AirSpace Gallery presents a notable UK solo exhibition from acclaimed British/Belgian artist Mishka Henner. Nine years after first showing at AirSpace with his partner Liz Lock, Henner returns with Search History - an exhibition of new and existing works. In recent years, Henner has mined datasets and online archives to produce pointed critiques of the American military-industrial complex’s reach across the world, the impact of oil and gas infrastructure on the landscape, and the pervasive encroachment of camera technologies in everyday life. In Search History, Henner broadens his contemporary gaze, presenting a series of signs, symbols, and landscapes of the 21st century, focusing predominantly on British concerns and covering ideas of memory failure, oversight, truth and lies and more; a set of diverse contemporary themes and challenges we can’t ignore.
anchester-based artist Mishka Henner appropriates digital data to subvert perceptions of modern life. Search History, his solo show at AirSpace Gallery, reflects on Henner's interaction with image-rich technologies such as Google Earth and Street View, highlighting the way he adopts a contemporary toolkit to infuse numerous dialogues into one image. Similar to what you would expect from your own Internet browsing history, Search History samples topics, visuals, symbols and signs of the 21st century through a melange of new and existing pieces.
ouching on the UK, Europe and the US's shifting industrial, political and societal climates, it explores the way in which the digital, above all, has infiltrated our existence. IMG_01 (2014) does exactly this. It pairs a silver gelatin print of five Australian field artillery brigade members in Ypres with a print-on-demand volume of the photograph’s digital code. By transferring an image taken in 1917 into two present-day forms, Henner suggests that our understanding of past histories is much more disjointed than the original experience. Moreover, while the image is still able to conjure human empathy, the book leaves us futilely seeking answers in reels of data.
his loss of knowledge is further disseminated in New York Truth (2017) and Washington Post Truth (2017); two pieces that reflect on newspapers' responses to the 2016 presidential elections. Mantled in silver frames, the front pages have been erased, reminding us of Trump's accusations of 'fake news'. A strong reflection on Britain, as well as Henner's jester-like persona, is found in the misaligned portraits of Elizabeth II; an Animal Farm quote; and a Martian take on the British Isles. These beg us to question our post-Brexit future – and Henner goes so far as to reference the leave campaign through the discomforting glare of Marshall Applewhite, leader of the Heaven’s Gate cult's mass-suicide, whose speech has been slowed down to a fraction of its original speed in Your Only Way to Survive is to Leave with Us (2017).
commentary on our future can also be seen in Atlantis Chaos (2017). The warm tones of a Martian desert captured by European satellites are blanketed with white inscriptions of UK place-names labelled in Mandarin rather than English. The converging of cultures begs the viewer to ask whether the artist is referring to our disregard for the planet, obsession with deep-space exploration or merely a miscommunication. The nationality cross-over also hints at the major industrial prowess held by Britain and China at different moments in the 18th-21st centuries.
wo series that revel in the Internet's ability to disclose details on hidden spaces are Airspace and Coronado Feeders. Both use Google Earth imagery to shatter illusions: Airspace shows the scale of weapons testing zones in the UK, while Coronado Feeders unveils the beef farming industry in all its corrupted glory through a vivid pit of excretion and chemical waste. Likewise, No Man's Land (2011-2013) features communities of female sex workers captured at 50mph by Google (‘s) Street View camera. Joined together, these images form a fleeting voyage where the viewer becomes a bystander to corruption. Here, the private blurs with the public.
urning the show's attention to human conflict is The Last Post, a one-off performance staged live at Search History's opening. A sole bugle player recites the Last Post, only to be accompanied by a cacophony of looped sound. This sincere reflection on the incomprehensible number of military deaths poignantly disrupts the art show spectacle. Collectively, the works ruminate on abuses of power and, through Henner's satirical touch, we are reminded that our sensibilities towards injustices have been dampenedby the internet. All of this data is available to view online, and yet despite this enhanced exposure, or perhaps because of it we are somehow immune to events experienced on the screen.
text by Selina Oakes
UK/Belgian artist, Mishka Henner, was awarded the ICP Infinity Award for Art and shortlisted for the Deutsche Börse Photography Prize in 2013. Shortlisted for the Prix Pictet in 2014. Recipient of the Kleine Hans award in 2011. Works held in the Tate Collection, Victoria & Albert Museum, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York Public Library, the Centre Pompidou, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, Portland Museum of Art, and the Cleveland Museum of Art. Exhibited internationally in numerous group shows and surveys. Member of the ABC Artists’ Books Cooperative. Mishka lives and works in Manchester, UK. and is represented in London by Carroll/Fletcher Gallery and in New York by Bruce Silverstein Gallery. https://mishkahenner.persona.co/
The Artist Soup Kitchen
with Richard Grayson
25th March, 2017 5pm-7pm
Artist, curator and writer, Richard Grayson, draws out from themes present in Search History in the next installment of our critical engagement sessions. Grayson, whose practice focuses on narrative and the visual arts, belief systems and material expression, and the ways cultural practices allow translation between the subjective and social/political realms, offers us the idea that Experimental, Progressive and Radical visual art practices had the idea of some sort of agency at its heart. What is the agency? Who has the agency? How do artists nd their agency? And how might this play out in a world of consumerism and click-bait?
For Tickets please click here
Richard Grayson is an artist, curator and writer currently based in London, UK. Widely exhibited across the world, and widely published, Richard
was a founder member of The Basement Group 1979-1984 Newcastle upon Tyne, a pioneering artists collective that made and represented time-based and performance practice. He is the Bartlett Research Fellow in the Department of Fine Art at Newcastle University and a Visiting Tutor at Ruskin School, University of Oxford and is represented by Matt’s Gallery, London and Yuill|Crowley, Sydney.
State of Affairs
Saturday April 15th, 2017 6pm-10pm The Resource Room
As part of Your City
, a brand new Music Festival in Stoke-on-Trent, AirSpace hosts this special evening of open mic Spoken Word. In our constantly moving, ever changing, devolving socio-techno-political world, participants are invited to address the current state of local, national, global and universal affairs, in an attempt to make sense of things, through readings, poetry and prose.
For more details see firstname.lastname@example.org
or the AirSpace Gallery website.
Mishka Henner – Mining the Contemporary Internet Landscape
Search History, AirSpace Gallery
a text by Selina Oakes
Collecting and reinterpreting the signs and symbols of the 21st century, Mishka Henner (b.1976) is an expert appropriator who uses the tools of the digital age to reveal information, imagery and archive material concealed within a sea of online data. Renowned for his Google Earth visuals, particularly his Beef and Oil series which was shortlisted for the Prix Pictect in 2014, Henner's oeuvre is much more diverse than your average contemporary artist. As a 'magpie' – a term Henner uses himself – he surveys and selects conceptual gems that are both playful and critical of today's society. His satirical unearthing of extraordinary, yet commonplace scenarios, sees the Manchester-based artist query the fabric of industrial, cultural and political systems. Not one to shy away from experimentation, Henner's recent exhibition, Search History, at AirSpace Gallery in Stoke-on-Trent, sees him throw together a diverse survey of works examining the various powers that 'control' our way of living: the Internet being its centre-piece.
Meeting Henner at his studio, we dive straight into the topic of the Internet, and why it is a prevalent force throughout his practice. “On a basic level, there came a point where working with photography meant that most of my time was spent on the computer – adjusting imagery, captioning, entering meta-data and uploading it to the web with the hope that someone would notice. It struck me that the screen itself could almost be a canvas, and that the internet holds within it an abundance of material.” Henner comments that this, along with literature on artists working with imagery and appropriation, notably The Pictures Generation and figures such as Richard Prince, Cindy Sherman and Robert Longo, drew him to realise the success of every artistic generation lies in its ability to embrace its moment through, as Henner puts it, “both the technology and optics of its time and place.” In 2008, he looked to the 00s' prevalent technology – the screen and the Internet – and when he began appropriating this imagery, it was obvious to him that the web was going to change photography drastically. He ruminates, “the aesthetics online were different from what I was trying to do as a camera-based photographer.”
Hailing from a background in sociology, cultural theory and documentary photography, the Belgian-born artist now works across three prominent realms: “I might work on something that feels very documentary and then I'll produce something that's a conceptual gesture or an aesthetic pursuit.” But, he still considers a lot of art, including his own, to be documentary by principle – “if good art is about a particular time and place then it is a document of that time and place, including the way it's made, presented and received.” His transition from a collaborative, predominantly documentary practice with Liz Lock, where he captured the community of Oldham (Borderlands), to a solo artist working with the Internet, was aided by three years spent with the ABC Artists' Book Coop. Interacting with people such as Joachim Schimd, Jonathan Lewis and Paul Soullelis, sparked in him the idea of the Internet as a source material.
From 2010 onwards, Henner's practice became more global, covering broader and increasingly international subjects. “I've always been committed to the idea of being able to find the result of global forces on your doorstep, and I think (with Borderlands) we did that. But, I became disheartened with the way photographers were being perceived and producing work on big budgets – I couldn't compete with that. Then, looking at the Internet, I realised that it was possible to make these geo-political gestures just by knowing what to look for online. It was possible to use the network to make these works as a sole citizen with very little resources.” In making a conscious decision to put down his physical camera, Henner opens up an innovative dialogue with new technologies, like the Internet, as well as traditional creative expressions such as the artists' or print-on-demand book. “Print-on-demand allows you to work quickly, to have a book made and manifested. I only made a single copy of Winning Mentality, and with that one copy, I entered the Tate Collection of Artists' Books.” It's curious to note that, while Henner finds his inspiration on the screen, he transports the virtual back to reality through physical entities. A crucial part of his practice is the physical book, print or sculptural object. He highlights that “as soon as you give an alternative form to something that already exists in the world, you change the way that it exists and the way that its perceived – that's a gesture that been happening since Duchamp.” Through this process, Henner has become a jack-of-all-trades, and he enjoys it: “I revel in the fact that people don't know what to expect. In comparison with lens-based photographers, my eye is not fused with the mechanics of a camera.”
Indeed, his work spans a breadth of media, and Search History is a prime example of this. An amalgamation of new and existing pieces, there's a vast mix of aesthetics present in the gallery space – it's not merely a set of clean-cut photographs from the same series, and there's a blend of text-based, print-on-demand, video, painterly and photographic pieces. The question is not how do you create a cohesive exhibition, but rather how does it address its viewer? Cleverly woven into the show's fabric is a play on the term, Search History. “There's an interesting quality about people's search history – it's all over the place. You get a sense of how rich and diverse not only your interests are but the materials that you dip in and out of.” Like the Internet, the audience is invited to dip in and out of projects spanning the last seven years.
By being so tightly associated with the Internet, there is a tendency to insert his practice, and this exhibition, into the all-too popular classification of Post-Internet art. Henner aptly suggests that it is more of a descriptive than critical term. “People are trying to define a trend that is artists using the Internet as a material. The problem with this is that it's nothing new – Hans Haacke was making work about networked culture and systems in the 60s and 70s, as were Sol LeWitt, Manfred Mohr and Stephen Willats, and yet you wouldn't describe them as Post-Internet artists. The Internet is an easy one – it's an identifiable and definable thing in culture, but the label doesn't really tell you a lot; I use the Internet as a material just as a painter uses paint.” We briefly discuss concerns for being sensationalised or typecast for certain pieces, which is aided by the fact that many of his works cyclically end up back on online. “Somebody I admire is Hito Steyerl, and upon meeting her at the Venice Biennale she said, 'you're the Google Earth guy'. That's when I thought I'd been typecast, and that's ok – I've spent two years on Google Earth and it hasn't restricted my practice.” In fact, Henner has done the opposite, and created a rich tableau.
In expanding on the power of the Internet, the concept of its accessibility comes to the fore. “What I like about the Internet is how full of leaks it is – there's all sorts of opportunities to be subversive.” Numerous works within Search History seek to undermine the power of institutions and corporations by simply revealing the facts. Furthermore, rather than focusing on surveillance, for which Henner is also often grouped under, his works are more about voyeurism and a fascination with observing. The artist is keen to comment that “it's more about conveying a dystopian tone on things than being about surveillance. It's also about the thrill of how a single online search can pierce through the facade of advertising.” Here, Henner reflects on a print of Coronado Feeders that hangs in his studio. Comprised of high-resolution satellite images taken from Google Earth, it exposes the grim reality of cattle farming in the heart of Texas. A putrid pit of chemicals and excretion swells beneath pens containing over 60,000 animals. It's a piece that is both aesthetically striking and shatters the illusion of the industry.
“No Man's Land is also more dystopian.” Shortlisted for the Deutsche Borse Photography Prize in 2013, the series uses Google Street View images of women situated in the margins of Spain and Italy to critique society's sedated mentality. Accompanied by a birdsong soundscape sourced from amateur recordings geotagged to the same location, it reveals how technology inadvertently helps us to engage with our blindspots. “I love that a totally automated process that doesn't aim to identify does so more clearly than anything else.” Henner's documentary side comes out in his explanation of using birds' mating calls to build texture and a sexual charge into the piece.
When asked if he sees himself as a voyeur or an active participant, he remarks “I'm trying to see myself as an active participant, but we are, as a culture, glued to what our screens show us about other people's lives. I'm definitely a participant in that.” On the flip-side, he mentions how, from the 1960s onwards, everyone became an active component in the artwork, “I don't think there is such a thing as a passive viewer.” What becomes a clear attraction for Henner is his disconnection with authorship: “working with the Internet wasn't about embracing it. It was about surrendering a particular idea of authorship and surrendering that restrictive, uniform camera lens.” Another driving force for the artist is humour. In Search History, both Royal Subject and Worry Less Love More clearly critique and subvert familiar 21st century signs through satire. In speaking about his creative motivations he admits “I feel that I'm onto something when I'm almost laughing – because I can't believe that these things actually exist.”
Countering the light-hearted humour of poking fun at sovereignty and reversing motivational texts, is a severe dark undertone that at times pushes the limit on irony, even within the gallery space. “Everything becomes supercharged the minute you have the white walls.” Search History is the first time that Artefacts, one part of a series made on the 10th anniversary of the World Trade Centre attacks, has been on view to the public. Henner places the tiny, low-resolution image within a wooden frame on a sparse wall to supercharge a critique on abuses of power. The low resolution aesthetic of Google's first art project - Google Arts & Culture (formerly Google Art Project) - peering into a museum combined with a shot of Lynndie England dragging a naked detainee at the Abu Ghraib prison makes way for a provoking piece: “I took a crude image and inserted it into a crude representation of one of the biggest museums in the world. The finished image is a fiction but at the same time it sheds some light on blatant assertions of power.”
Similarly, Your Only Chance to Survive is to Leave with Us, a new work premiered at AirSpace Gallery, also has a sinister heart. In keeping with the current political climate and in reference to the leave campaign, Henner places Marshall Applewhite, leader of the Heaven's Gate cult, in the gallery's window space. Surveying members of the public as they pull up to the traffic lights, Applewhite's gaunt head appears on a television screen, encircled by purple satin drapes. “I came across the Heaven's Gate cult by accident, and yet it fitted perfectly with the show's time and place. The entire cult killed themselves almost 20 years to the day that Search History opened. This along with the fact that their colour scheme was identical to UKIP's, whose HQ happens to be up the road from AirSpace, and their own ethos being to leave with them for a chance of survival, mimics the uncertainty that we find ourselves in politically… I laughed – but it's a double-edged sword – and that's the work for me.”
And of course, the work links back to contemporary society's obsession with living through the screen. Henner smiles and says “I'm fascinated by clickbait – it's so conscious of the viewer's desire to surrender themselves and to be taken somewhere. It's a false promise, but still, we want to plunge into the screen.” Beneath all the glamour is a dangerous collision of two worlds – the artist discusses the blended history of his and his daughter's YouTube searches. “This is where Searching for the Enemy evolved from. It features a subverted cover of his daughter's colouring book with terms that we're all being bombarded with.” While Search History openly touches on current affairs, today's climate has made it tricky for artists to be satirical, “I don't know how much room there is for that anymore – satire feels quite impotent at the moment because things have gotten so extreme on a political level that it seems as though irony couldn't make it up – that's an interesting dilemma – where do you go when the reality is so extreme that you can't make it up.”
Introducing a live element into his work for the first time confirms Henner's ability to move successfully across disciplines. Search History opened with a recital of The Last Post – a performance that sees a sole trumpet player perform a military composition over a looped audio sequence. There's something very British about it. “I wanted the show to have a strong British theme, as much of my work so far has been focused on America. There were so many elements that had a British flavour to them – including Airspace, Royal Subject, IMG_01 and Atlantis Chaos – but nothing that quite tied them together.” Played at military funerals and at the closure of British colonial outposts, Henner describes The Last Post as being something very singular, “it's loaded with personal, emotive and precise moments or lives.” By looping the live recital, he has created something that opposes its tradition. “When it's looped you change its meaning – you're turning it into this mass thing.” On a digital front, there's something cold and automated in the looping of a live, emotive sound. Henner references the American version, Taps, which is now being legally played from a recording due to the overwhelming number of military deaths in recent years, “there are so many funerals now that they don't have the personnel. On loop, The Last Post becomes a cacophony of noise, bringing to mind the scale of death brought through war.” The piece fits neatly with the end of things, and the beginning of what is yet to come.
A final contemplation over a 'loss' of things is found in Atlantis Chaos, A Bullet in the Heart, and IMG_01, all of which hint at the diminishment of communication. Atlantis Chaos sees a familiar map of Britain superimposed onto a martian landscape and littered with Mandarin inscriptions. It immediately defamiliarises a familiar symbol and makes it illegible for a significant proportion of audiences in England. Still, Henner revels in the fact that there will always be one person in attendance who know what it means, “suddenly it speaks to them while it doesn't speak to others.” Pushing the boundaries on illegibility further is IMG_01. Born out of 2014's centenary celebrations, IMG_01 renders a historic image of four Australian troops in Ypres, 1917, into a book of code. By opening the photograph in Word, he reveals how much photography and the collective memory have changed in 100 years. “The most contemporary photobook you can make is a book consisting entirely of code. It's about the devastation of digital data. When I opened the code for that image, it felt as though I was looking at ruins – there was no way to reconstruct that code into an image – only machines can reconstruct it. I loved the absurdity of publishing a book of illegible code, while recognising how potent the image is and how impotent code is.”
Search History marks a mid-point in Henner's career. It takes stock of the concepts and aesthetics extracted by the artist from the world in which he inhabits through the Internet. It's a representation of his findings over the last seven years, and is bold enough not to include a single acclaimed series such as Feedlots or No Man's Land. It draws new parallels and fresh dialogues between disparate content, mimicking existence behind the screen – the Internet is a mishmash of data, but it takes a creative mind to navigate, mine and extract its landscape. Search History itself is complexly layered, but it very much embraces its moment and alerts us to the stories that go unnoticed within today's online ocean. While a sense of foreboding at the state of the world could overwhelm the viewer, the contained aspect of each work, be it a print-on-demand book, print, video or object, suggests that every issue is surmountable – the human element of The Last Post, in particular, reminding us of the tactile value in live experiences.