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Aggression

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stills from La Discorde (Zwietracht) Winterthur, the Centre of Attention, 2007

 

 

 

stills from La Discorde (Zwietracht) Kunsthalle Winterthur, the Centre of Attention, 2007

 

 

stills from La Discorde (Zwietracht) Kunsthalle Winterthur, the Centre of Attention, 2007

 

 

stills from La Discorde (Zwietracht) Kunsthalle Winterthur, the Centre of Attention, 2007

 

 

stills from La Discorde (Zwietracht) Kunsthalle Winterthur, the Centre of Attention, 2007

 

 

stills from La Discorde (Zwietracht) Kunsthalle Winterthur, the Centre of Attention, 2007

 

 

 

 

Extract from the exhibition catalogue (by Oliver Kielmayer and Dimitrina Sevova)

" The Centre of Attention
La Discorde (Zwietracht), 2007
HedyLamarr (Bluetooth), 2007


In 1999 Pierre Coinde and Gary O'Dwyer founded The Centre of Attention. It is a vessel within which the two artists can explore and present phenomena of production, presentation and consumption. Coinde and O'Dwyer are active both as curators and artists. Sometimes they merely put together an appropriate movie program, while another time set up entire group shows. Also, at irregular intervals they publish their own magazine with contributions by various artists, which they conceive of as a kind of exhibition too.


The involvement of the audience varies from project to project, but remains key throughout. In On Demand (2005) one could pick an art piece from a list and appraise and discuss it at home with The Centre of Attention. In The Centre of Attention Search Engine (2003) one was even invited to bring one's own work along for appraisal to the initially empty gallery and then be accepted into the exhibition (or not). The implacable selection process in the realm of contemporary art had been reflected upon even before this in earlier works, such as The Centre of Attention Art Prize (2000, 2002, and 2004). Analogous to common mainstream formats the audience could vote for their favorites and determine the winner.


For Coinde and O'Dwyer the audience prompted to participate is more than just a receiver, in that many of the works are only completed through the audience's performative involvement. Often the aim is to get the visitor into the performance via an attractive offer and then finish the intended piece of art with their help. A performance like La Discorde (Zwietracht) is no exception: the two artists act as facilitators who start out by animating the audience to applaud someone. This quite positive reaction from the audience is subsequently turned into its opposite as they summon the exhibition visitors to catcall the same person they had previously hailed. From a psychological point of view this is exceedingly cunning, for the restraint from negative expression is defused by the previous, positively connoted collective experience of applauding. In a third step the audience is prompted to stage one-minute brawls. The audience goes along in this escalation in hostilities because the inhibition threshold for negative behavior has already been lowered by the booing.


The performative participation of the audience leads to scenes unusual for a museum context, which constitutes the key to the work HedyLamarr (Bluetooth). At a later point in time in the same exhibition the artists start sending images via Bluetooth, depicting similar brawls in the same space. The visitors are suddenly unsure about whether they themselves might be watched, photographed and their image sent via MMS, a process by which their privacy is violated on two counts: through the receipt of image messages they have not asked for, and finally through the suspicion that without advance notice, their own acts may be recorded.


In our society the private sphere is considered holy and is protected and defended by all imaginable means. Nonetheless, phone calls from phone companies, insurance companies, newspaper editors and others who trouble you during the day or in the evening at home have become a fact of everyday life. There are days on which on your way to work you have to explain to various direct marketers that you already have an Internet provider, a credit card and a daily paper, only to return home at night to answer telephone surveys or offers for membership. Direct marketing today rarely ever refers to a traveling salesperson ringing the doorbell in order to sell you a vacuum cleaner. Rather, it infiltrates our everyday lives in every imaginable way, be it by phone call or SMS, e-mail, fax or letter, not to forget that sales pitch from the inordinately good-humored direct salespeople on the street.


Besides the commercially motivated barrage of summons to participate and consume, the use of the mobile phone in the performance HedyLamarr (Bluetooth) refers to yet another set of issues, namely those arising from the collision between different spheres of privacy. The information signals related to an SMS message or a phone call are by no means only perceptible for the person they are addressed to. Even if the initial hysteria around annoying ring tones and private conversations held vocally in public spaces have given way to a certain attitude of tolerance, but this does not change the fact that the overall stimulus satiation by mobile phones has substantially increased once again. The reactions to the general stimulus satiation are themselves sufficiently well known. They can be observed day in, day out in the form of drowsy and irritable car drivers and commuters.


The collision between different realms of privacy in the public space increases the requirements of collective behavior. The rule that 'what does not annoy others is allowed' in the sense of an applied categorical imperative may seem to provide a solution at first. But who ultimately decides what is allowed to annoy, and what is not? The continuous violations of privacy are surely less conducive to establishing a collective behaviour, since they are perceived as a threat, against which one needs to defend oneself. The treacherous thing about it is that you can hardly ever fight directly against the stimuli producers themselves and you are left with no other option but to shrug off the unelicited irritation somewhere else."