Text & Interview: Alec Coiro
Photo: Olimpia Dior
Technology — it seems to me — is neither a gimmick nor clever formal choice for Mackenzie Younger. Rather it exists in his work because his work accurately reflects how deeply woven technology is in modern reality. Younger’s event on Canal Street is an apt example. The event, which he designates with old Yippie term, “happening,” consists of 3D-printed figures of his nude form. But the fact that they are 3D prints seems to me incidental. Where once people would react to the novelty of 3D printing, now a 3D print is just the most sensibly contemporary way of creating the disruptive effect of nude sculptures.
After Marshall McLuhan, no one even bothers questioning that the medium is the message. Perhaps McLuhan is considered infallible because he was in Annie Hall, and maybe that’s why there is such excitement about art that plays up a particular medium, like art that is a GIF or art that is handcrafted as a reaction against being a GIF. Younger, I think, has something to say, and uses technology to say it, but technology is not the point; the human condition is the point, and that condition is a steeped in technology. It’s a subtle but important distinction. Younger’s 2015 solo show PICTURES (which we discuss below) is an example of his investigation of the human condition in the. Younger recreated classic American paintings through the framing device of an iPhone camera. What it reflects is the reality of how art is received in 2015/2017. The museum experience is now mediated by the screen as museum goers capture the image and move on. Younger doesn’t pass judgment
The Canal Street happening is a fine way to take a look at the larger scope of what the young artist is thinking about. I threw out a few questions and reaped some very illuminating answers. Read on for the results.
I understand that the performance will take place on Canal Street and involve sculptures and the public’s reactions to the sculptures. Can you tell us a little about these sculptures, and what type of reaction you might expect them to illicit?
I’ll answer this question by first providing context to why these sculptures were created. So far my series Jackets has been very empowering. The actual jackets when worn publicly at art fairs and openings almost give you, as I’ve jokingly said with friends…’ super powers’. They make who ever wears them 10-times more interesting. People approach you, ask questions, take photos… the spectacle feels great, especially for creatives like me who go through long periods of quiet obscurity and then lust for activity, social expectancy, and public celebration. Clothes have always been deployed for social leverage but also reflect larger, more important cultural trends.
Based on this experience with the jackets, I wanted to create work that could act as a counterbalance and reflect my more personal feelings of insecurity, wanting and disempowerment. The sculptures; 3D printed figures placed in clear plastic bags are literal, scaled down versions of me. They relate to the jackets through a language of fashion and collectibles but more importantly in addressing commodity culture. As an artist, I’m faced with the conflict of becoming a commodity and how to sell it.
I expect people to see these sculptures as being provocative. Provocative because I’m naked. Nudity is used as tactic these days to build an audience via social media but nudity is also a very conservative and classical way to portray people in art. My use of scale and figure are tended to create mixed feelings. At the end of the day when the jackets come off we’re all naked, but yet it’s still outrageous. These pieces are intended to reflect my humanity, one of multitudes and conflict.
You qualified that it’s more of a “happening” than a performance. Can you elaborate on that distinction
I consider the appearance on canal street a happening because I have no intentions of it being a performance. A performance in my mind is more orchestrated, this is situational. I simply want to put the work into the public arena and see how people react. It will probably be very boring. But informative.
Your Jackets series is a very unique (and portable) commentary on the art institutions. Is it intended as a critique of the art world, or is it something different? Does the word “critique” imply a more negative connotation than you’re intending?
The actual jackets in the Jackets series are neither an assault or appraisal of the art world but an exercise in marketing aesthetics. I’m using them as way to explore ideas around ownership and play with the subconscious joy of recognition. I think it’s interesting that people find a negative “critique” in the work as if I had an agenda but the work communicates nothing negative, they are actually very celebratory. I believe there’s a pre-existing cynicism people have towards this archipelago of art establishments which the jackets sub consciously bring out. In this way the series is very anthropological.
Jackets seem at first glance to be a commentary on art, but it also touches on fashion and branding in general. How broad of a commentary are you trying to make? And how blurred do you see the lines between art, fashion, and branding in 2017?
Right now in 2017 fashion and branding are extremely important in self-promotion and social media. In regards to the art world and commentary the series Jackets makes… I’d want to say; cliche artists fail to hide how ‘fashions’ influence then and in general have bad taste. Intellectual artists have good taste, which they use to disguise the fact that they to copy trends and use ‘fashions’ in art to reinforce their value. I think the best artists make light of this, people of my generation like Chloe Wise and Jayson Musson.
You also recently had a solo exhibition at A+E STUDIOS called PICTURES that reproduces pre-20th-century paintings within the context of a smartphone’s camera. To what extent do you think technology has affected art both in terms of how it’s created and how it’s consumed?
It’s an excoriator. It makes art easier to consume and shit out. There’s more curators, collectors, advisors and of course artists watching each other, comparing and competing with each other. One thing I’ve learned as a young artists, which all like-minded, ambitious artists should know; the creative life is a marathon, not a sprint. Technology and instant gratification which we get everyday in the form ‘likes’, ‘follower’s’ and ‘comments’ are falsehoods, serving as viceroys to real value. Technology is a very important aspect of my work and I’m confused every day because of it.
Given the rapid pace of technological change and that the PICTURES show is now two years old, has your thinking about the subject matter changed since the exhibit?
The iPhone iconography in those paintings has already changed. The work was about history but also the present. Dates depicted in each piece indicated the moment I finished the painting, after that moment they became old.
Technology is a very important aspect of my work and I’m confused every day because of it.