Lest We Perish
2037 Fifth Ave.
By Mitch Speed
We've developed a lot of strange methods for confirming life. The “pinch me I'm dreaming” protocol is a little trite by now, but think of the way a person might anxiously pick a scab, or bite their lip. A ruby droplet appears, and with it comes a little flash flood of adrenaline, which lets us know we're still here.
Looking at Andrew Amorim's recent work, I remembered how tricky it's become to know what surfaces to reach for, in order to verify existence. Skin doesn't seem as sensitive as it once was. The problem is that our nervous systems and spirits have extended into clothing and accoutrements. This is a dilemma long in the making. In Marx's theory of commodity fetishism, consumer objects are separated from their functional use value, and imbued with an almost pharmacological power to tune our identities. It follows that the costumes we wear have become surrogate nerve endings of social proprioception. You can test this theory by letting a bead of ink fall onto the cuff of a new coat or sweater. As black blooms into gore-tex or merino wool, so too does a quiet existential panic.
Amorim's recent videos have wended through the commodity's role in self-protection and belonging. Often combining found and original material, his montage method discloses a lineage of experimental film running from surrealism to the late 1990's. Mark Leckey's Fiorucci Made me Hardcore (1999) is a crucial precedent, comprised as it is from found footage of the English hardcore dance scene, and casuals – troupes of puffy chested young men whose confidence was amplified by Italian fashion. Casting further back, there's a substantive link between Amorim's new work and Hans Richter's 1928 film Ghosts for Breakfast, which was banned by the Nazi party. In that film, testosterone suffused accessories of conformity – bowler hats, bow ties, guns – come alive, outstripping and eventually dictating their wearer's intentions.
In Amorim's After Touch II (2015-16) we find ourselves in a montage dream space where young men are guised in luxurious street-wear – prostheses that garnish like peacock feathers and guard like carapaces. There's a distinctly masculinist intonation to the video. But as often as Amorim's protagonists pose statuesque, they relish in perverting the outfits that proffer their power. Amorim is less a traditional film-maker than an editor of cultural material. Here, he's drawn from a community of online fetishists, who video themselves sullying licentious urban gear, before posting the results to youtube.
A starring role in After Touch II is given to a limited edition Adidas track suit. It billows and glistens like an inky jellyfish metamorphosed into pleather. Late nineties hip-hop videos flash into mind – in particular the BET triad of Missy Elliot, Puff Daddy and Ma$e, who glided and floated in ballooning jumpsuits through futuristic chambers, likely constructed on some Los Angeles soundstage. But it was the habiliments of African American dandies that delivered such lavish styles into the North American vernacular. The brand name tracksuits in Amorim's video are corporatized offspring to these anti-conformist vestments. Having been processed by cultural appropriation, the Adidas track suit here cloaks the body of an un-identified young man, on a gravel road, spot-lit and suggestive of the suburban outer rim. The strangeness of this setting is matched by the wearer's movements – heroic poses one moment, awkward calisthenics the next. Soon, the video cuts through shots of sports car interiors, populated by drivers in similar uniforms, accompanied by obsidian helmets and rubber gloves. There's a strange bastard archetype developing here, assembled from hip hop culture, memories of Mad Max, and kevlar suffused mercenary fantasy.
Anyone who has bought new sneakers knows their sweet chemical perfume. This scent merges with exoskeletal and reptilian leather surfaces to produce a steroid effect. The resultant power is echoed in Amorim's video when a scientist clad in heat repellent foil works at the verge of roiling lava, under an apocalyptic voice over. This theatre of technologized masculinity is a little creepy. You can almost see Filippo Tommaso Marinetti lurking in the shadows, with his futurist manifesto in one hand and his fascist manifesto in the other. But the aggressive intonation of this fetish dream almost belches its own self-consciousness, when the actors begin debasing their apparel. In one shot, a Nike Air-Max trainer is force fed cake. Shortly, a track-suited corpus slumps on a restroom floor, slathered in soap. When a nylon clad body rolls in forest mud, it seems to pursue futile communion with iron age bog people.
In their carnal performances, these characters echo the Viennese Actionists, who took abjection further than anyone before or since. Those feral masters of impropriety can now be found in grainy online videos, wadding their faces with food, and subjecting one another's bodies to hosts of favor and violation. Amorim's cult youtube stars in a way seem tame compared to Otto Muehl and his Viennese coterie, but they're just performing a different style of transgression, hypertrophying the inspiritment of luxury commodities. Saturated in organic substance, the jackets, pants and shoes are pulled into a theatre of abjection – enveloped in the messy interior of the human spirit they so smoothly mimic.
There is a weird sensitivity to these internet performers. In violating their macho protections, they rejoin an infantile urge. In documenting these rituals, Amorim becomes a kind of anthropologist-critic, who does his work through reproduction, editing and recombination. From the perspective of contemporary art, which craves socially incisive gestures, there's a temptation to project criticality into these performances, but it might be that Amorim's subjects just crave a more lecherous gratification than the products already provide. When I asked Amorim about this, I got the impression that his own critical curiosity contrasts with their hedonism. I like how this unguarded indulgence clashes with the art world's intellectual mores. The relationship between criticality and pleasure is never simple, and I can't help but think that ill intentions towards the enchanting commodity, run latently through these relished desecrations.
Amorim recently sent me clips from the video he'll be showing in New York. In them, a white Nike trainer is violated, first with a scalpel and then a lighter. It is a procedure between torture and dissection. But the shoe is just dumb matter. So why do I grope for these human metaphors? I must be as implicated in the fetish complex as Amorim's collaborators. The executor of this violence seems to be testing the commodity's life force, watching for winces in foam and rubber, but also in himself.
Mitch Speed is an artist and writer based in Berlin. A contributing editor at Momus, he writes regularly for Frieze, and has contributed to Flash Art, Camera Austria, Artforum, and Turps. He was co-founder and editor of Setup, a journal of contemporary art and writing published by Publication Studio.
Central to Andrew Amorim's exhibition “Lest We Perish” is a collaboration with ToKillSneakers, an anonymous, France-based youtube user known for destroying sneakers. His youtube channel is part of an international community of online fetishists who frequently post amateur videos of their sneaker-wrecking acts. Following previous works where Amorim has sampled material from similar online communities, this time he further engages in the destructive act through the commissioning and co-production of a new video.
Andrew Amorim (b. 1983, Belém, Brazil) is an interdisciplinary artist working with photography, film, video installation, sound, and text to explore themes of memory and decay. A recent graduate of the Bergen Academy of Arts and Design, Norway, Amorim often works by staging actions in front of a camera, subsequently combining found and original material through reproduction and editing. In 2017, his work will be included in exhibitions at Preus Museum, Horten, Melk, Oslo, NoPlace, Oslo, Bergen Kjøtt, Bergen, and I: project space, Beijing.
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Entrée is taking over the second floor at Independent’s Fifth Avenue property in Harlem and presents the two inaugural solo exhibitions part of the brand new Independent's Gallery Residency Program, both exhibitions opens Tuesday February 28th at 6pm.
The exhibitions are made possible with support from Office for Contemporary Art Norway, Norwegian Consulate General New York, City of Bergen and Art Council Norway.
Andrew Amorim, Lest We Perish, 2017. Two-screen 4K Video
Install photos by Paula Abreu Pita.
Exhibition view, Entrée at Independent Hq. in Harlem.
Still from Lest We Perish.
Still from Lest We Perish.