Dave Kempꞌs PHD exhibition The things you know but cannot explain at The McIntosh Gallery includes two sets of photographs, a video series and one long-playing video work. One set of images were taken using the one pixel camera which the artist designed and built. Its severe restrictions create monochromes which are actually captures of deliberately clichéd subject matter (sunsets, birthday parties, Niagara Falls etc.). Facing these images is the Locations series which pictures banal landscapes, unremarkably composed and framed. The video works all play on boredom: watching water boil, watching paint dry, watching the grass grow etc. These idiomatic capsules of boredom are rendered literally and played out in time. The idiomatic aspect insists on their familiarity. Their literalizing seeks to actualize the rhetoric, passing from figure to phenomena.
I am interested in different kinds of knowledge and how they form our perception and understanding of the world. It is easy to quickly label something based on one’s pool of knowledge and then simply walk away. With these works, the nature of their presentation encourages the viewer to really experience what is happening with these everyday occurrences. (source)
While defamiliarization for the sake of empirical clarification seems to be an important notion for the work, the drive toward it is anchored in, and perhaps compromised by, the fact that the whole thing is so over-familiar. The visual rhetoric of the show suggests a deliberate mockery of the most trenchant clichés of graduate school art production and their ongoing reliance on the fads of American art in the 1960s. The question then is: if they become a joke, are they really boring? A joke is largely about the subversion of expectation. The works in the show are explicitly structured just like any other artwork. In fact, given their IKEA style framing and perfunctory hanging in the white space, they are optimized to fulfill the expectations of generalized gallery experience, again in the most clichéd way possible. This is part of the joke, the other part being fulfilled by the banal nature of the material itself. The excessive blandness of the whole show could be read as satire of both high Modernism (emblemized by its most pretentious gesture, the monochrome), Baldessari type conceptual blandness (the location shots which for most ꞌconceptualistsꞌ were already a joke), and the endurance style formalism of the real time video. Arguably, all of this is most successful as mockery, but that doesn’t seem to be whatꞌs at stake for Kemp.
Kemp is not a satirist. But there is clearly some kind of humour at play in his overt reliance on idiomatic absurdity and blunt cliché. The threshold between farce and seriousness crosses over the territory of boredom. The question of whether or not the work fails to be boring is not a subjective one, but one of mechanics. Boredom is absolute continuity without interruption. Much art ꞌsucceedsꞌ by creating deficits and imaginary lacks that require supplemental investment by viewers. The viewer is asked to believe in themselves and the power of their experiential potential. Boredom, by contrast, negates this role. It is not that experiential potential is either reduced or built up yet unredeemed, but that it is rendered irrelevant. This would be the final logic of anti-aesthetics: the creation of an art the phenomenal experience of which would be either untenable or irrelevant. The positivity of boredom falls somewhere in here, as the materialization of the non-subjective as presentation without presence. His boring videos overtly play with the question of deficit and audience fulfillment, pointing to their functional aspect as qualia producing machines rather than as levers for the presentation of empirical discontinuity.
The fact that Kemp seems primarily concerned with knowing places him firmly on the side of the unbored. This counterpoint is one of the most basic elements of the works in the show with their rhetorical demand for an investment that functions as a signifier of the locus of knowledge. This is an investment of time and attention; an investment whose surfeit is demanded as the excess of attention correlated to the minimization of content. In other words, the show flaunts the luxury of wasting time in a period when attention deficit is increasingly being normalized. When this sort of delirium becomes socially widespread, to seek its proverbial other is to lurch into boredom as the exotic. But boredom is not so readily captured, perhaps because nothing is less capable of being captured. This is where the joke comes in. The joke reinforces the kind of investment which subverts boredom while retaining it as a spectre or exotic accoutrement.