Review: George Hajian and Robert Carter, ‘Used Parts’

“The poor image is a copy in motion. Its quality is bad, its resolution substandard. As it accelerates, it deteriorates. It is a ghost of an image, a preview, a thumbnail, an errant idea, an itinerant image distributed for free, squeezed through slow digital connections, compressed, reproduced, ripped, remixed, as well as copied and pasted into other channels of distribution.” [1]

Comprised of mechanical and photographic moving images, Used Parts was a performative installation by George Hajian and Robert Carter at Elam’s Projectspace. Used Parts was first and foremost a collaboration between these artists and acted to fuse their separate practises through a shared interest in appropriation and experimentation with different mediums.

Entrance was through a fabric strip curtain, with the words ‘Used Parts’ laser printed on its surface. This established the branding of the show with references to the typically masculine spaces of the meatworks and mechanics. The other side of this curtain was composed of a series of collages made from snapchats of men ejaculating. To the left as one entered the space, was a screen self-described by the artists as a ‘glitch mirror.’ It consisted of a television screen and a camera filming, and in some ways activating, the viewer through an endless stream of spliced views of themselves. The resulting image was a live stream of glitched selfies, moving rapidly. These fragments of representation are an endless cycle of broken images. Many participants felt uncomfortable, as though they were being watched. I found the experience a reminder of the state of surveillance under which we live and the many images that might make up one’s potential suspect file.

While the glitch mirror may have contributed to a feeling of unease, this was countered by a chair which calmed viewers with enticements such as ‘welcome’, beckoning one to ‘sit down and relax’ and ‘come take a seat’. It was a means of encouraging the viewer to engage and be ‘comfortable’. Inside this chair were two speakers and these calls to ‘relax’ were spoken by a synthesized female voice. This was interesting to note, as while the space was embedded with works made of sometimes incongruous materials, it played with different tropes of exhibiting masculinity. This chair referenced the type typically occupied by the male head of a household, one with a table to place a remote. It mimicked the idea of Dad controlling the remote.

Situated in the middle of the space the chair sat between two projectors mounted on metal tripods. In front of the chair, in place of a screen were two printed motorised banners placed on a conveyor belt and mediated by a voltage regulator. Below each of these panels were two smoke machines; one on each side, on an angle. I found the use of smoke machines inherently theatrical, as though they were alluding to a ‘home entertainment system’ from a ’90s television advertisement. The table had a coin mechanism, so when you placed coins into the slot it would trigger a few seconds of smoke and the movement of the panels. These printed banners were made up of three frames, which interlaced between bands. As the banners roll, the projectors shine white light on these bands. These banners featured images of boxers. While the smoke and banners are triggered the chair produces a soundtrack, which is like a calming static head massage.

On the right side of room were an assortment of tools including safety vests, tapes and a couple of data tables designed to have ‘glitches’ recorded in them. These assorted tools were placed there for practical reasons – the artists had encountered a couple of technical difficulties during the show’s opening – but also as means to occupy and maintain the space. Some of these objects seemed superfluous, such as the jackets, but even their presence alluded to performative action. On the far side of the room was an old television featured on a found mechanical arm. The television showed ambiguous video footage which became more distorted the closer you walked towards it. Much of this footage was gleaned from gay porn. In some ways these works and many of the other works in Used Parts harboured a nostalgia to a pre-digital age. The footage compiled for this antiquated television set underwent a rigorous process of conversion from 8mm film to VHS tape and finally to its presented format as digital video. Hajian and Carter are actively destroying the idea of the ‘perfect image’, and this is amplified by the original sequences from 8mm film which flicker in and out of much of their works.

This project was highly ambitious and encouraged both Hajian and Carter to create a very large body of work, one that exists outside of the gallery. These works feature in a book made for the exhibition and on their Tumblr, http://junkyardtouring.tumblr.com/.

This immense body of work consists of various experiments in glitching images, both moving and static, and of continuing their research into different representations of masculine identity. There is a homoeroticism that is quietly etched within these works in a manner far less pronounced than on their Tumblr. Tumblr is continuously reproducing the content you post through reblogging, and so continuously propagates and reproduces your work. This makes it an interesting and sometimes problematic medium for the artist who must navigate both authorship and ownership in the proto-digital sphere.

Used Parts was technically impressive, nuanced and humorous, as well as offering a number of questions around the current and ongoing crisis within representations of masculinity, selfie culture, surveillance and the so-called ‘degradation of the image’ in a proto-internet context. Throughout my experience of this show I thought constantly about the way that networks act as communicative structures and of the dialectical tension between the protological yet uncontrollable nature of a network. I thought also of the action of collage and how this creates incongruities that can be brought together through the act of subtle references, as in the images of gay porn buried throughout the works.

[1] Hito Steyerl, In defense of the poor image, E-flux, http://www.e-flux.com/journal/in-defense-of-the-poor-image/

Hana Aoake