Testing art through pornography

Ivars Gravlejs video ‘Mobile’ talks about an artist who goes to boring traditional exhibitions of contemporary art and forces his audience to look at pornographic pictures on his mobile. At the same time, he tries to persuade them that his pictures are more interesting than the actual exhibition. The artist communicates with the audience and at the same time records the action on video. The audience’s reactions are the most important aspect of this action. The visitors to the exhibitions indifferently roam around the galleries, look at the art with apathy and sip alcoholic drinks. Or they discuss things, which have nothing to do with the exhibition and therefore pay no attention to the exhibited art. Ivars nonchalantly addresses another ‘victim’ and politely asks him to look at what he did the previous day. In fact, he asks his ‘victim’ to look at something live and animated. He explains that for him it is more comprehensible than the exhibition itself. The ‘victim’ waits with interest for what he is about to see, while Ivars takes his time to look through his mobile to find the file. The phone has a small screen so the viewers have to look close. Some young people look embarrassed but show lively interest at the pornography they see in the mobile; they smile and want to know where he filmed it? At home, says Ivars. Someone says that he is lucky. Others look attentively at what goes on on the telephone screen. There are some who say that in comparison with the video in the mobile the exhibition is not interesting. They praise Ivars and say that the video is wonderful. Somebody advises Ivars to buy a telephone with a larger screen so it can be seen better. Some flinch from the screen at first, then they look closer again as though the mobile phone were a magnet. Elderly ladies are shocked; they turn red and run away. Others get indignant and ask him not to show the video to anyone, there are children at the exhibition! “There is nothing beautiful or unique in this! Aren’t you ashamed?” they sizzle. “Yes, I am a little ashamed sometimes!” Ivars replies dispassionately. “There is no place for things like this in galleries,” they say. “Go home and watch at it there!” More or less until the middle of the video we can tell that Ivars is probably showing people something improper. Then the threats by an employee of one of the galleries make it clear – we are dealing with pornographic pictures! Although we don’t see the actual pictures, we are still given with space for imagination and our own fantasy.

We understand that in this action the artist puts himself into a complicated reflexive position. He quite obviously stylises himself into a position of a madman and a pervert, which is confirmed by the scandalous end of the video, when security is called in and he is brutally thrown out of the gallery. He is chased out as a socially dangerous pervert. But then we immediately begin to see the following significant link – what actually happens is the absurd expulsion of a real action artist from the temple of art, while the boring, old-fashioned stuff still hangs on the walls. With his own harsh example, the artist is telling us that there is no place for contemporary art in galleries and that art now has to come out on the streets or the repressive society would chase it out there anyway with the means of a legitimate force. At the same time we notice that when an artist shows ‘his’ pictures at someone ‘else’s’ exhibition, it is though he was pervading another art space, installing the foreign element of porno into the art gallery context.

He appropriates the boring, snobbish activity of art openings as his own happening where he becomes the hero and all the visitors to the exhibition become participants at the action. Amusingly, many visitors agree with the artist that pornography is more interesting than boring exhibitions of stuffy art. All the artworks on the gallery walls also become a part of Ivars’ video installation.

It’s also noticeable that the artist himself performs a role in the performance - he is playing someone else. In fact, he plays several parts at the same time: a) radical action artist, b) naïve visitor to an opening, c) sexual deviant and d) stupid artist, who is comparing two types of art – official and unofficial, infantile and deprived. At the same time it looks as though Ivars tried to make the visitors to look at a radical action art, but nobody listened to him and nobody was able to find the key to the first and basic intent of the action itself.

Under the cover of the purported showing of the porno by a deviant we are presented with a kind of test of contemporary art through the means of a radical action, a ‘live test’. The main protagonist is hiding behind the mask of an idiot who doesn’t understand art. He is in fact parodying all the spectators to whom he shows his ‘pictures’.

Already the title of the project – Mobile – symbolically hints that someone is trying to make a contact to explain something. The breakdown of this communication is expected, normal and most symbolic.

Ivars Gravlejs made his video in several galleries and various exhibitions and it reflects what’s going on in the artist’s mind. The action reveals the impossibility of making a contact between the viewer and the actual artist. On the other hand, it shows how easy it is for a madman or an idiot to make such a contact. In fact, the spectators are not ready to perceive actual art but they are more interested in plain pornography. This work points out the problems of the relationship between an artist and a viewer so sharply that it could possibly be regarded as one of the most interesting projects of the art video genre of the last few years.

Alex Plucer-Sarno - an action artist and art critic
(from magazine"Fotograf" Nº11, 2008)