“Things that gather cannot be thrown at you like objects.”
-Bruno Latour, 2004¹
I published my last post on boxes from the Nottingham Contemporary café. Beyond being a rather banal statement on what still strikes me as the remarkable portability of today’s technological age, I wanted to begin this post with that admission because moments after, I walked upstairs to see The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things, an Hayward Touring exhibition curated by the British artist Mark Leckey. These two activities – writing a blog post, and one specifically about the unsettling and categorically suspect presence of boxes as sculptural things, and seeing an exhibition described by Leckey as a Tumblr page or Google Image search come to life – became, in my mind, perfect complements. At the heart of the exhibition is a profound questioning of what it means to bring something “to life,” the ways that technology animates seemingly inanimate things, and how things shape our understanding of the world in which we live.
Mark Leckey won the Turner Prize in 2008 and is primarily known for his video pieces, but he often speaks of his practice in sculptural terms, as an artist whose primary concern lies in objects and their power as things. During a lecture at the University of Nottingham-Trent shortly after the exhibition opened, Leckey frequently spoke of totems and fetishes, of technology as a tool of transformation that constantly shifts things between registers, between two and three dimensions. He described a simultaneous fascination and terror in how “smart objects” – the iPhone that “talked” with my computer giving it internet access on a cafe patio, for example, or iPads that can control the climate of your home from across the world – are irreversibly changing how we interact with and understand not just the virtual world but the physical world. These objects will, and already have, altered how we think about things, especially sculptural things.
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