– Autumn/Winter 2006

Burn a Debt to the Present

Jian-Xing Too

Tags: Bernadette Corporation

Bernadette Corporation, Untitled, 2006, video, 8min (stills). Courtesy of Bernadette Corporation

Bernadette Corporation, Untitled, 2006, video, 8min (stills). Courtesy of Bernadette Corporation

Not many artists can say that they started out their career as an organiser of parties in a nightclub (1994) and then went from designing clothes and putting on fashion shows (1995-97) to publishing a fashion/art magazine (Made in USA, 1999-2001), to making art videos (Hell Frozen Over, 2000; Get Rid of Yourself, 2003) and writing a novel that was published by Semiotext(e) (Reena Spaulings, 2004), to setting up a prolific digital-film project during a residency with the Kunst-Werke in Berlin ('Pedestrian Cinema', 2005-06).

This may have something to do with the fact that, at a time when artists are becoming increasingly professionalised, the artist in question here, Bernadette Corporation, did not go to art school. Although BC was an 'outsider' to the art world in terms of its background and its early projects, it was swiftly taken under the wing of important players. By 1996, Colin de Land, the legendary and unconventional New York dealer who ran American Fine Arts Co., had taken an interest in what BC was doing, as had the Paris-based curators/editors of Purple magazine, Olivier Zham and Elein Fleiss. By the year 2000 its work was being presented by major institutions such as the Walker Art Center in the travelling exhibition 'Let's Entertain' and, since 2004, the group has really taken off, having shown at Museum Ludwig in Cologne, the ICA in Philadelphia and Kunst-Werke in Berlin that year, then Amsterdam's Stedelijk Museum and Rotterdam's Witte de With in 2005, and in the Whitney Biennial of this year. Articles on BC have proliferated.

But turn the winch back. Despite its atypical body of work, it is perhaps not just the works that

  1. Email exchange with Bernadette Van-Huy, 19 June 2006. Subsequent remarks by Van-Huy are from the same source.

  2. Bennet Simpson, 'Techniques of Today', Artforum, September 2004. Also available from http://www.bernadettecorporation.com.

  3. Bernadette Corporation, 'Corporate Responsibility and the Swine We Are', Purple Prose, no.12, Summer 1997. d'Antek is presumably Antek Walczak. Emphasis on 'and not be liable' my own.

  4. Spring/Summer 2000, introduction and translation by John Kelsey, pp.38-34.

  5. B. Simpson, op. cit.

  6. I say 'purposely' trashy because films such as Antek Walczak's Occupational Hazard demonstrate an ability to appropriate specific tropes of film, in terms of filming, editing and script. On all these counts, Occupational Hazard is completely convincing as a soap opera. Get Rid of Yourself is not convincing as a political documentary, and that does not seem to be BC's aim.

  7. See Raphael Rubinstein, 'The Ventriloquist: Philippe Thomas', Art in America, May 2001.

  8. Preface of Bernadette Corporation, Reena Spaulings, New York: Semiotext(e), 2004.

  9. Conversation with Antek Walczak, 8 May 2006.