– Summer 2013

Mark Leckey’s Anima Mundi

Esther Leslie

Tags: Jeff Koons, Mark Leckey, Theodor W. Adorno, Walter Benjamin

Mark Leckey, GreenScreen- RefrigeratorAction, 2010—11. View of the performance at the Serpentine Gallery, London, 12 May 2011. Photograph: Mark Blower. Courtesy the artist and Cabinet, London

‘Everything that is in and of this Earth is animated from within,’ declares Mark Leckey in the performance Mark Leckey in the Long Tail (2009).1 An old truth finds resonance today. This is what we knew long ago, when we were animists, and seem to want to know again — be we speculative realists, hoarders attuned to vibrant matter, philosophical botanists or New Age mystics. Our world is chock-a-block with selves. Animation shudders through the universe. It is the principle of life and life is a quality held not just by those who can name it. Nature is animate: animals chatter, leaves give out signals, petals recoil, crystals reproduce. Even inorganic matter is animate, if not alive, though it was surely, once upon a time, the kick-start ingredient of life. Animated beings are everywhere. They are manifest in the iridescent sheen of silicate minerals, in the polycarbonate plastic of a CD, in the super-glossy reflection of a chrome drum set or in the shiny surface of Jeff Koons’s Rabbit (1986).2 They are there in the jerky dots and lines of live-streamed TV programmes, or in the movement of organic light-emitting diodes on a touch screen. It has all been about animation all along, animation in the expanded field. Leckey’s works chase it out from its lurking places, in objects, histories and otherwise cast-off human beings.

In The Long Tail, Leckey uses the form of the artist’s lecture to persuade us that it all begins, ends and pulsates with animation. The artist’s lecture finds a new rationale (or irrationale): no longer the funding pitch masked as chronological recounting of ever

  1. Footage of the performance, as well as of other moving-image works by Mark Leckey, can be viewed online at the artist’s YouTube page, available at http://www.youtube.com/user/MrLeckey (last accessed on 12 March 2013).

  2. Jeff Koons’s sculpture Rabbit is (conceptually and literally) at the centre of Leckey’s 16mm film Made in ’Eaven (2004), while his more recent video Pearl Vision (2012) features an equally shiny drum set.

  3. Theodor W. Adorno and Max Horkheimer, Dialectic of Enlightenment: Philosophical Fragments (1944, ed. Gunzelin Schmid Noerr, trans. Edmund Jephcott), Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002, p.5.

  4. Ibid., p.19.

  5. See Mitchell Stephens, The Rise of the Image, The Fall of the Word, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998, p.42.

  6. See Walter Benjamin, The Arcades Project (ed. Rolf Tiedemann, trans. Howard Eiland and Kevin McLaughlin), Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press, 1999.

  7. Signed in Paris in 1936 by Marcel Duchamp, Wassily Kandinsky and Francis Picabia amongst others, this foundational manifesto for the Dimensionist movement proclaimed ‘the artistic conquest of four-dimensional space’. See K.roly Tamk. Sirat., ‘Manifeste Dimensioniste’, first published in plastique, no.2, Summer 1937, available in English at http://artpool.hu/TamkoSirato/manifest.html (last accessed on 28 March 2013), in a translation by Oliver Botar.

  8. Published between 1968 and 1972 in the US, and occasionally thereafter until 1998, the Whole Earth Catalog listed a wide range of products for sale. Subtitled ‘Access to Tools’, it was part of the late 1960s countercultural DIY movement.

  9. Initiated in San Francisco in 1971, the ‘est Standard Training’ congregated thousands of participants in controversial, marathon group-awareness training programmes purportedly facilitating an experience of transformation.

  10. Often used in manga conventions and role play, in ‘cosplay’ participants wear costumes to embody their favourite fictional characters, thus creating three-dimensional figures out of two-dimensional characters.

  11. This work has been shown in various configurations. In 2003, at Tate Britain in London, the sound system was confronted with Jacob Epstein’s Jacob and the Angel (1940—41); at Leckey’s exhibition ‘SEE, WE ASSEMBLE’ at the Serpentine Gallery, also in London (19 May—26 June 2011), it was shown opposite Henry Moore’s Upright Motive No. 9 (1979).

  12. See Christopher D. Johnson, Memory, Metaphor, and Aby Warburg’s Atlas of Images, Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2012.

  13. Aby Warburg quoted in Spyros Papapetros, ‘Aby Warburg as Reader of Gottfried Semper’, in Catriona MacLeod, Veronique Plesch and Charlotte Schoell-Glass (ed.), Elective Affinities: Testing Word and Image Relationships, Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2009, pp.322—23.

  14. See Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention, ‘Call Any Vegetable’, on the album Absolutely Free (1967).

  15. Doug Lennox, Now You Know Big Book of Answers, Toronto: Dundurn, 2007, p.259.