An exhibition by Allen Grubesic promises a thought-provoking moment of clarity for people familiar with his work and those new to it. Stripping messaging back to its core essence is the nature of Grubesic’s practice. By focusing his energy on dissecting the very nature of communication and image making, Grubesic engineers works that are both politically relevant and visceral. Many artists aspire to provoke a personal questioning of the times in which we live. Few do manage to do it with such precision.
Grubesic doesn’t waste time or effort on avoiding categorisation. Text and sculptural objects are the main tools he uses to provoke an immediate emotional response in his audience that is certain to be followed by a cascade of connotations and interpretations. Grubesic playfully caricatures himself and his work so that it is visible in a world obsessed with packaging easy answers. Whether the works provoke a smile or a ‘WTF?’ response, the artist knows how to get your attention, and sustain it with poetic refinement.
Conspiracy Theory is a collection of 20 text-based hand screen-printed panels, placed in a random matrix to form a strategic messaging model that can be rearranged to create new hierarchies of ‘unexplained’ acronyms. It is data visualisation and big data gone analogue. The acronyms are iconic, modern-day hieroglyphics. Each familiar set of letters fronts a sinister background conspiracy theory. Your eyes and mind flitter back and forth between ‘CIA’ to ‘NSA’ to ‘HIV’ and back again, subliminally throwing up a plethora of associations. Our understanding of these commonly used acronyms is shaped by their representation in media.
Each ‘conspiracy theory’ is topical. The acronyms have been carefully chosen to balance precariously on the edge of ambiguity, hence the random placement. Each acronym is connected through association with its neighbours in the grid. You may associate the acronym WTF with ‘Wikileaks Task Force’ – but WTF is still the perfectly adequate and appropriate response. Does PDA represent ‘Public Display of Affection’ or ‘Personal Digital Assistant’? Both are equally poignant. The former can get you thrown out of a restaurant and into a prison – if you are gay. The latter is the major driver of a society that allows this happen, whilst giving us some semblance of personal freedom and choice as globally connected citizens. What was once considered ‘conspiracy theory’ is now widely accepted as fact.
The shift in ‘transparency’ is relatively very recent but also ongoing. The speed of media consumption is increasing at an exponential rate along with connectivity. We have reached a tipping point where the easiest way to disarm an idea is to ignore it and let it into the oblivion of history. In a hyper-connected world 3 minutes ago is history. Our personalized #WTF messages are continuously regurgitated into a diminishing ‘public’ realm as shared content. As Grubesic points out with Conspiracy Theory, this is not random, it is considered. A self-perpetuating system of self-imposed censorship is the ultimate Conspiracy Theory.
But it isn’t all gloom and doom. Grubesic’s sculptural works range from the strangely sexual Staring at the sun to the more humorous yet equally engaging Frying pans. Awareness, when coupled with humour, can liberate us from the banal. Grubesic’s work is thought provoking but it’s also a lot of fun. He uses the most efficient means possible to deliver an immediate emotional punch, but he always leaves you enough space to mediate your own relationship to the image you are confronted with.
The energy of the work is carefully weighed and harnessed so that it is an important part of your experience without being dominating. In Frying pans, the commentary shifts. The pans are imported ‘readymades’, but on closer inspection you can see they have been carefully sandblasted. Oversized cartoon-like eggs are manufactured with finesse; the plasticised matt finish is tactile and seductive. The image may be appropriated and amusing, but the production process is complex and considered. As representations of ceaseless and excessive production and consumption Frying pans is both obscene and refined.
Grubesic is obviously at home in the field of production he is participating in. Humour, detachment and critical thinking are all part of his practice. But his work is not cynical or bombastic. Grubesic humbly invites us to stand alongside him as critics and perpetrators of the culture we all share – with large amounts of wit and generosity.
About the artist.
Allen Grubesic (b. 1974) graduated from The Royal Institute of Art in Stockholm in 2003. He uses text, print, photography and sculptural objects to analyse and deconstruct messages that epitomise the contradictory nature of popular culture.
Grubesic has had solo shows at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Zagreb, Natalia Goldin Gallery in Stockholm, Alida Ivanov Gallery in Stockholm, Charles Bank Gallery in New York, and most recently at Niclas Belenius Gallery in Stockholm. His work has been exhibited at Kunstlerhaus Bethanien, Berlin, The Modern and National museums of Stockholm as well as Tensta Konsthall, Kiasma in Helsinki, Bibliotheca Alexandria in Egypt, Lautom Contemporary in Oslo, Laviola Banks Gallery in New York, and Maria Stenfors Gallery in London.
Allen Grubesic is represented by Gallery Niklas Belenius, Stockholm and is currently showing at Oslo Kunstföreningen.