Karl O'Connor and Mick Harris will both take part in the London exhibition which opens this month, with a 7-inch release also planned.
The show is based around the ideas that Canadian scholar and philosopher Marshall McLuhan had on the interaction of technology and humanity, and in particular his concept of the Narcissus Trance, which is described by co-curators Paul Purgas and Shama Khanna as "a process that anaesthetises the nervous system in order to allow technological media to merge with the mind." It's not the first time that the O'Connor and Harris have collaborated with Purgas, as they took part in his two We Can Elude Control shows alongside Sleeparchive and Secondo in 2008. Again, a physical product will be released to commemorate the commission; and this time it's 7-inch single bearing text by writer and theorist Mark Fisher AKA K-punk.
Turner prize nominated Mark Titchner, acclaimed New York painter Wade Guyton, author and conceptual artist Tom McCarthy and emerging London based sculptor Ben Washington are amongst the other artists contributing work to the exhibition, which runs from June 26th through to August 8th. The grand opening on Friday 25th June will be anchored around some special live performances, with Rose Kallal doing a new piece with three 16mm projectors and a Roland SH-2000 synthesizer, and O'Connor and Harris showcasing their latest project for the first time in public. The aforementioned artists will also contribute installed pieces to the exhibition that, according to Purgas, "will function as more of an immersive encounter." The exhibition will also host discussion events stemming from McLuhan's theories, and the project will continue into the new year, with a second exhibition at Bristol's Spike Island in January.
We spoke to co-curator Paul Purgas to get a bit more of an insight into the exhibition, his relationship with Shama Khanna, and his interest in Marshall McLuhan's theories.
How did you first meet with Shama Khanna and what led to the formation of this project?
We first met at the Istanbul Biennial in 2007, and through our ongoing conversations realised that we shared a similar set of ideas about the curatorial possibility for exploring art and technology within an exhibition format. Narcissus Trance has been developing over the last 18 months and is the outcome of this long-term collaborative process.
Can you explain a little more about your passion for McLuhan's work and why you decided to integrate his ideas into the concept of the exhibition?
McLuhan's theoretical viewpoint appealed to us in that his approach seemed to offer a much more honest analysis of mans relationship with technology, capturing the more antagonistic and problematic aspects of media. In a world where idealistic digital rhetoric has been appropriated for governmental and corporate agendas and technology has been harnessed as an unedited vehicle for social change it was incredibly refreshing to revisit McLuhan's propositions. In particular his fundamental belief in artists as the driving force for reclaiming our sensory relationship with media systems.
How does something like Narcissus Trance differ from your We Can Elude Control project? Is there a different angle behind the integration of visuals and audio?
There is perhaps the surface connection of Karl O'Connor and Mick Harris that would function as a link. However where WCEC was very much about positioning a certain type of sonic practice within a gallery, Narcissus Trance is more an exercise in connecting some of these experiential ideas to the wider context of contemporary art through film, sculpture, photography, painting and literature. Equally the sonic aspects of Narcissus Trance are directed more towards opening up our understanding of the electronic as an activating primordial force. Whether that is through the raw synthesized soundtracks of New York sound artist and filmmaker Rose Kallal or the mechanised ritualistic simplicity of Mark Titchner's English Language Golem, a computerised speech programme designed for the purpose of magical incantation. In addition, through the Black Box Transmitter by the International Necronautical Society the project connects to the history of broadcasting and the electronic as an ethereal radiating force; in this case emitting elements of the INS's party manifesto, Calling All Agents: Transmission, Death, Technology.
Are there any collaborations or works that you're particularly proud of showcasing?
One of the key aspects of the project for us was developing an exhibition in which the various artforms were presented on an equal footing and where sound wasn't treated as a subordinate factor or an add on but instead was a core aspect of the project. Alongside this we wanted to create a situation where the work of both established artists, such as Wade Guyton and Sara VanDerBeek, would be positioned amongst emerging practitioners presented here through contributions by Joe Watling and Ben Washington. Finally, in terms of the exhibition publication we are very grateful to Mark Fisher, K-punk, for contributing the central text.
You've suggested that the opening performance will kick off an "artist research platform," before being concluded at Bristol's Spike Island in January. Do you expect the two shows to differ wildly?
That is something we are very much looking to define after the London show. In essence we wanted to treat this first stage as a space to explore ideas and see the potential for positioning artworks and performance in a certain way. The outcomes of this stage will be fundamental in shaping the Bristol exhibition in January 2011, and it's definitely something we are looking forward to as Spike Island feels like the right space for us to really push the project.