Saturday, 8 September 2012

Art: Die Plankton @ The North Bar, Leeds, October 2008

I read a recent article in Leeds magazine No-Title which described Die Plankton as ‘enigmatic nihilists’ – this could not be further from the truth. In an age where painting seems to fall into the categories of mild titillation, high theory or shit-smearish abstraction, seeing Die Plankton’s digital art on display in the North Bar, Leeds was a breath of fresh air: sometimes funny, sometimes satirical, sometimes poignant and sometimes just plain weird.

To those not familiar with Die Plankton, they are an art collective who perform avant-garde improvised music, create digital art, and it appeared that the night I was there they were DJing a set featuring mainly unrecognisable experimental music (I think I heard some Can, Kraftwerk and Wooden Shjips in there). But I’m not here to review their music or DJing abilities; this is about their exhibition.

The first thing that struck me about the images was that they seemed to subvert curatorial convention. Approximately 20 pieces (all A4 size, except for one large canvas) were arranged across the wall, most of them displayed crooked, in cheap frames, with no sense of order or effort to create something consistent for the eye to follow from one work to the next - perhaps after a few beers this doesn’t make a difference anyway, but sober it created a sense of naivety and almost childlike wonder.

All of the images on display make a nod to the early pioneers of digital art such as Laurence Gartel and revolve around the characterisation of their logo: a simple line image of a one-eyed plankton – Bauhaus in execution – a perfect piece of German design. The subject matter of these images is what makes them important as works of art. They are intertextual in nature – they draw reference from the world around them, taking swipes at and paying homage to a range of subjects from video games and literature, to the construction of pop-cultural ‘scenes’ and racial prejudices.

At first glance, many of the works look as if they were knocked together in about five minutes on Microsoft Paint. A closer inspection of the works reveals, however, that many of them are actually a highly skilled set of images produced probably using Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro – they deceive you into thinking that they are simplistic and childish, when on the contrary they are skilfully produced and intelligently executed.

I was talking to a friend about the work on display; she said that although she found them funny, she didn’t consider them ‘art’ because they weren’t ‘serious’. I’m sure the readers of Art Fist will disagree with me on this, but to me art is about communicating emotive effects to its spectators – humour is as valid a tool as any.

The only work on display which can be considered anomalous was a large canvas, separate to the rest of the exhibits on a different wall. The canvas had poorly-executed potato prints of the logo in various colours and various types of paint. Echoing the composition of Warhol’s repeated portraits and Hirst’s dot paintings this work answered any of their critics with a big ‘fuck you’, I read it as a joke aimed at aimed at those who would criticise Die Plankton’s art on the grounds that their other work is not easily identifiable as painting and therefore not valid as an art form – very clever, very witty.

Die Plankton then, are not the ‘enigmatic nihilists’ referred to by No-Title - they are a collective of like-minded iconoclasts who use humour and absurdity to positive ends - ends which have a real sense of genuine fun and political purpose.

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