Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Jacques Coetzer reflects on the futility of art

An infectious sense of naive playfulness infuses Jacques Coetzer’s latest exhibition. As the title New Adventures implies, the artist has allowed his fervent sense of curiosity to drive his art-making or escapades, which are inseparable from each other here. For Coetzer, art is about adventure. He perceives it as a zone of endless play in which any idea can be explored,  unravelled or upturned. The results of these activities are propelled by a purpose – Coetzer clearly plots out the reasons driving each adventure –  while similarly it is implied that they serve no actual function – they do not shift anything.  Consequently, his adventures are both significant and futile. This paradoxical notion of art underpins the central work of this exhibition, a video artwork, which contains footage of performances (for want of a better description) that Coetzer enacts in different destinations around the world.

These performances or vignettes are preceded by text and are related to one another only by the fact that they are compelled by the same kind of compulsion: to enact a fantasy of sorts. For all the acts that Coetzer performs are fantasies: dressing up like Elvis and playing on a beach or arranging for a musician to play drums on a concrete island on a busy highway – though they are not quite as whimsical as they appear. Playing music is a recurring action; not only does it allow him to mock the guitar-hero status, but it also introduces another vocabulary, which allows him to summon an abstract and sentimental quality. It also conjures that staple form of popular culture: the music video, which is most typically used to elevate the artist’s status.

Because each scenario reads as quite pathetic and pointless – the man who plays the drums in traffic doesn’t draw attention, the cars pass at the same high pace – this stylised form of expression is subverted or shown to be irrelevant. This is best illustrated via a vignette titled Playing Guitar for Goats, where Coetzer strums his guitar in the company of goats. Obviously goats do not make ideal audience members. Coetzer suggests that the significance of any act is inextricably tied not only to a witness to substantiate it, but also to one’s ability to transform that audience – if only temporarily. This idea is addressed in Long Live the Pacifists and the Activists, where Coetzer plays guitar in different locations around Barcelona – the home of the guitar. Significantly, Barcelona is also the city where Don Quixote’s journey concluded.