Banners, posters and installations by Oliver Ressler & David Thorne
“If only” is the frustrated utopian refrain of Oliver Ressler and David Thorne’s absurdly dysfunctional URL addresses collectively titled “Boom!”. Utilizing this ubiquitous textual format of the “new economy,” “Boom!” rehearses the defense mechanisms of the neoliberal imagination as it confronts its own internal crises. The acknowledged incompleteness implied by “if only” situates these texts somewhere between a guilty confession, a plea of desperation, and an ideological strategy session. The texts set for themselves the task of neutralizing the “problems” – the dislocated and potentially antagonistic groups engendered by the free market – that threaten the realization of the utopian ideal, implicitly embodied by the owners of capital. But Boom!’s utopian address deliberately fails to elicit from the viewer a positive identification with its purported message, having gone too far in specifying the contents of the universal “freedom” to which it aspires. This failure of identification thus displaces the locus of the “problem” from those constructed as the threatening “outside” of the capitalist utopia to the exclusionary, crisis-ridden grounds of that utopia itself.
Originally designed for use as banners in anticapitalist demonstrations, Ressler and Thorne’s texts reject the handmade, organic aesthetics of most conventional protest art. Instead, they share with earlier postmodern artists such as Barbara Kruger the appropriation of the graphic conventions of marketing to disrupt the smooth functioning of everyday forms of consumerist identification. But Ressler and Thorne’s texts also bear a specific historical relation to the URL format, reinvesting it with traces of social divisions linked to the digital economy, of which the dot-com address has been a key visual and textual component. In the wake of the speculation-driven Internet bubble, the phrase “dot-com” already appears as an artifact of a ruined utopia, testimony to the destructive boom-bust cycle inherent to deregulated markets. (Yates McKee, On Counterglobal Aesthetics; text from the catalogue: “Empire/State: Artists Engaging Globalization”, Whitney Museum of American Art, Independent Study Program Exhibition, New York, 2002)
The piece ”terror.gov” was realized as an issue-specific intervention for a window installation at Gallery 825 in Los Angeles within the ongoing project ”Boom!”. ”terror.gov” focuses on a present moment in the USA that could be called a ”state of exception,” a moment in which a discourse of terror seeks to foreclose – or suspend – certain kinds of political articulation, space and thought. Materially, this state of exception takes the form of directives, policies, and legislation which grant broad powers to the executive and the judiciary, and to intelligence, law enforcement, and other security apparatuses. In another sense, the state of exception has the effect of making contestatory modes of political engagement extremely difficult, since the discourse of terror relies on a rhetoric of potentiality or possibility (the potential of the unknown or the unpredictable, the possibility of future terrorist acts) in order to justify repressive measures and reciprocal acts of terror. In the name of security, ”anything goes,” and opposition to such measures is considered a kind of treachery. ”terror.gov” suggests thinking toward a space of potentiality, or possibility, that is not always only the possibility of terror, from whatever source.
The url text of the piece reads (without spaces):
www. if only people would stay locked into the threat matrix and never stop to consider the fact that the scenario in which terror is met with terror on every front is dangerously and some might say deliriously circular then they would be immediately forthcoming with every penny necessary to sustain the burn rate for ongoing military and economic operations which secure a comfortable living for a select few and condemn everyone else to oblivion while still managing to convince them of the promise that such a comfortable life could one day be theirs even though they should simply be happy that at least there is more than enough terror to go around .gov
Versions of “Boom!” have been presented in exhibitions at CCA Glasgow (GB, 2005), Ottawa Art Gallery (CAN, 2005), Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth (NZ, 2005), Kunsthalle Wien, permanent installation at Karlsplatz, Vienna (2004), Dunkers Kulturhus, Helsingborg (S, 2003), Gallery 825, Los Angeles (2003), Whitney Museum of American Art Independent Study Program Exhibition, New York (2002), Los Angeles Contemporary Exhibitions, LA (2002), World-Information.Org, Amsterdam (NL, 2002), Kunst Raum Goethestrasse, Linz (A, 2002), Kunsthalle Exnergasse, Vienna (A, 2001 and 2004) and others.
“Boom!” banners were part of demonstrations against the World Economic Forum in New York, January 2002 and Salzburg, September 2002.
Inserts have been realized for the magazines Malmoe 07/2002, Afterimage 07/2002 and the “Tester” book (2004).