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Image: Rachel Maclean

Microstoria @ Talbot Rice

Feature by Rachael Cloughton.
Published 25 May 2011

Scottish born artist and songwriter Momus once claimed “every lie creates a parallel world, the world in which it is true.” Its within this parallel world that the Talbot Rice’s forthcoming show, Microstoria, is located. The nine internationally acclaimed artist’s set to be showcased pay little heed to the truth. Their work operates through deception and re-appropriation.

Even the show’s catalogue, Microstory, espouses the creation of false CVs, alter egos and superstar curators. Microstory asks to be viewed as another gallery within the show and not a book. It’s an appropriate addition and formal revision to an exhibition that thrives upon casting doubt and cynicism in its audience.

It seems the show is not only determined to estrange its audience by repeatedly misinforming them, it also looks to undermine the incestuous and interlocking artistic system it is a part of. Within Microstory, for instance, the curator becomes a central figure, one on a par with the artist, but a figure in herself created by yet more curators (who are also the authors and editors of the book). With so many layers of misinformation, we can barely see what was once the original, autonomous artwork.

Donna Holford-Lovell schizophrenically discusses her superstar curator alter ego Olav Henrikson, Peter Hill’s numerous lies are given pages of exposure while Charles Gute’s describes the controversy surrounding simple textual re-appropriations of critical heavyweight Hans Ullrich Obrist’s name. Hans Urleek Obrist is one example. Met with the same outrage the manipulation of a religious icon would endure, perhaps Gute is showing that’s exactly what Obrist is – a secular icon.

So, will Microstoria simply poke fun at the mock-professionalism of the art world and have a laugh at our expense along the way? It’s hard to think of another discipline that would incorporate and applaud such charlatan behaviour.

“No, it’s much more genuine than that,” stresses Helena Barrett, one of the ten Contemporary Art Theory students from Edinburgh College of Art organising the show and chief editor of Microstory. “The work will attempt to disclose and subvert dominant cultural myths.”

It would be easy to approach the show’s curators with as much caution as the rest of the works. They too are embroiled in the process they ask us to question, after all. Yet, these meta-curators make a pertinent point. It is this underlying intention – exposing that which is regularly presented as ‘natural’ as culturally contingent – which justifies a show with ethical intentions that could otherwise be thrown into doubt.

This ethical unravelling permeates the works in Microstoria. Kristoffer Svenberg’s Barber Shop film records the artist and a team of Christian missionaries volunteering in a barber’s shop in the Muslim area of Sri Lanka. This act is revealed to be a device to convert people to Christianity. The ideology starts to seep between the cracks until the viewer is exposed to an uncomfortable flood. Svenberg’s active role in the group is eventually revealed as subversive. Although he initially appears as one of the missionaries, we soon realise he has infiltrated their ranks merely to expose them.

Collaborators Olafsson and Castro, and the Scottish entry Rachel Maclean (the only artist to have previously exhibited in the country) make an apt trio and are due to be displayed alongside each other. All three disclose the cultural currency of costume and its false ‘natural’ heritage.

Further consideration of the artworks and their culmination in Microstoria, (and its annexed catalogue) leads to the following prediction: the celebration of perceived lies will dismantle our false belief in ‘natural’ truths. Momus’s “parallel world” which Microstoria appears to locate itself within, might turn out to be just as much our own.