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The De- and Dis- of Everything

December 5, 2009 Artists No Comments

 

Jacko Restikian's Made in China series "Aleatory performance interaction with installation" (Oct 2009) (Courtesy of the Artist)

I like art that makes me think.  The art of Jacko Restikian makes me think.

In 1917, the Society of Independent Artists in New York City held an exhibition.  Marcel Duchamp entered Fountain (a urinal) – one of his first ready-mades (his first was Bicycle Wheel, 1913).  Of even greater significance, Duchamp did not sign the urinal with his own name.  Instead, he signed it “R.Mutt”.  Of the work, Duchamp stated: “Whether Mr. Mutt with his own hands made the fountain or not has no importance, he CHOSE it.”

For Duchamp, art was not the manifestation of the artist’s original creation, but rather the manifestation of the artist’s idea.  Similarly, in signing his name “R.Mutt”, Duchamp openly brought into question the authenticity of “creator”.  Since the conception of Fountain, the deconstruction (and reconstruction) of originality and the value an artist’s name confers upon an artwork has been an ongoing exploration by many artists.  Two of the most recent and notorious examples of artists who have explored these concerns are Gavin Turk and Damien Hirst.  Gavin Turk’s English Heritage Plaque memorializing his presence as a sculptor when he was, as yet, an unknown artist, is now a familiar story as is the fact that some of Hirst’s best Spot Paintings were done by one of his assistants, Rachel Howard.

Jacko Restikian is yet another artist who explores the concepts of originality and authorship within the artistic context.  His Made in China series openly questions mass production versus original creation.  The title, alone, signifies the universally recognized definition of  de-identification – the mass production of “stuff” by nameless, faceless individuals who the Western world neither sees nor thinks about.  In the case of Restikian, however, originality and authorship are not the focus but rather the starting point from which to examine the more complex, albeit interconnected, issues of displacement.   For Restikian, displacement is not only on the artistic front, but on the personal and political front as well.

On the personal level, Restikian struggles with the uncertainty of identity.  On the surface is his dual connection to both Lebanon and Canada.  On a deeper level, dual-citizenship becomes intertwined with a political duality – the history of Lebanon’s war with Israel echoed within the broader context of what has happened to Canada’s Northern indigenous communities following the implementation of neo-liberal policies;  Policies which have seen the systematic erosion of a traditional way of life in favour of a more Western-influenced approach.   Erode a culture, erode an identity.

Comprised of various performances, Restikian’s latest Made in China series (exhibited at the Université de Quebec’s gallery) is not afraid to explore and push the de- and dis- of everything to the limit.  In the ultimate physical act of creator disconnected from his art, Restikian leans against a stack of empty, made in China canvases.  On top of his head, more empty canvasses.

Jacko Restikian's Made in China performance, 2009

Whether this is meant to symbolize the mass production of ‘”anonymously signed” art in China (often seen in tourist centres around the world where a picture of the Eiffel tower will be signed by a French name and a picture of the Leaning Tower of Pisa will be signed by an Italian name) is unclear.  What is clear is that art, in the hands of Restikian, is systematically stripped of all its assumptions.  Art is not an enlightened idea but is, instead, a commodity that can be sold for a dollar a canvas (this is what Restikian sold his white canvasses for);  Art is not an original work created by a great mind but is, instead, a mass produced item that anyone can put their interpretation to (Restikian invited an actor to impersonate him).  To quote Restikian: “The user is a producer of the culture.  The user invents, inflects, and distorts by using the cultural products”.

As such, art is not one person’s interpretation of an event but is, instead, a filtered down interpretation depending on who is interpreting and who is using (the actor Restikian hired for the evening also answered all questions pertaining to the work of Restikian).

The de-identification, the dis-placement and even physical de-socialization is something that is part of our facebook world. Artists, through history,  have been looking at the effects of changes in society on people.  Jacko Restikian makes us look at these issues today.

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