Carey Young, Business as Usual 

John Kelsey

First published in artext, Spring 2002

In Carey Young’s work we glimpse the possibility of a not so distant world where everyone is an artist, all art is business, and successful people refer to themselves as “change agents.” It is a vision steeped in irony, but at the same time one that offers a vivid, often uncanny sense of the extent to which life now happens in a marketplace which has absorbed its own outside. Young’s gambit thrives on ambiguity: words like “performance” and “creativity” definitely apply, but only so long as they remain flexible, caught in a kind of Moebius strip of referentiality. Everything we are shown - from the wall texts and telephones to the bodies and the spaces they inhabit - evokes something either absent (usually the artist) or impossible to locate according to strictly economic or aesthetic coordinates. Carey Young is in the corner of this Riemannian, or maybe Koolhaasian interior without an exterior, dressed in a suit and repeating over and over again the phrase, “I am a revolutionary.” At her side is some kind of motivator or counselor - upbeat, coaxing her past embarrassment into what begins to approach assertiveness. The moment is video taped and later presented as a projection (I am a Revolutionary, 2001), in Young’s first major solo show, Business as Usual, at John Hansard Gallery in October last year.

Carey Young has emerged at a time when the interdependencies between culture and commerce seem to have reached a fatal point of no return, maybe especially in post-YBA London where she lives and works. Educated at the Royal College of Art, and informed by her own experiences within the corporate sector (having been employed by a major management consultancy and recently doing time as an artist-in-residence at Xerox), Young plays on her double identity as both artist and businessperson, using this as the basis of a practice which maps a space of negotiation, or of undecideability where business is always already the potential for art, and vice versa. In hybrid, mainly performance and process-based works which function simultaneously as business and art, it is this zone itself that is foregrounded as such.

One of Young’s early performances (Everything You’ve Heard Is Wrong, 1999) was in the form of a speech given at London’s famous Speaker’s Corner, in which she addressed a random crowd of listeners on the art of public speaking, using language lifted from a business communication skills manual. The circular reflexivity of this piece (giving a speech about giving a speech), and in particular, the performance of a process designed to enhance performance, in many ways chart the parameters of the work she would be elaborating over the next two years: appropriating models and processes from the corporate world as readymades, deviously doubling them as art in order to reveal not only the collapsing of categories within the context of our increasingly globalized information-based economy, but the impossibility of maintaining any critical distance in relation to the very processes that contribute to this collapse. In Nothing Ventured (2000), presented at London’s fig-1 gallery, Young stages a kind of disappearing act by having her authorial presence (and the work itself) mediated by a telephone answering service. Confronted with nothing more than telephones on a table, gallery visitors were thereby put in touch with one of 30 faceless receptionists who explained the piece (e.g., “what is a readymade”), answered questions and provided biographical information on the artist. A supremely site-unspecific gesture, Nothing Ventured references the dematerializing tactics of earlier conceptual art (specifically Beuys’ notion of “social sculpture”) while playfully showing how interwoven these have become with everyday experience in an increasingly diffuse and disembodied service economy where ideas have become commodities and in which brands seek to colonize the imagination. Even the most banal of contemporary interfaces requires a certain acrobatics of presence on the part of the user.

In the context of an art world for so long dominated by bad boys and girls capitalizing on the tabloid-friendly glamour of rock-n-roll transgression and hyper-visibility, Carey Young strips art bare of such identifying qualities (the ones that artists rely on to show up as artists), becoming imperceptible so that she can integrate herself all the more insidiously into the permanent flow of information, bodies and money we call global capitalism. And as it negotiates, as it starts to work and lose itself all at the same time, her art is suddenly picking up speed, opening up new subjective territories, and contaminating all the other processes it engages. The only place left to go, she would agree with Deleuze, is further inside, into the middle where everything unfolds.

In her most recent work, Young employs a variety of media including photography, video, and wall-based text, as well as found objects, tools, and processes from the business sphere. For a piece entitled Incubator (2001), produced for a group show at Anthony Wilkinson, Young invited the gallerist to join Pól Ó’Móráin, a venture capitalist at Xerox Venture Labs (an “incubator” for new businesses) in the sort of brainstorming (or “visioning”) session designed to unleash lateral and “outside the box” thinking in the corporate world by offering successful ideas from other commercial sectors as comparative models. Framing the workshop as a corporate act of imagination, Young instigates a situation where the gallery is treated as an entrepreneurial venture (although not a very efficient one) like any other in an extended marketplace of images and ideas where the distinctions between gallerist and venture capitalist - both active in the business of commercializing creative concepts - appear to soften. Documented on video and in a printed transcript, the discussions expose both an economic logic from which art can no longer find any clear escape, and the ethical boundaries which art (irrationally) struggles to uphold in order to preserve itself against total co-option. The result is a humorous and often paradoxical exchange, vertiginously balanced between aesthetics and commerce, “authored” by an artist whose near-invisibility is what allows the whole thing to happen. Thinking outside the box is also a question of our ability to abandon our position at a moment’s notice.

De-creating the artistic subject in order to expose herself to a set of processes most artists never engage except as content-providers, Carey Young’s on-going project can be described as a Kafka-esque, performative process of “becoming-corporate.” It is clear that art has no monopoly on creativity, and that if it remains our most prized “change agent,” this is less for the images and objects it produces than for the flexibility of its processes, its playfulness, and its capacity to conjure up difference where everything is the same. But aren’t these the very things that spell good business in an economy that works by constantly overcoming its own limits? Young's work provokes a questioning of how art might renegotiate its own territory and rethink its potential within an increasingly commercialized model of culture that advances by incorporating its own subversion. Locating her work precisely where work is most demanded, becoming, or doubling, the thing that most wants to capture her creative potential, she plays a game of taking and losing advantage. And if art manages to reemerge in the midst of this negotiation, it will come inoculated with the leading edge of capitalist schizophrenia.

© Copyright John Kelsey