Revolution: It's a Lovely Word 

Raimundas Malasauskas interviewed Carey Young by email. Produced for the gallery programme of Trafo Gallery, Budapest, on the occasion of Carey Young's solo show in March - April 2005.

RM: In your video ‘I am a revolutionary’ you try to learn how to sell the revolution. Do you know your potential clients?

CY: The work was inspired by the popularity of the rhetoric of ‘revolution’ within business in the years around 2000, and its consequent effect on society at large through the resulting business decisions and deals which of course today have an unprecedented influence on everyday life. As a consumer of art theory, historical and political texts one comes to this word with a special sensitivity. And so the work, which features a rehearsal of the line “I am a revolutionary” uses this word as something cherished in different ways by different audiences, and yet also emptied of meaning, since the line appears to be yet another message which can be rehearsed by anyone until they sound convincing.

I disagree with your assessment that the work shows an attempt to ‘sell the revolution’. With this piece I am more interested in exploring questions of appearance and interpretation, such as ‘how would one recognize a real revolutionary today?’, or ‘what kind of marketing techniques might future revolutionaries use’ or even ‘who, today, can convincingly claim to be a revolutionary?’ It is an exploration of our desire for, and belief in political and social change, but my aim was also to give a sense of vulnerability and pathos through the performance of the characters you see on screen, who are both deadly serious in their effort and intent, but also impossible to take seriously.

RM: The corporate setting in which you are unmaking the rhetoric of revolution leads one to think that actually the most radical innovations nowadays take place not in the domain of the working class, but in the corporate headquarters of creative business.

CY: At some point in the future, with the benefit of hindsight we may perhaps be able to call recent ‘revolutions’ such as the public overthrow of the corporate-owned water system in Bolivia in 2000, or the 2004 ‘orange revolution’ in the Ukraine elections ‘radical innovations’ for their impact on emergent forms of corporate or state power, although their model – street protest – is of course an ancient one. But through their relentless focus on the new for the sake of market dominance, corporations can be seen as offering today’s avant-garde – with all the military and cultural interpretations of that term. As an artist I’m interested in the hugely problematic implications of that for society, and also for artists and cultural production. My work is not a question of accepting the status quo, or of creating a polemical or didactic work, or even offering some kind of a solution, but of creating pieces which immerse the audience in the problem – albeit presented in a roundabout way - for the sake of engendering a discussion.

RM: What do you think of Adrian Piper’s sentence that “Implicitly political art reinforces unregulated free-market capitalism. Explicitly political art subverts the power relations that undergird it” (Frieze, Issue 87)?

CY: To me the question is also how we measure the subversion of power relations and over what period of time. Also, the status of any artwork, whatever claims are made for its political activity, is necessarily altered by whether it is or could be sold, and to whom. These elements are part of the context of a work of art and should affect its reading.

© Copyright Raimudas Malasauskas and Carey Young, 2005