Millenials, Generation Y, Generation Me – Its demographic spans those born between the early 1980s and the early 2000s and I am myself part of it. We are a generation that, according to Jean Twenge author of the book Generation Me (2006), is characterized by a strong sense of community, tolerance and confidence, but at the same time also a sense of entitlement and narcissism. Growing up in a post-Cold War world, we witnessed the delimitation of actual and metaphorical boundaries, the sheer unstoppable increase of consumer culture and, most importantly, the beginnings and the rise of the internet. Especially the latter was and is, as we all know, the catalyst that would change our lives forever.
Paradoxically, in today’s #YOLO-culture of seemingly infinite possibilities and opportunities, of #self(ie)-indulgence and generally accepted exhibitionism we often find ourselves in a state of perceived immobility and depression. The perpetual hunt for never-ending entertainment, for infinite jest, leaves us feeling empty and dissatisfied – A party that lasts forever is bound to become repetitive.
The exhibition Unendlicher Spass (Infinite Jest) at Schirn Kunsthalle, Frankfurt, named after the book with the same title by David Foster Wallace, is concerned with this I at the beginning of the 21. century, the I of the Generation Me. The I which has boundless options and is simultaneously utterly unable to cope with this abundance. While in today’s world every nobody has theoretically the same chance of suddenly becoming somebody – be it through casting and reality shows on TV or by being discovered on the internet – there is also this sense of longing for normality, banality, and the average. This is reflected in such concepts as normcore, a fashion and lifestyle trend striving for the bland anti-style.
Unendlicher Spass is set up in a cluster of rooms, often accessible in more than one way, whereby it is free to the visitor to decide in which order to view the artworks. The curatorial set-up, with no real beginning or end to the display, thus mirrors the infinite self-centred circularity of the Generation Me.
Artworks like Peter Coffin’s Untitled (2008) and Alicia Kwade’s Journey without arrival (2012) directly translate perceived immobility or pointlessness. Coffin’s work takes as its model the conveyor-belt packaging system of a New York electronics shop. Instead of goods, Coffin’s belt now transports a bundle of balloons in an endless loop, up and down, and around the gallery space. Kwade’s installation consists of a bike which has been bend to form a circle, making it impossible to ride it in any other way than around itself.
The incessant occupation with the self is dealt with in Maurizio Cattelan’s Spermini (1997) in which the artist multiplies himself into scores of three-dimensional selfie-sculptures, spread out to swarm the walls. In Andrea Fraser’s two-screen video installation Projection (2008) the artist sits facing herself mimicking the patient on screen and the therapist on the other.
While some works, like Francis Alys’ Time is a Trick of the Mind (1998) show a more philosophical approach to the theme of cause and effect and circularity, it is especially Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch’s installation Living Comp (2011), that reflects the dystopian, dream-like state of the Generation Me most up-to-date.
In a sort of sculptural theatre with beds and benches spread across the room, the visitor is invited to consume Trecartin’s film Ready (Re’Search Wait’s) (2010). The piece is a tour de force of a home-quality video showing the artist assuming different roles and engaging in monologues that verge on self-indulgent hysteria. The whole assemblage is fast-paced and overlaid with flashing graphics. The artist presents an exaggerated, but shockingly accurate caricature of the 21 century I.
If you happen to be in Frankfurt, you can catch the last day of Unendlicher Spass (Infinite Jest) tomorrow.