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Double Agent - Institute of Contemporary Arts

Preview by Lizzie Guilfoyle

AN EXHIBITION featuring the work of Paweł Althamer, Phil Collins, Dora García, Joe Scanlan/Donelle Woolford, Christoph Schlingensief, Barbara Visser and Artur Zmijewski will be on display at the Institute of Contemporary Arts from February 14 to April 6, 2008.

Double Agent is an exhibition of art works in which the artist uses other people as a medium. All of the works raise questions of performance and authorship, and in particular the issues that ensue when the artist is no longer the central agent in his or her own work, but operates through a range of individuals, communities and surrogates.

The last decade has witnessed a resurgence of interest in performative gestures among contemporary artists, but today’s generation, unlike their precursors in the 1960s and 70s, do not necessarily privilege the live moment or their own body. Instead, they engage in strategies of mediation that include delegation and collaboration.

Such strategies can work to undermine the idea of the authentic or authoritative artist, who is substituted instead by a variety of figures. Such strategies can also promote unpredictability and risk, as the artist’s agents may prove to be partial or unreliable. In some instances the use of third parties can also raise ethical issues such as the question of exploitation.

The artists in Double Agent are represented by a range of media including video, performance and installation. Some artists are represented by collaborative projects in which they relinquish part of their authorial control, and these include Paweł Althamer (Polish, born 1967 in Warsaw where he still lives), whose works are frequently based on his identification with marginal subjects.

For many years, Althamer has led a ceramics class for an organisation in Warsaw called the Nowolipie Group, for adults with multiple sclerosis. Double Agent will present a display of their works and bring members of the group to Britain.

A number of the works in Double Agent explore the ethics of performance and representation, including the power relations involved in the use of non-professional subjects. Artist, filmmaker and theatre director Christoph Schlingensief (German, born 1960 in Oberhausen, lives in Berlin) is represented by a video installation.

It uses footage that the artist gathered as part of his project The African Twin Towers – the story of a megalomaniac theatre director attempting to stage the 9-11 story in Namibia, shot on location with a cast of locals as well as Schlingensief’s regular ‘family’ of performers.

Another artist to explore the ethics of representation is Artur Zmijewski (Polish, born 1966 in Warsaw where he still lives). In his video Them (2007) the artist contrives a series of confrontations between Christians, Jews, Young Socialists, and Polish nationalists; the tensions build between the groups and culminate in an explosive impasse.

Phil Collins (English, born in 1970 Runcorn, lives in Glasgow) presents a version of you’ll never work in this town again, a set of photographic portraits of curators, critics, collectors and other art world authorities – who were invited by the artist to be photographed immediately after being slapped by him.

Another important strategy by which artists have explored authorship is by using stand-ins for themselves. Barbara Visser (Dutch, born 1966 in Haarlem, lives in Brussels and Amsterdam) shows the video installation Last Lecture (2007), a multi-layered work which draws on footage of lectures in which actresses have been presented as Barbara Visser, sometimes receiving instructions from the artist through an earpiece.

A continuous live component to the exhibition is provided by Dora García (Spanish, born 1965 in Valladolid, lives and works in Brussels). Her work, Instant Narrative, includes an observer positioned within the exhibition space, making clandestine notes on visitors to the exhibition – notes which are revealed to members of the public during the course of their visit.

As his contribution to the exhibition, Joe Scanlan (American, born 1961 in Stoutsville, OH, lives in New Haven, CT) presents the young artist Donelle Woolford (American, born 1980 in Conyers, Georgia, lives in Harlem, NY), who, at specific times, will inhabit one of the ICA’s upper galleries, using it as a studio to construct her own sculptures.

The exhibition includes the UK premieres of a number of significant works, as well as new commissions. It will tour to Mead Gallery, Warwick Arts Centre, and Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead, and at each subsequent venue it will be refreshed by new commissions that have been programmed locally (tour dates to be confirmed). At each showing the exhibition will be accompanied by a changing programme of films, talks and other events.

Double Agent has been curated by Claire Bishop (Assistant Professor, History of Art Department, Warwick University) and Mark Sladen (Director of Exhibitions, ICA).