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Mark Leckey in a Long Tail World

by Jonathan Griffin

I can’t bear it when artists use technologically advanced digital media to talk about the advancement of digital technology. All those web-based projects and interactive gizmos that are finger-grubby and unresponsive when you come across them in a gallery just don’t do it for me. Thank heavens for Mark Leckey, who used a blackboard and a stick of chalk to illustrate the phenomenon of ‘The Long Tail’ at the ICA last weekend.

The event was part-lecture, part-performance, part-experimental son et lumiere show. Its subject and title were taken from the term Chris Anderson coined to describe the way that the internet caters for the desires of an infinitely long tail of consumers with minority interests who trail behind (but ultimately exceed) the swollen head of the mainstream. Leckey is interested in this well-discussed area, it seems, because of its ramifications for the way in which we fulfil our libidinal desires (when everything is apparently available), and because of the socio-economic possibilities it opens up for communities of people who cut out the middle-man (the distributor) and freely share and exchange data – the new currency – between themselves.

In fairness, Leckey’s media were not limited to just the blackboard (which actually swung dramatically around on hinges at each side). At one point he even attempted to demonstrate the technique used to create the first television broadcast – an image of a figurine of Felix the Cat, turning slowly on a turntable. A homemade contraption consisting of perforated wheels and projected light began to spin, and with a bit of hesitation (and some distinctly fishy tapping on a laptop keyboard) a shaky grey image of Felix did indeed fade into view on a projection screen.

If this ‘abracadabra’ moment did seem to be somewhat over-concerned with effect rather than authentic method, so too did moments later on when Leckey began to race through his script so excitedly that it wasn’t clear whether even he fully grasped the finer points of his material, let alone his audience. However this was partly the point: the evening was (sometimes literally) concerned with smoke and mirrors, with the magic of things appearing and disappearing. Leckey began with a reading of Charles Sirato’s Dimensionist Manifesto (1936) which observed how literature was leaving the line and entering the plane, painting was leaving the plane and entering space, sculpture was stepping into the fourth dimension and finally proposing a ‘completely new art form’: ‘matter-music’, the result of ‘the vaporisation of sculpture’. While he gestures towards the fulfilment of Sirato’s projection, I think Leckey takes too much pleasure in the world of objects to go the whole way. The climax of the show was a huge inflatable head of Felix the Cat that loomed over the blackboard at the back of the stage, in a mist of dry ice.  Sometimes you just can’t beat a bit of old-fashioned stagecraft.

Mark Leckey in a Long Tail World (2009)
Performance at the ICA, London
Photographs: Mark Blower

About the author

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    Jonathan Griffin is a contributing editor of frieze and a freelance writer living in Los Angeles.