Again For Tomorrow at the Royal College of Art

By George Clark

martin-boyce.jpgMartin Boyce

At the centre of the exhibition Again For Tomorrow (17 March – 9 April), in a specially built auditorium, thickly carpeted in red, a show is about to take place. As the lights dim I catch the phrase Stories Are Propaganda spray-painted across the thick curtains before they are drawn. With the screen revealed the projection begins: images and sounds by Philippe Parreno and Rirkirt Tiravanija made while travelling through China, with a child’s voice providing the work’s narration:

“This is a journey through an infinite urban landscape... each scene refers to recent events, facts, stochastic situations. These scenes are like ghosts... They come back in different forms...”

Three teenagers plot a revolution in their room, cut images from magazines, cover the walls with subversive collages, make blood pacts... This series of events unfolds on three screens. The American teens are caught in by their artificial set, by their appropriated ideas. Alex Morrison’s Free Room (2004) turns the utopian rhetoric of Lindsey Anderson’s If... (UK 1968) re-enacted here, into a dry set of clichés. The legacy of 1968 traps and inhibits today’s young, it doesn’t set them free.

Amongst the undergrowth, carved into the crumbling plaster, demonic symbols still persist. The abandoned house depicted in Joachim Koester’s photographic series Morning of the Magicians (2005) is the Abbey of Thelema, the experimental den in Sicily used by Alistair Crowley to indoctrinate his followers. Here the dark arts have been overcome by nothing more than time and vegetation.

Another wall is covered in words and images in an attempt to map the world. The 1:1 Map by artists’ network Trama encourages the world to present itself in this collective mural. The map will be as complete as its contributors make it. In London as opposed to in Argentina, the group’s base, a very different world will be conjured.

stories-are-propaganda.jpgStories Are Propaganda

“...History is made of clouds of stories, stories which are told, invented, heard, and acted out...”

Sylvia Kristel, the figurehead of European erotic cinema, is allowed to shed her iconic image through the retelling of her life. Manon de Boer’s Sylvia Kristel (2003) is a beguiling film about the stories that rest beneath an image. While allowing Sylvia to return to her past aurally we see images from train windows cutting lines through modern-day Paris. This portrait in film is drawn into focus when Sylvia begins to tell the story of her life a second time, adding and taking away various details and realigning the chronology. It seems that only through the voice can you gain control over your life and sculpt it as you want.

A stark parallel to Kristel’s free floating life in Europe and America is found in the astounding trials undertaken by young Albanian Klodi to build his life and family, in the video by Adrian Paci. His detailed monologue is accompanied by a diagram marking his many and often illegal journeys. The drawing is made up simply from destinations and lines that link them together, ignoring the borders and differences that had to be continuously negotiated.

“...It’s hard to think about the present because the past always glows...”

A silver car winds through forest roads, looking like a reject from a sci-fi movie. Three men exit when it arrives at its destination, an abandoned organic structure in steel. It is Petrova Gora, an uncompleted WWII monument in Croatia. Scene for New Heritage (2004/06) by David Maljkovic depicts the gulf between the past and the present. The three men attempt to mediate with the building. Their calls, made up of a Croatian folk song, permeate the gallery, calling the past back to the present.

Beneath the main exhibition space can be seen other abandoned artefacts. The ominous sculptures of Martin Boyce re-configure modern designs: parasols, a dustbin and a deck chair. These abandoned and no longer useful objects appear as relics of a distant age, artefacts stripped of their humanity. The works imagine an ongoing development of modernism, where objects are freed from their obligation to humans.

“...Before music became our soundtrack. Before clothing became a costume. Before we start looking at the world as a standing stock of material. Before the word ‘tree’ did not mean ‘wood’”

This exhibition presents many attempts to order and construct information. It reflects the present struggle with the potential accessibility of the past: from the work that returns to previous figures or ideas to those attempts to find a bearing on the present through narratives and maps. Central to the exhibition is Stories Are Propaganda, which challenges the backward looking impulse by thrusting forward into the future and exploring the fastest growing economy in the world. Perhaps not surprisingly, the dark heart of the exhibition can be found in Parreno and Tiravanija’s film. Scrawled on a wall behind a snowman made from mud, is a response to these endeavours: ‘no amount of effort will save you from oblivion’.

Central quotations are from Stories Are Propaganda by Philippe Parreno and Rirkirt TiravanijaAgain For Tomorrow was curated by graduating students on the MA Curating Contemporary Art, Royal College of Art.

George Clark is a writer and curator based in London. His season Without Boundaries takes place in June at London’s ICA and explores Europe through artists’ film and video.