First published in the Kunstverein München Drucksache, 2002
To what degree can you affect a system from an outside position? Very little, according to Carey Young. She behaves like a chameleon, moving swiftly between two worlds which are traditionally understood to best stay apart: art and business. But in order to affect a system from the inside you have to have special knowledge. As she has for a number of years earned her living as a consultant within a global management consultancy, and now is moving into working with a high profile think tank, she has deep professional knowledge of the structures she appropriates for her less lucrative art work. Her creative capacities, which are well-trained since art school-days, are however a major asset in her corporate activities.
Referring to Joseph Beuys' notion of social sculpture, albeit in ways which most likely would not have gotten his approval, and taking the tactics of General Idea some steps further, she worked with the staff at Virgin Megastore in London in a seminar-like situation, explaining her own art practice and asking for their participation in completing and contextualising some of the works. Particularly the project she did for their own working environment, 'My Megastore'. For six weeks the electronic infrastructure of one of the biggest music and entertainment stores in the world was permeated by works by Carey Young: video screens, audio and till displays and receipts transmitted her special brand of ambiguous play with methods and iconographies from global capitalism and the service economy. While wanting to listen to some new music you had to endure motivational self-hypnosis from the store stock on the in-store speakers. During the exhibition opening, whilst the store was open for business, this made the 'private view' visitors and shoppers become one crowd and everyone was wandering through the store consuming and browsing. When just having completed your purchase phrases such as 'raise your passion for product' and 'always smile at the customer' from Virgin's staff manual were grinning at you from the electronic till displays. You even had a chance to ponder them later, on the receipt, an artwork printed for all customers to the store.
To transmit information in the most efficient way is not only one of Carey Young's bread-winning professional specialities. She also latches onto ready made formats prevalent in corporate culture, such as communication skill courses and using ready made motivational posters, such as with the series entitled 'When Attitudes Become Form'. At KM she is, as one of the so-called sputniks engaging with the communication strategies of the institution. Her work will develop in several stages, the first involving the staff at KM as its raw material. We have been offered a negotiating skills course where a professional trainer from Munich will teach us to become better at brokering between people, as well as among ourselves. Negotiating productively involves looking for common ground, so in some senses the work is overtly spatial, as well as something which could potentially have a real and even thorough impact on how KM is functioning in general, and communicating in particular.
Literal effect is also important in 'Everything You've Heard is Wrong' (In Exchange & transform (Arbeitstitel)). This 6.35-minute long video shows the artist at Speakers' Corner, dressed in a smart suit with a ladder and some notes in her hand. She climbs the ladder and starts to give a speech about how to give speeches. Slowly she wins an audience, in tough competition with a white fundamentalist Muslim. Having proved her point she steps down and asks for questions from the crowd. You would imagine that the piece closes down on itself, but it is a curiously self-referential video which nevertheless manages to point in other directions. Instead it creates contact surfaces to for instances notions of self-presentation and its increasing importance in contemporary culture, changes of public space and the status and development of free speech today.
While making this piece Carey Young took the process of combining art and business one step further. Being commissioned and produced by Film and Video Umbrella in the UK, there was a 1000 pound fee involved, which the artist used with the consent of the commissioning body, investing it in the stock market: 31 shares in ART (AC Neilsen Corporation) and 48 shares in LIFE (Lifeline Systems Inc). On her web site www.careyyoung.com you can follow the developments. The ART stocks were the most successful, consistently beating LIFE. Doing the 'real thing' is also the approach of 'Incubator', where she asked a venture capitalist, whose normal job it is to 'incubate' new businesses, to do a brainstorming session, or a 'visioning workshop' in his own words, to test the suitability of applying corporate methods to the marketing and selling of art with the directors of a commercial gallery, Anthony Wilkinson in London. Questions were discussed around how art could be defined as a product in competition with other products, and how using contemporary product marketing strategies might help art reach more people, whilst at the same time helping the gallery - or any gallery - gain money and success. The resulting transcript (available for sale at the gallery) and video documentation show how difficult and yet desired it is to keep art and business apart, even by the most commercial sector of the art world. These are examples of what the artist herself would call an 'insertion', in a Cildo Meireles-sense, as opposed to 'intervention,' the more commonly used art-world term. An intervention implies some kind of disruption, and in her case it is more about precisely making an insertion, smoothly and smartly. It goes hand in hand with her understanding of the role as an artist as someone who is a functioning part of a system, but a system which in itself is in a process of change.
It is not a coincidence that Carey Young chose to stage Everything You've Heard is Wrong at Speakers' Corner in Hyde Park, a world famous arena for low-key free speech, but also for cheap freak-spotting. It is at the same time the place where Marcel Broodthaers made a film in 1972, carrying signs saying "silence" and "visit Tate Gallery". He elaborated on and questioned the staple goods of the art world - museums and exhibitions - and argued for art as a philosophy of actions. In most of Carey Young's work there is a conscious connection to art history, especially to conceptual positions of the 60s and 70s, and to concerns with the function of art, as she seeks to establish moments where art and business can rub shoulders. In a time of mergers, hybrids and collapsing categories in general her take on the relationship between art and business does not allow for what we normally understand as a critical distance. There even seems to be no outside.
This is certainly anathema to any classical form of institutional critique. In relation to this the question whether she is complicit with the global capitalist system is highly relevant. Is she so to speak "doing their job for them"? At the same time as she is questioning classical institutional critique she is refering to it while looking for a different critical position, which may not best be found within old binaries and black-and-white images. The massive growth in power of the global capitalist system is a development many of us watch and participate in with discomfort and fear. But if art is understood as something which is intrinsically related to society in all its aspects, and business concerns and economic considerations permeate every corner of our existence today, then you have to take the issues Carey Young is raising very seriously. You could even argue that if art is to do with everyday life and everyday life is 'businessified' and increasingly commodified then her work operates right at the core of that situation. Being situated exactly, knowingly, provocatively there, it disturbs the idea of a presumably comfortable critical position and proposes a move 'inside'. The chilling question is: what is the choice beside the chameleon