State Troopers to Satanists, William Kherbek reviews the first survey exhibition of the duo’s work at Carroll / Fletcher, London
In the city where I grew up, I used to hang out in this ‘old-man’ bar. One of the other people who made the choice of this life was a fellow lovingly nicknamed ‘Crack Head Larry’. One evening after Crack Head Larry had unwound a bit, he told me a few facts about his life, among them, that I wouldn’t believe how powerful his legs were, and that he considered himself to be the Anti-Christ. In the intervening years, I’ve seen Internet videos suggesting the contrary – that is, Obama or chat show host Oprah Winfrey are in fact the Beast. I recount this charming little anecdote on occasion of the work of Jon Thomson and Alison Craighead at Carroll / Fletcher, London. The Thomson and Craighead show reminded me that the Internet is in fact the world’s largest bar stool, and that once you settle in, it’s only a matter of time before people start imparting their most deeply held beliefs to you.
I’ve heard that there are cultures where there are no equivalent words for the English word “belief”. But Thomson & Craighead’s video, entitled Belief, does make me wonder if this is another one of those myths, like “Eskimos have 50 words for snow”, or that Arabic has no word for “compromise”. In the video, fairy fantasists queue up beside suicide cult leaders at an Internet speakeasy, a video compass on the floor spins to place the video geographically in the world. It’s one of those works where you think, “Okay, I’ve got this” after two minutes, before you happen to realise you’ve watched the whole video from start to finish. Needless to say, at the end there’s the obligatory Satanist describing what Satanism means to him.
As an survey exhibition, you see a lot of evolution, and a lot of undigested material. For me, a highlight is Trigger Happy, a modified video game work in which a Foucault essay takes the place of aliens on a hacked video screen from the game Invaders. You can destroy the text with your intergalactic shooting prowess. Take that, otherness.
Trooper, from 1998 – a banner year for Thomson and Craighead – is another key piece. An eerie work centred on a State Trooper pulling over a black female motorist and brutalising her as he arrests her, the video continuously slows down, causing the movements to become almost balletic. The frenzy of power and racism are aestheticised, but that doesn’t denude them of them relevance or their potency, in fact it makes it appear as conscious and deliberate, as in fact it is. In all the fetishised violence of the Internet, this is one of the oddly intimate images that you rarely see now – it’s all cops in Starship Troopers outfits, videos like this one are probably why.
The newest work on show displays social media blurbs pasted on a wall, and a karaoke screen scrolling spam text from various 4-1-9 scams. It’s interesting too, but it needs viewer participation in singing out the actual text of the spam. It would have been interesting to see gallery-goers crooning along to the tweets as well, but you can’t have everything, even on the Internet.
Never Odd or Even: Thomson and Craighead runs until 6 July at Carroll / Fletcher, 56 – 57 Eastcastle Street, London W1W 8EQ