On Sunday the 22nd of July Be a Pattern for the World by Piscine and Bergman & Salinas opened at INCA Institute for New Connotative Action in Portland, US. After this the show will travel to Poor Farm in Wisconsin, where it will be exhibited for a year. The think tank collaboration between artist group Piscine and artist duo Bergman & Salinas (Aeron Bergman (US) and Alejandra Salinas (ES)) began with a collaboration on a piece for this year’s Alt_Cph18, an art fair based in Copenhagen for artist-run initiatives.
Below is a conversation between Piscine members Mark Tholander and Jens Settergren (P) and Bergman & Salinas (BS) about Be a Pattern for the World.
P: It has been a while since we began to conceive ourselves as a think tank. It happened deliberately during our show Imagineering at ADULT in Copenhagen, but it has been underway since our show The Conference at Kunsthal Aarhus, where we constructed the exhibition through the idea of a conference: a framework for the discussion of business affairs, manipulation strategies and future scenarios. To us, the framework of the think tank gave us an opportunity to avoid identifying ourselves as an artist- or curatorial group, but rather as a company producing immaterial products and thus, as a well-integrated part of the global immaterial economy. During our collaboration with you, the think tank concept has lived on as a framework. What do you connect to the concept of the think tank? What is a think tank?
BS: According to the Atlas Network, there are approximately 485 think tanks spread across 93 countries that are explicitly tasked with diffusing neoliberal ideology. Mont Pelerin Society member Sir Anthony Fischer, who personally founded over 150 think tanks, said: “Litter the World with free market think tanks.” A think tank is an ad hoc group of interdisciplinary intellectual workers (such as academics, judges, economists, businesspeople, lobbyists, journalists, cultural workers, writers, philosophers, etc.) who meet to hammer out strategies of “master planning” to remake society in their image.
A think tank is a decentralized, leaderless group that both generates and distributes propaganda in the form of images (actual images, or words and concepts that generate mental images).
P: Right. And this approach has defined the work itself. For Be a Pattern for the World, we’ve been working from the concept of “camouflage”. Concealment and surface: what can be seen and what cannot. Blending in and standing out; becoming distinct while also becoming part of the given space. The relation between the individual and the surroundings, the figure and the background, the shape and the pattern, as well as the singular and the univocal, was of interest to us in dealing with the question of which kind of production of subjectivity we are witnessing.
BS: The main activity is to diffuse the ideas across all social activities while downplaying any branding, or egocentric claims of any individual or particular think tank. There are only a few name-brands in neoliberalism, and this was done on purpose: structural invisibility is a superpower. Once marginal and marginalized when they began to proliferate slowly in 1947, think tanks such as the Rand Corporation, The Hoover Institute, the Cato Institute, the Institute for Economic Affairs, the Mises Institute, and the Heritage Foundation have reconstructed the vision of life and living at the great expense of the majority of people on earth, and the very earth we live on.
P: Perhaps the thinking behind Be a Pattern for the World can be described as theory as stimulant (a self-enclosed and self-enjoying system without reference to the outside world), but at the same time with small cracks in the structure, producing a critical self-reflexivity towards its own privileged self-sufficient stimulant-theoretical condition.
These momentary self-critical conditions are performed through different images that are put into play towards each other, such as the moonlight (“the moon owes nothing”) or the handkerchief (“they stood high and waved a handkerchief over their faces with their right hand”). It was important to us to create a work which was talking on its own, without dependency on any external theory, but also functioning as a meaning-machine which constantly shifts between “slips of the tongue” and talking within its own internal system. To us, this approach reflects the current condition of society: recognising the impossibility of being outside, while still acknowledging the importance of subversive strategies to challenge it.
BS: It was enjoyable to dwell in uncomfortable corporate aesthetics when making the elements that went into this work. A clothing line, glossy photo shoots, and trade-fair materials: materialist realism, attractive and repulsive.
P: Yes. And it all goes back to our initial question: what is the chameleon? The metaphorical figure of the chameleon followed us through the creation of the work. The chameleon as an abstract machine: “The chameleon, maybe. It hovers, as a turbine. An object can be monitored better by the turbine. These days anything can be imitated.” The chameleon most of all stands for shape-shifting and adaptability. Adapting patterns of a given environment, while at the same time creating new patterns in the given space. The ability of changing one's appearance as a response to one's surroundings. And what then? The possibility of parasitic subversive activity? Or maybe an ideal product for the contemporary consumer?
BS: Georg Simmel:
“Conversely, the Venetian nobles are said to have set no fashion, for according to law they had to dress in black in order not to call the attention of the lower classes to the smallness of their number. Here there were no fashions because the other element essential for their creation was lacking, a visible differentiation from the lower classes being purposely avoided.”
Piscine is a multidependent exhibition phenomenon by artists Mark Tholander, Jens Settergren and Ida Sønder Thorhauge: a hybrid apparatus that handles solo, group and collaborative situations. Piscine have contributed to idoart.dk since 2018.