ART OF AD­DIC­TION

The New European - - Eurofile -

I’m watch­ing a video of a young man with a ci­garette in his mouth. It’s in ex­treme close-up. He blows smoke rings. They drift out of his mouth and then back in again. This is a 20-year-old art­work in a brand new space: Richard Billing­ham’s Tony Smok­ing Back­wards now part of Hooked, the first ex­hi­bi­tion at the Science Gallery Lon­don, at King’s Col­lege Lon­don, which looks into the com­plex world of ad­dic­tion.

Tony Smok­ing Back­wards was a con­tem­po­rary art­work then but now it feels like a relic, made in 1998, nine years be­fore the smok­ing ban took ef­fect, a mo­ment in cul­ture that the Daily Tele­graph lamented as “the end of

Bri­tain as a lib­er­tar­ian na­tion”. The right to get lung can­cer is, of course, part of our un­writ­ten con­sti­tu­tion.

The cat­a­logue text for Billing­ham’s video in­stal­la­tion de­scribes it as an ex­plo­ration of “the re­la­tion­ship be­tween bore­dom and ad­dic­tion”. The move­ment of the smoke rings is fas­ci­nat­ing. It’s easy to find your­self stand­ing watch­ing them for a long time. But as I do, I don’t find my­self think­ing about ad­dic­tion.

In­stead, the loop­ing footage be­comes al­most ab­stract. It’s a sense I had through­out Hooked. Mak­ing art about ad­dic­tion is dif­fi­cult be­cause ad­dic­tion is a vis­ceral thing for both the ad­dict and those around them. On the whole, the works in the ex­hi­bi­tion feel like in­tel­lec­tual com­men­tary upon a phe­nom­e­non, hold­ing the re­al­ity of it at arms length.

Hooked ex­plores ad­dic­tions of all kinds – from food to sex to drugs and al­co­hol. When I en­tered the up­stairs gallery, I had to step around the rem­nants of the lat­est ver­sion of Sugar Rush, a ta­ble made of sugar con­ceived by the de­sign stu­dio Ate­lier 010 and pro­duced in new edi­tions in the gallery space. The in­tent is to make you think about “our con­sumer-driven so­ci­ety” and wit­ness­ing the ta­ble dis­in­te­grat­ing might well do that. Look­ing at the af­ter­math, strewn teacups and dis­solv­ing sugar, left me crav­ing a choco­late di­ges­tive and a cup of tea (no sug­ars).

An­other Day on Earth (Pin Cush­ion) by the young Amer­i­can pho­tog­ra­pher, Olivia Locher, is more ar­rest­ing: A hand holds a melt­ing choco­late lolly cov­ered in brightly coloured push­pins, like a culi­nary in­vo­ca­tion of St An­thony shot through with ar­rows. The image, which fea­tures promi­nently in the ex­hi­bi­tion’s pub­lic­ity ma­te­rial, makes a sharp point – pun in­tended – about the in­ter­lock­ing re­la­tion­ship be­tween ad­dic­tion’s crav­ings and the suf­fer­ing pro­voked by giv­ing in to them.

A sec­ond image from the se­ries,

An­other Day on Earth (Marsh­mal­low Pants), is also fea­tured, though its vi­sion of a woman wear­ing tights stuffed with the con­fec­tionary feels de­cid­edly more

MIC WRIGHT finds plenty to pon­der in a new ex­hi­bi­tion ex­plor­ing the com­plex world of ad­dic­tion, even if it has less to say about more mod­ern vices

comic rather than some kind of in­dict­ment of our un­com­fort­able re­la­tion­ship with pro­cessed food.

Where Hooked touches on newer ad­dic­tions – to the in­ter­net, so­cial net­works and smart­phones – it’s least ef­fec­tive. Sisy­phus, a multi-screen video in­stal­la­tion by Es­mer­alda

Kos­matopou­los, is a set of bright­ly­coloured bat­tery in­di­ca­tors shown ris­ing and fall­ing. While it evokes our re­liance on the de­vices in our pock­ets, it can’t match the ridicu­lous real life dread of see­ing your smart­phone bat­tery drop into the red zone. Please Don’t Like This! by Jonah Brucker-co­hen feels sim­i­larly glib. De­scribed as “an ex­per­i­ment in how we per­ceive and act on so­cial me­dia vot­ing”, it is a web page fea­tur­ing a Face­book ‘Like’ but­ton and text that en­treats the viewer not to press it. That hu­mans will push but­tons they’re told not to doesn’t feel rev­e­la­tory, par­tic­u­larly to any­one who’s seen Char­lie and the Choco­late Fac­tory.

The Abyss by Fabio Lat­tanzi Anti­nori is the most ef­fec­tive of the ex­hibits fo­cused on the on­line world: A shiny black poly­he­dron on a stand, its screen dis­plays phrases used to sell cheap goods on ebay and Ama­zon com­bined with pleas­ing syn­onyms and the most-used ad­jec­tives from the past 20 years of ad­ver­tis­ing in sharp red text. Sev­ered from the ob­jects they were de­scrib­ing, the cou­plets be­come like com­mer­cial prayers, more des­per­ate in their at­tempts to per­suade with no vi­su­als to sup­port them. That the sculp­ture it­self is so lux­u­ri­ous while dis­play­ing words pre­vi­ously tied to cheap ob­jects only en­hances the ef­fect.

Still, it is the per­sonal tes­ti­mony about ad­dic­tion that is most likely to stay with you when you leave Hooked. Me­lanie Man­chot’s Twelve is an­other video in­stal­la­tion, fea­tur­ing 12 peo­ple from Liver­pool, Ox­ford and Lon­don, who were in re­cov­ery from sub­stance abuse, who con­trib­uted their per­sonal writ­ten and oral tes­ti­monies to the work. While Man­chot in­jects a layer of ar­ti­fice into the process, ref­er­enc­ing scenes from films by di­rec­tors such as Gus Van Sant and Michael Haneke, it’s the ex­hi­bi­tion’s most di­rect ex­pres­sion of what ad­dic­tion and re­cov­ery ac­tu­ally in­volve.

It is per­haps un­sur­pris­ing that the artis­tic re­sponses to drug and al­co­hol ad­dic­tion are the most pow­er­ful in

Hooked and that those that try to ex­plore more mod­ern com­pul­sions are the least. While it’s eas­ier for the me­dia to get ex­or­cised about more novel folk demons – chil­dren ad­dicted to play­ing Fort­nite or adults push­ing their fam­i­lies into penury through on­line gam­bling – on­line and tech­no­log­i­cal ad­dic­tions can feel very flat when they’re tack­led by art. The smart­phone era only prop­erly be­gan in 2007, when Steve Jobs un­veiled the iphone, and in the 11 years since, hand­wring­ing about the hold the tech­nol­ogy in our hands has over us al­ready feels a lit­tle passé. It’s why Daniel Mal­lory Ort­berg was able to mem­o­rably dis­miss Char­lie Brooker’s techn­odystopian hor­ror se­ries, Black Mir­ror, as “what if phones, but too much?”

There’s a sense that while aca­demics and pol­i­cy­mak­ers are still strug­gling with the im­pli­ca­tions of the smart­phone and ubiq­ui­tous in­ter­net con­nec­tions, for most, re­liance on those tech­nol­ogy

feels mun­dane. We’re al­most wait­ing for the next ad­dic­tion: Kids lost to this re­al­ity and yolked to their VR head­sets, a new breed of base­ment dweller never see­ing the light as they’re too drunk on the de­lights of their sex ro­bots, acolytes of cy­borg surgery slowly slip­ping from hu­man to ma­chine. But that’s a long way off – none of those things are nearly ad­vanced enough to truly be ad­dic­tive yet.

Al­co­hol, drugs, sex, spend­ing and gam­bling are far more en­trenched in our so­ci­ety than tech­no­log­i­cal ad­dic­tions. In fact, most of our new con­cerns are sim­ply sped up ver­sions of the old vices, a faster way to get a fix. And we’re a lot less will­ing to tackle the more fa­mil­iar ad­dic­tions. Cig­a­rettes are far less so­cially ac­cept­able than they were even in 1998 – which is what makes Billing­ham’s work feel like a pe­riod piece – but de­spite a dip in drink­ing among the younger gen­er­a­tion, al­co­hol isn’t go­ing any­where.

Would it be le­gal to­day if it were new­ly­dis­cov­ered? It seems very un­likely, but the drug we drink is so en­sconced into the cul­ture and economies of west­ern so­ci­ety that vi­o­lence, ad­dic­tion and suf­fer­ing is priced in. It’s far eas­ier for health sec­re­tary Matt Han­cock to talk tough about set­ting so­cial me­dia time lim­its for chil­dren, as he did re­cently, than deal­ing with drugs, drink or even sugar.

The idea of shut­ting your­self off from your sur­round­ings didn’t ar­rive with the in­ter­net or the smart­phone; that’s one rea­son that the Walk­man was such a global suc­cess. Go back much, much fur­ther and, in the 18th cen­tury, there was a pro­found moral panic over the novel, this dan­ger­ous, cheap and eas­ily ac­ces­si­ble prod­uct with nar­cotic ef­fects on con­cen­tra­tion and imag­i­na­tion. But it was when the things that de­manded our at­ten­tion be­came screens that news­pa­pers re­ally got wor­ried about the po­ten­tial for ad­dic­tion – first tele­vi­sion, then com­put­ers, now smart­phones – fun­nily enough all things that stole eye­balls from the tra­di­tional press.

Hooked raises plenty of ques­tions – par­tic­u­larly the work which fore­grounds the voices of ad­dicts or, like Yoha’s

Data­base Ad­dic­tion, Ta­ble of Ta­bles, shows the data be­hind the dis­eases – but it also left me want­ing some more de­fin­i­tive state­ment on our mod­ern ad­dic­tions.

There must be an artist out there some­where who can give us a vi­sion of so­cial me­dia, on­line gam­bling and gam­ing ad­dic­tions that could match the greasy hor­ror of Hog­a­rth’s Beer Street and Gin Lane prints. They’re prob­a­bly al­ready on In­sta­gram.

The Hooked ex­hi­bi­tion and sea­son of events runs un­til Jan­uary 6 at the Science Gallery Lon­don. Visit Lon­don. sci­ence­gallery.com/hooked

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2 AR­REST­ING: 1 An­otherDay on Earth (Pin Cush­ion) 2012 © Olivia Locher2 AGAIN © Lawrence Epps (2)3 SugarRush - Ate­lier 101 © Caren Huyge­len

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