if only…

“If only” is the frustrated utopian refrain of Oliver Ressler and David Thorne’s absurdly dysfunctional URL addresses collectively titled “Boom!”. Utilizing this ubiquitous textual format of the “new economy,” “Boom!” rehearses the defense mechanisms of the neoliberal imagination as it confronts its own internal crises. The acknowledged incompleteness implied by “if only” situates these texts somewhere between a guilty confession, a plea of desperation, and an ideological strategy session. The texts set for themselves the task of neutralizing the “problems” – the dislocated and potentially antagonistic groups engendered by the free market – that threaten the realization of the utopian ideal, implicitly embodied by the owners of capital. But Boom!’s utopian address deliberately fails to elicit from the viewer a positive identification with its purported message, having gone too far in specifying the contents of the universal “freedom” to which it aspires. This failure of identification thus displaces the locus of the “problem” from those constructed as the threatening “outside” of the capitalist utopia to the exclusionary, crisis-ridden grounds of that utopia itself.Originally designed for use as banners in anticapitalist demonstrations, Ressler and Thorne’s texts reject the handmade, organic aesthetics of most conventional protest art. Instead, they share with earlier postmodern artists such as Barbara Kruger the appropriation of the graphic conventions of marketing to disrupt the smooth functioning of everyday forms of consumerist identification. But Ressler and Thorne’s texts also bear a specific historical relation to the URL format, reinvesting it with traces of social divisions linked to the digital economy, of which the dot-com address has been a key visual and textual component. In the wake of the speculation-driven Internet bubble, the phrase “dot-com” already appears as an artifact of a ruined utopia, testimony to the destructive boom-bust cycle inherent to deregulated markets.

(Yates McKee, On Counterglobal Aesthetics; text from the catalogue: “Empire/State: Artists Engaging Globalization”, Whitney Museum of American Art, Independent Study Program Exhibition, New York, 2002)

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