you'Re in a wonderful country (2016)

Installation: HD video (color, no sound, 52’ 37”) playing on a television screen, artificial grass, plastic bottles, plastic bags, cigarette packs, beer cans. 


September 17,  2016

DESCRIPTION

“What is an artist if not someone who deems that anything at all – including the foulest refuse – is capable of acquiring aesthetic value? […] All that is hidden, evacuated or banished derives from this centrifugal logic, which consigns beings and things to the world of waste and holds them there in the name of the Ideal.”
(Nicolas Bourriaud, 2016)

“Artworks are afterimages of empirical life insofare as they help the latter to what is denied them outside their own sphere and thereby flee it from that to which they are condemned by reified external experience. (Theodor W. Adorno,  2004 [1970])

“Conceptually, each monitor, each TV screen is a substitute for a window; real life is inside, cyberspace has become the great outdoors.”
(Rem Koolhaas, 2002)

“You have only to look at a thing long enough and it becomes interesting." (Gustave Flaubert)

“Every landscape is a trashscape.”
(Brian Thill, 2015)

 

The popular racing game Forza Horizon 2 (2014) is set in a “realistic” world: a virtual replica of Northern Italian charming small towns, picturesque seaside villages, and rural landscapes. But there is a glaring omission: roadside trash. This enormous territory is devoid of empty plastic bottles, cigarette packs, beer cans, cigarette butts, and used condoms. To illustrate this appalling aporia, we drove at extreme low speed on the roads leading to the fictitious town of Castelletto. We scrutinized the road shoulder, inch by inch, but we could not find any sign of litter. This inexplicable lack of debris generates a powerful cognitive dissonance: as anybody who lives and drives in Italy knows, the roadsides of the Belpaese are replete with junk that accumulates overtime. (1)

Roadside trash is a byproduct of the automobile. As Marshall McLuhan wrote in Understanding Media (1964), each medium creates a new environment. The medium of the car mostly produces trashscapes. In other words, rubbish is the primary effect of the car, alongside the Iraq War, neocolonialism, and Big Oil sponsoring Art Museums. Additionally, the millions of plastic bottles that drivers throw carelessly outside of their car windows are themselves a byproduct of the petroleum industry: thus, Big Oil controls every aspect of this vicious circle, from smog to trash, from vroom to crash.

By refusing to address the issue of waste, Forza Horizon 2 - like its predecessor - is an utter and complete failure. By neglecting to include the discarded objects on the side of the road, the realistic, immersive effect promised by the simulation is evidently compromised. Verisimilitude is abandoned for mindless escapism. In our installation, a video plays on a TV screen sitting on a carpet of artificial grass, itself a byproduct of the oil industry and another recognizable sign of the anthropocene. (2) Trash is physically place before the screen.

To play the game against the intentions of the designers means to refuse to partake an endless, meaningless Competition. Paying close attention to the landscape, the artist - unlike the gamer - fills the gap between the Ideal, i.e. the simulation, and the Real, between digital utopia and social realism. (3) The artist's role is to bring to the foreground the repressed, the disavowed, the deliberately forgotten, i.e., what the simulation does not care - or dare - to simulate.

The artist sees the wasteland underneath the wonderful, digitally-sanitized, country. (4)

 

NOTES

(1) The situation is not much better elsewhere: in the United States, one mile of highway contains approximately 16,000 pieces of litter. (Source: North Carolina Department of Public Safety). The original Forza Horizon, set in Colorado, did not feature any roadside trash either.

(2) Thill (2015) defines the Anthropocene as “the period in human history where we now create problems for which we cannot create solutions”.

(3) For more information about "social realism", see Alexander Galloway, 2004.

(4) The artwork's title “YOU'RE IN A WONDERFUL COUNTRY” is a literal translation of “Sei in un paese meraviglioso”, a campaign launched by the Italian highway company in 2014, Autostrade, to promote car-based tourism in the Belpaese. Surprisingly, the campaign does not mention the proliferation of litter, congestion, or car-related accidents that plague Italy. The campaign looks like this:

 Autostrade, "Sei in un paese meraviglioso", 2014-ongoing.

Autostrade, "Sei in un paese meraviglioso", 2014-ongoing.

References

Adorno, W. Theodor. Aesthetic Theory, New York: Continuum, 2004. [1970]

Bourriaud, Nicolas. The Exform, London: Verso. 2016

Galloway, Alexander. Gaming. Essays on Algorithmic Culture. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. 2004.

Koolhaas, Rem. Junkspace, Taschen: Harvard Design School Guide to Shopping. 2002.

McLuhan, Marshall. Understanding Media. The Extension of Man, New York: McGraw-Hill. 1964.

Thill, Brian. Waste (Object Lessons), London: Bloomsbury. 2015.