Scott Hug's exhibit "K48: Teenage Rebel: The Bedroom Show," which I mentioned in a previous post, was extended until February 16, so I was able to see it. The theme is "a teenager's bedroom," and the artist (who's in his 30s) is living in the room while the show is up. In addition to floor-to-ceiling posters, photos, and artwork, there's a CD player surrounded by piles of discs, two TVs going most of the time, a dilapidated bed, desk with computer, knickknack covered bureau. Some of it's art (by Hug and others), some of it's kitsch collectibles (heavy on the '80s), some of it's documentation of the NY club scene. The show is so visually dense that you just stand there for a long time gawking. I picked up a checklist but immediately gave up even trying to identify work that way. As soon as Hug was free he was a helpful guide. Here's a microscopically partial list of stuff he showed me (or I picked out myself): video of charged moments from teen films (with Molly Ringwald, Tatum O'Neal etc, and lots of shooting and screaming); Teen Steam, an '80s exercise video featuring a young, big-haired Alyssa Milano; photo of boys from Annandale High School (Northern Virginia--go Atoms!) and related portraits by Lucien Samaha; Hug's polaroids of Electroclash stars PFFR, W.I.T., Kid America, and assorted Williamsburg scenesters; collection of Star Trek TNG cards in ring binder; large plastic Imperial Walker; hermetic neo-alchemical drawing by Jesse Bransford; framed psychedelic computer abstraction by Claire Corey; Italian Escape from New York movie poster; BB gun leaning in corner; photo of shirtless kid holding semiautomatic weapon in liquor store; photo of naked kid holding erect cock; clunky hand-painted portrait of Michael Jackson; weirdly-colored plastic Mickey Mouse manufactured in Russia; brand new C3PO action figure; lots of really crude, fucked up-looking collages; collection of plastic horses and Tracy Nakayama nude girl (on bureau); back issues of Hug's magazine K48. Supposedly there was a Rachel Harrison piece in there, but you'd be slow to identify it in an installation that resembled her own kitsch jamborees of yesteryear, multiplied by ten (but much rawer than her rigorously mathematical mind would allow).
A highlight of my visit was watching a video called The Kid's Show--an actual, slickly produced pilot for the USA Network that was one of the more uncompromising things I've seen on commercial video. The content was so dark and strange (albeit sidesplittingly funny) that it was immediately rejected by the network 3 years ago--I'm not sure Comedy Central, or anything short of MOMA, would take it now. Imagine a cross between ZOOM, Bowling for Columbine, and '70s countercultural skit movies and you're in the general neighborhood--what's "censorable" about it is that kids are speaking some very adult lines. Highlights include a segment called "You Can't Film Here," where a Cookie Monster-like hand puppet awakens the slumbering rageoholics in a succession of very scary New York doormen, a montage called "Funny/Not Funny" with turkey decapitations and reverse motion clown vomiting juxtaposed with violent cartoons, and one of my favorite bits, "Beat Kids," where a cute moppet in blond braids does Tom Green-style interviews with men and women coming out of public restrooms. Wagging a microphone in their faces and smiling guilelessly, she asks questions like "Did you have a good time in there?" and "Did everything come out all right?"
I disagree with the New Yorker that Hug's show is mainly, or merely, nostalgic. The old Dan Hicks song "How Can I Miss You When You Won't Go Away?" comes to mind, in that most of the stuff in the show, representing the perpetual state of adolescence acted out in Pop Culture America, never actually recedes far enough in our memories to become sentimentalized. And what, besides increasingly marginalized "upper class" arts such as the ballet and symphony, constitutes an "adult" activity in this country, anyway? 30somethings queue up for Episode II: Attack of the Clones and anyone who's worked the temp circuit in NYC has possibly had the misfortune of sitting next to a 50 year old singing along with "Another One Bites the Dust" on his Discman. By building up layer upon layer of layer of pop references, "K48" makes it difficult to draw any kind of line concerning where an artist's irony (adulthood) leaves off and the "real thing" (kid culture) begins (you could do it object by object, of course, but that would take a very long time). Hug intensifies a condition that for most of us is just a constant fact of life.
And I disagree with the various NY Times critics' characterizations of this work as "fluffy" or lacking ideology. A useful addendum to Roberta Smith's piece on the youthquake of fun, handmade art in NY would be a compare-and-contrast on this show and Laura Parnes' recently-closed "Hollywood Inferno" video, which didn't quite fit Smith's thesis. While Hug is dealing with (among other things) how youth culture is marketed and continues to colonize our imaginations to our graves, from Parnes' perspective, we never actually get to be young because the emblems of sex, rebellion, and escape are commodified and sold to us from birth. Either way, resistance to the monoculture is futile, the best you can hope for, as an artist, is to do "your" thing and then say yes or no when the USA Network decides to embrace it.
Nice essay. I found it interesting that you referred to Scott Hug as the artist, when I originally had thought of him as the "curator", but I think you're right -- that's really not the right word for the creator of a show like this. I really loved it. Have you seen the zine?
Thanks, Barry. I've only really looked at the third issue of K48, which is the companion volume to this show. I like it--it kind of has a Vice magazine vibe without the latter's strident political incorrectness. Another forerunner of this type of publication (art, fashion, occasional CD or flexidisc included) is Uscha Pohl's VERY (link at far left), which I've helped out with, off and on. All these projects have a kind of pleasant incoherency of not being sure what you're looking at.
The fact that Hug is living in the space and has his own work hanging there tips the project over to the art column, I think--performance/social sculpture as opposed to curating. It's really a little of both.
Great evaluation. The tendency of our 'top tier' press represenatives to dull down or 'fluff' up what they see is going on always edits a portion of the position being evaluated. I think Laura's piece (and in fact several other shows/projects that were up at the same time) clearly illustrates the how this kind of work can be something other than 'nostalgic'. Good to see that being articulated somewhere!