In Design and Crime, art historian and critic Hal Foster states that, at our time when aesthetics and utilitarianism are being subsumed into commercialism, everything – from architectural projects to art exhibitions, from genes to jeans – seems to be considered as design in a world driving towards cultural in-distinction. Featuring the work of Corey McCorkle and Stefan Brüggemann alongside highly recognized artists Ai Weiwei, Jason Rhoades and Rita McBride, the exhibition United Technologies will explore the relationships between art, design, architecture, nature and technologies, dealing with notions such as the decorative versus the practical and humanism versus corporatism. Against the highly symbolic background of Lismore Castle’s history and environment, the artists’ tribute to the formal legacy of minimal art is entangled with a critical rereading of the modernist doctrine through the use of objects, references, materials and shapes belonging to our daily environment, which they take out of their utilitarian context.
Rita McBride’s sculptures provide an illusion of potential use, which in turn enlightens the fictional and critical power of the hi-jacked materials and forms featured in her work. Kells belongs to the series of Templates Rita McBride turned into large-scale celebrations of an engineering tool which fell out of use with the development of design software, hence displacing those remains of an obsolete technology into the field of aesthetic commodities it was supposed to assist in producing. The Mae West Templates series was designed by the artist itself in reference to a monumental sculpture she created for the new Effnerplatz in Munich in 2002, leading to a public controversy that was finally resolved when the sculpture received the name of the iconic actress Mae West. Mae West’s story was turned into a book Rita McBride is co-writing with novelist Mathew Licht, blurring the frontiers between public debate, art criticism and fiction and pursuing the artist’s exploration of the political value involved in these various territories. As such, her Wall divides the space in two, between the illusion of nature given by the high-resolution photograph of an old Irish wall and the wooden structure that underlines the power of Spectacle allied with technical reproducibility.
Using extremely precious materials such as ancient wood or porcelain, Ai Weiwei also plays on the symbolic value of savoir-faire and craft industry in the context of global economy and exchanges, while questioning the appropriation of heritage and the permanence of tradition. One Ton of Tea, a one square meter cube made of one ton of compressed black tea, is both a bitter-sweet homage to Minimal sculpture and the self-referentiality of Conceptual art and an evocation of past and present relationships between Orient and Occident, in a dialectic of economic and symbolic powers of which art is a symptomatic illustration. Abiding this dialectic, the porcelain-made Oil Spills threaten to pollute the preserved territory of Lismore Castle: the artistic and economical value of their material serves as a luxurious setting for the evocation of the financial and political stakes around the black gold.
The concept of growth is assumed in Jason Rhoades monumental, process-oriented installations like Perfect World, be it through references to consumerism, the human body or his father’s garden that are as many metaphors of a recreated self-sufficient model of the universe. Parts of this mega-sculpture will be shown in United Technologies. A forest of aluminium tubes (inspired by Duchamp’s installation Sixteen Miles of String for the Surrealist exhibition of 1942 in New York) seemingly growing rampant like an Asian bamboo or a string scaffolding method will invade Lismore Castle’s gallery. Industrial materials and machines such as scanners, printers, computers, monitors or film projectors were not used by Rhoades as metaphorically charged but because they were the most suitable as construction elements. View From Above is a fragment of the upper level of the installation, which offered a concrete picture of a real, existing territory: Jason Rhoades’ father’s garden in California, which the artist reproduced by means of thousands of analog and digital photographs he took himself and then enlarged to an almost 1:1 format during the exhibition in order to convey the impression of a system becoming ripe, literally and physically fruitful.
Corey McCorkle’s work, nourished with references to practical, constructed Utopias such as the Scottish Findhorn community – connecting ideas of deep-ecology, communal reciprocity with plants, and spiritually inspired design – finds an inspiring breeding ground in Lismore Castle’s agricultural auto-sufficiency and the legacy of its 19th century architect Joseph Paxton. Especially for the United Technologies exhibition, the artist will produceDandelion Wine after an ancient recipe, ironically celebrating the same weed that threatens to crowd out cultivated plants, which are the pride of Lismore Castle’s gardens. The audience will be invited to a ritual harvesting in June, before a process of fermentation that will last 9 months during which empty glass bottles especially designed by the artist and adorned with Lismore Castle’s heraldic symbols will be shown in the galleries, waiting to be filled. Corey McCorkle also plans to design seven wooden canes with a motif inspired by 19th century Decorative Arts. Covered with gold leaf, they will lean against the walls of the gallery, waiting for visitors to take one out for support during their stroll in the gardens.
Stefan Brüggemann’s installation presents a conundrum by referring us to the decorative presence of a concept: the words Conceptual Decoration are printed on silver wallpaper that Covers the space in its entirety, and so becomes a background for other works. Concepts, however, are not usually held as being decorative; indeed, their physical manifestation is at most secondary to their meaning. The work emphasizes the link between appearance and idea, or signifier and signified by permitting the implicit or explicit attributes of one thing to resonate with the other. At the same time, Stefan Brüggemann brings something of the richness of the embellishment of Lismore Castle back into the gallery. The “moiré” effect of the repeated ten-point registration of the words provides an interference pattern that jolts the eye. Here, the artist uses the bourgeois decadence of surface decoration to highlight the “appearance” of the concept. By melding together the idea and its physical embodiment, their irreconcilable differences are exposed: looking and meaning are inextricably shackled together as they are unable to function without each other.
United Technologies’ narration pays a tribute to the history of Decorative Arts and famous theoreticians such as Adolf Loos, William Morris and Augustus Pugin, who incidentally designed the furniture for Lismore Castle. Their disputes about the relationship between the Beautiful and the Use relied on their activity as architects, designers, engineers or artists and were connected to the social and political realities of their time. If the artists participating in United Technologies should in no way be arbitrarily considered as their direct hairs, their work seeks to explore the same multi-layered relationships while underlining the cultural and socio-economical flows and practices interconnected within the idea of public space. The exhibition title could have been borrowed from one of these multinational conglomerates which claim for continuous improvement and comfort for consumers by spreading high technology products all over the world. In Design and Crime again, Hal Foster quotes the American designer Bruce Mau who wrote with Life Time a candid praise for a wholly designed world: “In this environment, the only way to constitute a true capital is adding a value: wrapping the product in intelligence and culture. The apparent product, the object attached to the transaction, is not the real product at all. The real product is from now on intelligence and culture”. In response to that context, United Technologies will reflect upon the status, the value and the destination of the work of art as part of a network of material and immaterial economies.