a list of the once-prized sportswear brands favored by Britain's "casuals" (those elite tribes of mid-'80s football hooligans): Ellesse, Cerrutti, Sergio Tacchini, Lacoste, Fila, Kappa, Jordache, Fiorucci, each specific to a particular time and a particular team's supporters. Periodically a shadowy figure appears onscreen, disturbing the narrative flow. A surrogate for the artist, he watches over the rooftops of a twilit cityscape much as Balzac's artist-flaneur might have viewed the Parisian boulevards.

We Are (Untitled), 2001, Leckey's second video work, first screened at Tate Modern's inaugural exhibition "Century City: Art and Culture in the Modern Metropolis," 2001, under the site-specific title We Are (Bankside), takes Fiorucci's central themes of temporality and loss and reenacts them in the artist's cramped apartment. …

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