“There’s no content being produced, because I’m in the first generation that grew up digital…. We are just transferring all the time: tape, CDs, and now the clouds.”
Something radical has been happening for a while in art that has been evading easy classification. The digital fold has facilitated a giant mash-up of layers upon layers of information composed from fragments of fragments. Sound bites, video clips, 140-character quips, and filtered snapshots are curated extracts, continuously looping in a recopied and redistributed cycle. Yet in an age of digital re-pointing, the language used to consider art is still rooted in a Modernist dialogue of movements and styles, and it’s inevitable that there would be a notional presupposition about much of the work made today. It would be easy to misclassify an artist’s use of digital-processing as part of a conceptual practice, but putting aside dated art-historical constructs, let’s incorporate the twenty-year-old foundation of Relational Aesthetics as a jumping-off point instead. Artists now process information rather than material or even constructed experiences; viewed through this theoretic lens, even if an artist paints color-field paintings in 2014, the resulting paint strokes are the consequence of reprocessed information. It’s a seemingly subtle shift, but one that accounts for process as the medium for our digital age. This is the access point for Michael Riedel’s current solo show at David Zwirner’s London gallery. Riedel has been making art—collaboratively and individually—for the last 14 years, and one won’t get a more succinct example of his mantra of “Record–Label–Playback” than in this exhibition.
On the ground floor, the installation Oskar-von-Miller Strasse 16 (2000–2011) offers ephemera and documentation of the collaborative activities of the Frankfurt art space that Riedel started with Dennis Loesch. The space is described as a “recording device that would merely replay the cultural offering it had recorded and then marvel at the pops, hisses, crackles, and skips that such playback caused.” Oskar-von-Miller Strasse 16 (OMS) opened its doors in 2000 by restaging a deinstalled Jim Isermann show taken from the garbage bins of a nearby museum. Other offerings included film nights that screened handycam-captured films from art theaters, reenactments of talks and readings of cultural importance, club nights that reconstituted other club nights by replacing the recorded sounds from those clubs, numerous copied publications and posters (often produced by printing over the source material), and on one occasion, hired actors to mime Gilbert and George at their own reception; all of which was obsessively documented. This continual outward critique would intermittently point back and copy itself by re-creating exhibitions from documentation of past shows. Each copy, with its flaws and interpretations, creates a new document. This strategy unfailingly extends to the Zwirner show where exhibition fragments, video documentation, and publication byproduct fill the space. One technique that OMS unwaveringly used was that the reproducible images were always done in black-and-white. This furthers the distortion, pushing the work away from its source and toward ambiguity. Framed and orderly, the ground floor has the tangential raw energy of a zine made gigantic, but the fun-spirited energy and prankster aura of the original space is still very much present in this re-presentation. Riedel offers another fold in the ground floor’s rear gallery by precisely re-creating the visual elements from Warhol Shooting (2001)—a reenactment of Cecil Beaton’s photo Andy Warhol and Members of the Factory—complete with a mirrored table, built-out corner with accompanying electrical wire, cheap wood-constructed window facsimile, stripy shirt, and tripod. To complete the install, stacks of the newly published Oskar (2014), the artist book that tallies up ten years of OMS activities, adorn the table as mass-produced props. A contained system of process in itself, the 490 pages of content are a reedited and expanded version of the earlier German version from 2003.
If the activities at Oskar-von-Miller Strasse 16 were a continual transmission of processing copy after copy, then Riedel’s post-OMS work is the continual practice of copying process after process, and reveling in the resulting distorted byproduct. The gallery’s first floor feels much more grown-up and somber, with the polished PowerPoint Paintings series being the central axis of the show. This series is constructed from PowerPoint images that are interrupted at the moment of transition between one slide and the next; the content of those two separate images is fractured and merged to create a new aesthetic offering. This new image is captured and silkscreened onto a honeycomb panel and framed. The source material for these paintings is from Riedel’s previous projects, which themselves are the byproduct of a process that references older work.
This system of production is tangible, made visible by the resulting composition of layered panels of reworked and combined fragments. Those individual fragments still reveal their origin but have been subsumed into the larger construct. Riedel has now come to a place in his practice where the source material’s original content is still traceable but is so distorted that it renders any original meaning purposeless. What is left is a chain of defused content that can be understood only visually. Adjacent to the paintings are windowed walls that have been papered with passages of repeated and scaled text. The content is taken from a snippet of HTML code on nature.com’s “Laws of Form Revisited” webpage. By displaying the raw metadata, content, and style, the site’s own system of formatting information is revealed. Riedel reorganizes the literal content as a repeated random pattern of perpendicular text segments and highlights the recurring phrase “Laws of Form” by more than quadrupling its size. This simple act of copy–pasting renders the code dysfunctional for its original purpose while leaving its reference points to generate an aesthetic experience.
Process as a system for art production utilizes ideas and material interchangeably. For Riedel, his concerns are aesthetic, hence the formal qualities of the output. The radical shift in art making is that for years, the conceptual strategy was to fancy-up ideas with tools from the aesthetic toolbox, but Riedel’s system takes tools from the conceptual toolbox as strategies to create an aesthetic body of work. Laws of Form is a treasure trove of byproduct that offers the proposition that it’s no longer the idea, but the process that becomes a machine that makes the art.
Michael Riedel: Laws of Form is on view at David Zwirner, London, through May 31, 2014.
 Adam Fisher, “The Copycat,” New York Times, accessed May 13, 2014, at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/06/t-magazine/michael-riedel-the-copycat.html?pagewanted=all&_r=2&