Peter J. Amdam: When we met in Stockholm, I told you about I how I intuitively feel that destruction and shopping have similar therapeutic effects—or even better: similar sensations of well-being and even euphoria. You immediately caught on to this, and we started talking about destruction, which I feel says something about your practice. It kind of nails how advertising technologies function not just visually, but also on deeper sensory and perceptual levels.
Mike Bouchet: I agree wholeheartedly. I think the effects of the destructive act linger longer though: it’s not as short-lived an experience. But then again, destruction is something we don’t normally engage in as often, so we are less used to its effects. It feels great to destroy things. I think the primary criteria for advertising is that it functions first and foremost on an aesthetic level. When I use the word “aesthetics” here, I mean it not in terms of categories of art, but rather in the classical use: “cognito sensitive,” which is used to designate “sensual understanding.” The seduction point for advertising is received on very deep sensual, perceptual, subconscious and behavioral levels. It has to push a lot of buttons simultaneously to be effective. I think it’s also why advertising and marketing fields have been so heavily plugged into the “soft sciences” in the last few decades: behavioral studies, social psychology—fields where social scientists have been making a kind of scientific library of human response scenarios. These fields have been both heavily funded and plundered by advertising and marketing firms. I like the idea of trying to plunder the end results of their work—to see where the ignition button is, in this year’s model. There is a strong visual element, a strong social language floating around us that often tries to grab us between the legs and illicit some response. Our notions of sensuality and sexuality get bounced back through that. It inevitably shapes a cultural sensibility. It’s not some formula or Freudian set of keys by any means. I think it’s a visual language that is constantly in flux, and is constantly being reabsorbed by an audience that is altogether bored, excited, repressed, sexually experienced, jaded, naive, finicky and drifting.
PA: Right. I feel for example that a work of yours like Flood (2013)—with all the images from Internet porn—breaks down our perception of whatever we could call “the sexual.” It’s a very vivid reconfiguration of abstract human technologies of sense and touch in itself—what you called “aesthetics” earlier. If the classic critique of pornography is that it removes the element of human emotion from the equation, then your work does the exact opposite: it throws the very workings of human emotions into a massive, fluctuating, overloaded code of visual, informational activity.
MB: Flood ended up being a very warm work, but I find the warmth comes indirectly. The cold quality of silent video diffuses the emotional hooks of porn. It took me a long time working on it to realize that not having sound gave the contrast between the architecture of the medium and the content of the image a hypnotic effect. Even though it’s a rather formal and abstract-looking work, people generally realize it’s composed of sex videos from quite a physical distance, even though there’s nothing recognizably graphic until you get up close to it. The predominant flesh tones and the general pulsing of the individual tiles still register as porn. I find the warmth of the piece comes from the range of associative impressions that come from watching it. The formal qualities carry a wide range of impressions: stained glass windows, psychedelic patterns, a satellite view of porno consumption, the conflation of sex and technology, flipped notions of private/public, porn user tolerance. Somehow, all these associations create this warmth for me. I’ve long been interested in understanding a culture through multiplication. Online pornography is an incredible flow of data—it’s the Amazon River of the Internet, perhaps even the Pacific Ocean, in terms of sheer volume. My initial idea with this work was to somehow dip a bucket into this massive body of water and dump its contents onto the pavement to look at for a few minutes as it dries up. With 10,000 different pornographic videos playing for 10 minutes each, it has a density that is hard to grasp.
PA: When you speak of this conflation of sexuality and technology, I feel it touches a very important aspect of your work. To me, the sexual dimension in your of your work lies not so much in the explicit, obscene or frivolous, but rather in a keen sense of sexuality’s relationship to technology, its cognito sensitive. It’s about how the sexual permeates both high and low technology.
MB: There’s a certain amount of sexual imagery woven into the general cultural landscape. It feels like a quota to me. Again, I’m often interested when the attempts at this insertion seem forced or inappropriate. Even when it’s done with a nudge and a wink, like with Axe deodorant ads, it’s still totally blatant. But I don’t find it problematic. I wish there was more of it geared towards women as explicitly. I also wonder if a general low-level sexual stimulation is constant in media now? It crops up in the strangest places. Of course, most of the more explicit suggestion is geared towards a certain age group—the mid-teens to early ‘30s—but it feels like this particular audience expands a bit more every year. It creeps into weird things like kids cartoons and then it gets morphed in more highbrow arenas. For instance, fashion ads need to be sexy but not erotic, which is not an easy trick to pull off. On the other hand, it’s amazing how crass pop up windows on the Internet can be.
PA: How does this work with the “Tapestry Cartoons”?
MB: This group of works is based on commercial motion picture advertisement posters—“movie posters.” I collect these images and collage them together, generally combining two posters into one image. I’ll occasionally combine more, but two images creates the “double bind” effect I’m looking for. The compositions usually come from the seams of how the posters are folded. Hollywood posters summarize a lot, don’t they? They encapsulate a whole mindset and experience using the historical language of painting. They are generally quite tame in what they actually reveal, but what they suggest is very strong. They reveal a wide range of human emotional projections: fantasy scenarios of every stripe, the zeitgeist of the zeitgeist.
Mike Bouchet (American, b. 1970) is an artist who lives and works in Frankfurt. He is represented by Peres Projects, Berlin; Marlborough Chelsea, New York; and Parisa Kind, Frankfurt. His upcoming projects include participations in Manifesta 11, Zurich, and the Ruhr Triennale, as well as a solo show at Marlborough Chelsea in spring 2016.
Peter J. Amdam is a curator, writer and critic based in Oslo. Recent exhibitions include “Refraction: The Image Of Sense” at Blain|Southern, London, and “Life: Within Such Limits” at Carl Kostyál, Stockholm.
Images: Mike Bouchet, Cloud Nymph (Reading), 2014; Square Alsa, 2015; NymphCloud (Tacosauros), 2014; Square Montroy, 2015; WarHorse Orgy, 2014; Square Infra, 2015; Diana Pickle, 2014; Square Cam, 2015; NymphHorseMother 1, 2014; Yellow Welcome, 2015. All images courtesy of the artist and Peres Projects, Berlin