SCREEN GUIDE: SETH PRICE CIRCA 1981

SCREEN GUIDE: SETH PRICE CIRCA 1981 is an exhibition of the American artist’s film and video work at the Institute of Contemporary Arts (until 07 JAN 2018). Here’s our writeup.

NOW SHOWING: SETH PRICE CIRCA 1981 at ICA (until 07 JAN 2018).
SETH PRICE CIRCA 1981 at ICA (until 07 JAN 2018).

SETH PRICE CIRCA 1981 takes over the entire Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA) building. Videos broadcast from the bookshop through the main gallery and into the cinema, cafe and upstairs spaces. There are screens on stands, on walls, hiding in corners, rolling on their backs like beached turtles and packed into boxes. There’s even a subterranean internet backroom (of sorts) where you can plug yourself into a Sony screen for some one-on-one intimacy.

The challenge is, where to begin? The main gallery – complete with 6 suspended screens, the aforementioned turtle (actually, a curved digital screen showing repurposed video of the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan) and another wall-mounted panel which rather heckles the rest – is a hectic place. We opted for the time-honoured tactic of heading away from the crowds to the solitude of the upstairs space: a chance to gain some valuable perspective.

REDISTRIBUTION is part of SETH PRICE CIRCA 1981 at ICA (until 07 JAN 2018).
REDISTRIBUTION (2007-ongoing) is part of SETH PRICE CIRCA 1981 at ICA.

“Welcome to the real world”

Upstairs there are two isolated works on 16mm projection loop. One, UNTITLED FILM/ RIGHT, is a silent digital sea, the other, UNTITLED FILM/ LEFT, a stitched together sampler of Price’s films. It feels like cinema so people sit and watch, bathed in reflected light. Programme notes illuminate further: RIGHT – the stock footage ‘waves’ were purchased from a digital production house; LEFT – Price ‘repackaged’ his own video works which might otherwise have been hidden behind the firewall of private ownership.

Heading back downstairs, there’s a monitor high up in a dark corner playing ROMANCE, a scrolling record of Price’s adventures in an open source version of a 1970s text-entry videogame. Unless you have a BLAIR WITCH-like fondness for standing in the corners of basements, the placing of this work makes it hard to engage with. Similarly, DIGITAL VIDEO EFFECT: ’SPILLS’ – a large CRT TV/DVD player still in its packaging – competes with its location. It features home-movie footage of artist Joan Jonas (coming soon to Tate Modern in 2018) that becomes contaminated by a digital ‘liquid spill’.

INDUSTRIAL SYNTH is part of SETH PRICE CIRCA 1981 at ICA (until 07 JAN 2018).
INDUSTRIAL SYNTH (2000) is part of SETH PRICE CIRCA 1981 at ICA.

“All the works of antiquity that didn’t survive”

The main room feels a lot like the installation of ANDY WARHOL’S FIFTEEN MINUTES at the Hayward Gallery* – multiple screens for you to plug in and engage. In a welcome nod to OCD folk, you can even bring your own (3.5mm jack) headphones. A good starting point is TRIUMF, another Reagan era flashback which has thunderous repercussions today.

“When was the last time you feel that we had a real President sitting in the Oval Office of the United States of America?”

Price performs this piece in character, a ‘manly’ woodcutter repeating his eulogy to the 40th President as if in a political campaign ad. Words repeat until they have no meaning. Irony is intentional.

Next door, INDUSTRIAL SYNTH is an unemptied digital trash of 1980s detritus, including more adventure games, graphics and animation. Further along, ‘PAINTING’ SITES is a slideshow of still images culled from the internet before ‘image search’ was actually a thing. Price presents the spoils of searches for the word ‘painting’ with a lush fairytale voiceover. High and low art, hi and lo resolution, are all tumbled together.

“They bloom like charnel flowers”

The backroom – a chamber off the main gallery space – hosts a series of screens featuring short-form ‘music videos’ primarily created and released on the internet. Abstracted from their original forms they feel akin to the National History Museum’s cases of skewered beetles. It’s the collection that stands out rather than the individual works. We were the only ones to enter this space, but the screened-off isolation appears intentional: “collective experience is now based on simultaneous private experiences”. According to Price, this is what we do now.

COPYRIGHT 2006 SETH PRICE is part of SETH PRICE CIRCA 1981 at ICA (until 07 JAN 2018).
COPYRIGHT 2006 SETH PRICE (2006) is part of SETH PRICE CIRCA 1981 at ICA.

“The door opens. You see Death at the threshold”

There’s a constant interplay between the flood of 1980s images and Price’s underpinning ideas about art as artefact. SETH PRICE CIRCA 1981 examines how art comes to be made, distributed, discarded, hoarded, categorised and discovered in the internet era. By re-editing his work – and repurposing the works of others – Price also tests ideas of completion and ownership. Is an artwork ever fixed or finished? Who owns the final version when it can be endlessly re-hacked and re-released? Is this borrowing or stealing, mashup or malicious theft?

Price’s soundtrack of synth-heavy gaming tracks, ludicrous voice overs and aggressive edits will worm these ideas into your brain. Take a cushion (the steps of the main gallery are far from forgiving…) and start searching.

FOLKLORE US is part of SETH PRICE CIRCA 1981 at ICA (until 07 JAN 2018).
FOLKLORE US is part of SETH PRICE CIRCA 1981 at ICA.

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*ANDY WARHOL: OTHER VOICES, OTHER ROOMS, 07 OCT 2008 – 18 JAN 2009, Hayward Gallery.

Featured images: Seth Price.

[Gallery photography by RADIANT CIRCUS].

Radiant Circus