The illu­sion of whole­ness which is the fas­ci­nat­ing pull of style does not con­tra­dict its poten­tial for rup­ture and resis­tance. The inter­est in style has to do with its mobility—its abil­i­ty to resist the lim­i­ta­tions of sim­ple con­text deter­mi­na­tions. …these new styl­is­tic approach­es do not sim­ply repro­duce or man­age social real­i­ty as a giv­en, but gives it to us as some­thing new that is pro­duced through the work itself.

- Ina Blom, A Ques­tion of Style”

Kel­ly Lycan’s exhi­bi­tion WHITE HOT (A White Flea Mar­ket) calls into ques­tion our pre­con­ceived notions of the val­ue and def­i­n­i­tion of art as well as the func­tion of the art gallery as a site for encoun­ter­ing ele­vat­ed art objects or images. The exhi­bi­tion title itself pos­es an ini­tial ques­tion: What is a flea mar­ket doing in a gallery? Then we might ask, what kind of flea mar­ket brings togeth­er art, com­modi­ties, col­lec­tions, and dis­play items, all under the roof of an artist- run cen­tre? And why are some for sale and some not? But unlike the chaot­ic expe­ri­ence of most flea mar­kets, this space is per­me­at­ed by a cer­tain styl­is­tic uni­ty, a decid­ed­ly more pre­cious ambiance. Here issues around style and taste are being used to dis­rupt our dom­i­nant codes of val­ue, mean­ing, and aesthetics.

The white hot of the exhibition’s title presents two sig­ni­fiers whose mean­ing shifts as we peruse the assem­blage of het­e­ro­clite objects, pho­tos and images that fill Gallery TPW. White hot, as in stolen; or as in new and styl­ish – hot off the pro­duc­tion line; or as in desirous, pas­sion­ate or fer­vid. In the con­text of steal­ing,” white hot is sug­ges­tive of the artis­tic prac­tice of appro­pri­a­tion. Since the late 19th cen­tu­ry, the avant-garde defined itself, heat­ed­ly and force­ful­ly, not only in oppo­si­tion to estab­lish­ment cul­ture and bour­geois tastes, but also in con­trast to the new aes­thet­ic appeal of the mass-pro­duced com­mod­i­ty fetish. Artists came to use the

strate­gies of steal­ing” from the most recent fash­ions, and incor­po­rat­ing the newest modes of pro­duc­tion – as well as those fash­ions and pro­duc­tion modes that had fall­en into obsolescence—as a pow­er­ful lens through which to view the mytholo­gies of a new cap­i­tal­ist cul­ture. The appro­pri­a­tion of the new by art was, on the one hand, utopian—in that it attempt­ed to har­ness new pro­duc­tion modes as a way to project a bet­ter future; on the oth­er hand, it imi­tat­ed the forms of pop­u­lar cul­ture in a par­o­d­ic and cyn­i­cal fash­ion – as détourne­ment, an effec­tive way to cre­ate a dis­rup­tive imageth­at cri­tiques new dis­cur­sive regimes of pow­er in the name of his­tor­i­cal mem­o­ry. Art’s appro­pri­a­tion of new pro­duc­tion modes and ver­nac­u­lar forms of pop­u­lar cul­ture ulti­mate­ly stemmed from the sur­vival strat­e­gy of mim­ic­ry: to mime the strate­gies of the dom­i­nant ide­ol­o­gy as a weapon, but also as sur­rep­ti­tious cri­tique, as a way of mir­ror­ing a dis­en­chant­ed image back to the world.

20th-cen­tu­ry avant-garde art was built on iron­ic and appro­pria­tive uses of (1) new pro­duc­tion modes and (2) the com­modi­ties and plea­sures of pop­u­lar cul­ture: Dadaists assem­bled adver­tis­ing and the detri­tus of the street into col­lage works; the Sur­re­al­ists obsessed over obso­lete bour­geois fash­ions and com­mod­i­ty items found at the flea mar­ket; the Sit­u­a­tion­ists pla­gia­rized philo­soph­i­cal, lit­er­ary or artis­tic sources, as well as manip­u­lat­ing ready­made pop­u­lar comics; Con­cep­tu­al art adopt­ed admin­is­tra­tive and infor­ma­tion­al aes­thet­ics through its use of doc­u­ments and maps, to name but a few. Steal­ing” and détourn­ing” ele­ments from the very val­ue-sys­tem one is resist­ing or attack­ing are strate­gies that have con­tin­ued to pro­lif­er­ate. But in order to remain effec­tive this approach has changed dra­mat­i­cal­ly from one decade to the next, in keep­ing with chang­ing pat­terns of pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion. Accord­ing to Nico­las Bour­ri­aud, cur­rent artists are using an aes­thet­ic of post­pro­duc­tion” that cre­ates new social rela­tions. Post­pro­duc­tion refers to a prac­tice of respond­ing to the chaos of our infor­ma­tion econ­o­my by appro­pri­at­ing castoff objects and/or oth­ers’ ideas, to reuse and re-con­tex­tu­al­ize them with­in new social sit­u­a­tions. The dom­i­nant visu­al mod­el,” Bour­ri­aud explains, is clos­er to the open-air mar­ket, the bazaar, the souk, a tem­po­rary and nomadic gath­er­ing of pre­car­i­ous mate­ri­als and prod­ucts… Recy­cling (a method) and chaot­ic arrange­ment (an aes­thet­ic) have sup­plant­ed shop­ping…”1

In keep­ing with this idea of post­pro­duc­tion, Lycan’s instal­la­tion speaks to us of the search and desire for alter­nate economies – made nec­es­sary in a world where most art/ cul­ture does lit­tle more than serve up ram­pant con­sump­tion and con­formist spec­ta­cle. Lycan is as inter­est­ed in using anti- art as a strat­e­gy for art’s con­tin­u­a­tion, as she is in attempt­ing to fos­ter some form of renewed sen­sus com­mu­ni to counter the gen­er­al sense of social anomie dom­i­nat­ing our cities. The art­works, col­lec­tions, or every­day objects on dis­play in WHITE HOT are not just her own; some have been loaned or donat­ed by oth­ers.2 Also, as view­ers we become par­tic­i­pants, in that we must nego­ti­ate how the exhi­bi­tion ele­ments are to be looked at and/or acti­vat­ed: as décor, art, mere com­modi­ties, items in a col­lec­tion, or some­where in between. It would be dif­fi­cult to remain a pas­sive view­er in an instal­la­tion like this that clear­ly calls into ques­tion the nature of the art object and the func­tion of the art gallery. We can become con­sumers, but this itself neces­si­tates an inter­ac­tion with the artist (who tends the gallery once a week as artist/stylist/ shop­keep­er), which might then engage us in a more in-depth under­stand­ing of the exhibition.

Each fab­ri­cat­ed, hand­made, found or donat­ed object from WHITE HOT is brand­ed with its own set of val­ue judg­ments and asso­ci­a­tions from the start, based on its place with­in our more of less fixed sys­tem of cir­cu­lat­ing cul­tur­al cap­i­tal. As a way to mess with these pre­con­ceived notions of an object’s worth, Lycan dis­plays objects with­in an ambigu­ous con­text or the wrong’ reg­is­ter. Objects are placed side-by-side with­out appar­ent rhyme or rea­son. Dis­play fur­ni­ture and dis­play objects are mixed with art, cheap com­modi­ties, and sec­ond-hand items. Some items appear to be for sale while oth­ers are not. By deploy­ing a flea-mar­ket or thrift-store aes­thet­ic, this ad hoc instal­la­tion of items from dif­fer­ent com­pet­ing mar­kets presents the sec­ond-hand as a more sus­tain­able con­sump­tion mod­el. The work offers a sub­tle cri­tique of an econ­o­my based on a com­bi­na­tion of high­ly styl­ized every­day objects (such as dig­i­tal gad­gets) and planned obso­les­cence – made pos­si­ble by the dom­i­nant ide­ol­o­gy of cyn­i­cal rea­son.3

WHITE HOT is fur­ther com­pli­cat­ed by its blurred author­ship. Lycan solicit­ed con­tri­bu­tions from a vari­ety of publics to be includ­ed with­in the exhi­bi­tion, and this along with her cool aes­thet­ic resists the idea of author­ship. How­ev­er, after spend­ing time in the gallery the idio­syn­crat­ic nature of the assem­bled col­lec­tion – its com­pi­la­tion of objects – begins to reveal an unmis­tak­able aus­tere yet quirky sense of taste.’ In oth­er words, Lycan’s sig­na­ture begins to shine through. What we begin to see is an alle­gor­i­cal sys­tem of eco­nom­ic, social and aes­thet­ic codes that Lycan has devel­oped through the con­tin­u­ous act of col­lect­ing and by reflect­ing on this impulse.

First, there is the col­li­sion of dif­fer­ent hier­ar­chies of display—the com­mod­i­ty, art, crafts, the sec­ond-hand item, and the per­son­al sou­venir con­tin­u­al­ly swap places. When we enter the gallery, we are imme­di­ate­ly con­front­ed with Tab Fly­ers, a series of paper-thin white paint­ings that look like pub­lic fly­ers (with tear-off tabs cut into one edge). In this way Lycan presents a work of high art—a series of white mono­chromes— that mim­ics a ver­nac­u­lar, pedes­tri­an form, one that is usu­al­ly try­ing to sell some­thing. As we ven­ture fur­ther into the gallery, we encounter a peg­board wall with stor­age behind it, stuffed with white and trans­par­ent mate­r­i­al. This might make us think of how over-con­sump­tion results in the build up of too much stuff, clut­ter­ing phys­i­cal space and the mind, and result­ing in the need for annu­al garage sales and rent­ed stor­age space. We also see art and oth­er items dis­played on blan­kets and plat­forms on the floor and on fold­ing tables. These group­ings are titled as separate

pieces and include $2 and Under which con­sists of cheap com­mod­i­ty items (for two dol­lars and under) dan­gling from chan­de­lier-like clus­ters with hooks, zip ties and plas­tic clips; Three Tiers are dis­play-like tiers, lined with car­pet but remain­ing emp­ty; and a porce­lain col­lectible of Princess Di is found in a sty­ro­foam cool­er. All of these exam­ples look like a cross between art and com­mod­i­ty, plinth and dis­play fur­ni­ture. Sam­ple Pho­tos, 2 years 2 months are lam­i­nat­ed per­son­al pho­tos, rem­i­nis­cent of lam­i­nate colour sam­ples. Here an effi­cient com­mod­i­ty-based tool is refash­ioned to serve as a dis­play device for keep­ing track of research, ideas, as well as doc­u­ments of every­day life and rela­tion­ships. Last Sup­per is a pho­to of a detail of a paint­ing of A Last Sup­per” (from the Lou­vre) blown up to life size” and lean­ing against a fold­ing table from home Depot: the piece is about the artist’s expe­ri­ence of encoun­ter­ing an unex­pect­ed num­ber of last sup­pers at the Lou­vre. A trompe l’oeil effect is achieved as Lycan visu­al­ly mim­ics the folds of the table and the folds in the cloth, result­ing in a sub­tle play between pho­to, paint­ing and sculp­ture tra­di­tions. With an iron­ic wink to the phe­nom­e­non of male artists mim­ic­k­ing oth­er male artists, Lycan has also pro­duced a Judd or Gillick-like min­i­mal­ist wall sculp­ture that is used to hold cheap white plas­tic bags, ready at hand in case the artist sells some­thing to the gallery vis­i­tor. There is also a stack of car­pet sam­ples cut out to spell save.’ Through these group­ings irony flirts with sin­cer­i­ty at every turn.

A sophis­ti­cat­ed under­stand­ing of mate­ri­als and objects, and of the poten­tial for their renew­al and rein­ven­tion, per­me­ates the instal­la­tion. But the most obvi­ous rhetor­i­cal and alle­gor­i­cal fea­ture of WHITE HOT is its use of white to achieve an all-con­sum­ing aes­thet­ic, which Lycan refers to as desen­ti­men­tal­iza­tion,” invis­i­bil­i­ty,” homo­gene­ity,” and neu­tral­i­ty.” Be that as it may, it is dif­fi­cult to approach the exhi­bi­tion with­out being at least some­what con­scious of the his­tor­i­cal sig­nif­i­cance or weight of white. In Chro­mo­pho­bia, David Batch­e­lor out­lines how white has func­tioned in the his­to­ry of colour the­o­ry, design, archi­tec­ture, and art. He explains that, par­tic­u­lar­ly since the mid-19th cen­tu­ry, colour has been asso­ci­at­ed with the prim­i­tive, the Ori­ent, intox­i­ca­tion, and excess, while white has been aligned with the rhetoric of order, puri­ty and truth.”4 While this inter­pre­ta­tion is entire­ly appro­pri­ate to WHITE HOT, Lycan’s exhi­bi­tion uses the social mythol­o­gy of colour as an oppor­tu­ni­ty to deploy white as irony and ostra­ne­nie.5 White imparts an aura of puri­ty, clean­li­ness and order almost exclu­sive to the wealthy who can afford the main­te­nance of such a look with­in their care­ful­ly designed inte­ri­ors. It evokes class, but also alien­at­ing con­for­mi­ty. Be that as it may, there is the sense that Lycan uses white fas­tid­i­ous­ly as a way to cre­ate a new hybrid expe­ri­ence in which her white objects sug­gest mem­o­ry and place rather than a cold, objec­tive aesthetic.

Lycan’s flea mar­ket ref­er­ences low-brow cul­ture but ren­ders it styl­ish via the ®use of the white mono­chrome. The mono­chrome itself can refer to a num­ber of con­flict­ing ideas: the death or endgame of art, a search for art’s essence, utopia, tran­scen­dence, the sub­lime, the void, the plen­i­tude of being, absolute noth­ing­ness. Ref­er­ence to this mod­ernist high-art’ extreme takes on new asso­ci­a­tions with­in the con­text of the low.’ Behind this neu­tral’ aes­thet­ic, one

sens­es the cat­a­stro­phe of over­con­sump­tion – a late cap­i­tal­ist world that can no longer con­trol or sus­tain itself, pil­ing up waste high­er and high­er as the winds of progress car­ry us for­ward. Sur­ren­der For­ev­er, which presents a large white flag falling pathet­i­cal­ly to the floor, can­not help but be read as a sign of society’s sur­ren­der to con­sumerism. Flags are the ulti­mate sym­bol of belong­ing, but this flag is left blank. To add insult to injury, the flag is made from a shiny vinyl, like a giant white garbage bag.

Just when we think we’ve pinned the work down, a glim­mer of hope appears through the white­wash: this space actu­al­ly catch­es what Lycan calls the over­flow of abun­dance” – a way of giv­ing new life to dis­card­ed things in the form of recy­cling and revalu­ing. Fur­ther­more, Lycan’s use of white is not con­sis­tent. Every object’s colour shifts slight­ly depend­ing on what kind of white it sits next to. There is also an inter-sub­jec­tiv­i­ty at work here in the very pro­duc­tion and recep­tion of the piece. This speaks to the idea that the mar­ket­place has always func­tioned as a meet­ing place. It can be inhab­it­ed by het­ero­ge­neous publics and active sub­jects who make unprece­dent­ed and mean­ing­ful rela­tions possible.

Lycan’s instal­la­tion also evokes the rela­tion­ship between shared his­to­ries and pri­vate col­lec­tions (the exhi­bi­tion includes exam­ples of Lycan’s pri­vate col­lec­tions of things).

This rela­tion­ship was of spe­cial inter­est to the Ger­man cul­tur­al crit­ic, Wal­ter Benjamin:

Col­lect­ing is a form of prac­ti­cal mem­o­ry and, among the pro­fane man­i­fes­ta­tions of prox­im­i­ty,’ the most con­vinc­ing one. There­fore, even the minut­est act of polit­i­cal com­mem­o­ra­tion in the com­merce in antiques becomes, in a sense, epochal. We are here con­struct­ing an alarm clock that awak­ens the kitsch of the past cen­tu­ry into re- col­lec­tions.’6

Accord­ing to Ben­jamin, obso­lete or use­less objects can be reac­ti­vat­ed in the hands of the pri­vate col­lec­tor. New life is breathed into pet­ri­fied objects such that the past buried with­in these objects emerges in unfore­seen ways. The sen­su­ous par­tic­u­lar­i­ty of each of the objects in WHITE HOT is refash­ioned or recom­bined to form new con­texts. Ben­jamin refers to this pro­duced effect as a pro­fane illu­mi­na­tion,” which he claims is resis­tant to cap­i­tal­ist amne­sia. Through the re-con­tex­tu­al­iza­tion of his­tor­i­cal objects we are remind­ed of what gets lost or buried on the pas­sage from one dis­cur­sive regime to the next – past sub­ject posi­tions, ethical/social val­ues, pre­vi­ous pow­er structures.

But while Lycan’s col­lec­tions tap into this type of his­toric and emo­tion­al invest­ment, they also par­take in a savvi­er – less melan­cholic – way of mak­ing art. Her work inserts itself direct­ly into a net­work of dis­parate mar­kets rather than lim­it­ing itself to point­ing to a con­stel­la­tion of pri­vate­ly acquired obso­lete trea­sures. In this way, Lycan’s instal­la­tion par­takes in a new ethos of art mak­ing. Her per­for­ma­tive method­ol­o­gy is con­sis­tent with the cur­rent gen­er­a­tion of artists who have been giv­en the label of post­pro­duc­tion’: the flea mar­ket (Rhoad­es), the incor­po­ra­tion of works by oth­er artists (Tira­vani­ja), the recy­cling of cul­tur­al artifacts

into new mean­ing­ful con­fig­u­ra­tions (Deller), remix­ing (Bul­loch), ser­vice indus­try strate­gies (Fras­er), focus­ing on the atmos­pher­ic and inte­ri­or design (Gon­za­lez-Foer­ster). Post­pro­duc­tion art­work uses these var­i­ous strate­gies as a way of mir­ror­ing con­sumer cul­ture and its obses­sion with an aes­thet­ics of ser­vices, décor, sam­pling, pack­ag­ing, pro­gram­ming and remix­ing. What makes Lycan’s work stand out from much of this type of art­work, is what I per­ceive as her alle­gor­i­cal bent – a sen­si­bil­i­ty that is usu­al­ly miss­ing in the work of these oth­er artists. Lycan’s work is less obvi­ous and cyn­i­cal, and has greater sense of his­tor­i­cal mem­o­ry. In this way, her work seems to bor­row heav­i­ly from Mar­cel Broodthaers’ fic­tion­al muse­ums (in par­tic­u­lar Musée d’Art Mod­erne, Departe­ment des Aigles) and from Duchamp’s first dis­play of his Roto-reliefs.7 In an expe­ri­ence econ­o­my deprived of first-hand expe­ri­ence, Lycan’s cool resis­tance under­scores the need for dis­en­chant­ment in a world obsessed with con­spic­u­ous con­sump­tion. Her flea mar­ket func­tions as such: to re-enchant the pub­lic sphere by means of cre­at­ing alter­nate economies.

Thein­vis­i­ble­glob­al­net­workof­cir­cu­lat­ing­goods, ser­vices, and invest­ment cap­i­tal of the world at large is in stark con­trast to the val­ue sys­tems and art strate­gies that make up WHITE HOT. Because our expe­ri­ence of mar­kets is increas­ing­ly sat­u­rat­ed with imma­te­r­i­al goods – vir­tu­al prod­ucts and ser­vices – artists like Lycan, who stress mate­ri­al­i­ty, invoke a col­lec­tive sense of loss. If her mono­chro­mat­ic assem­blage also address­es style, this is to address a new take on the social – not to repro­duce the expe­ri­ence econ­o­my,” but to retal­i­ate against it with new meth­ods and pur­pose. Lycan rein­ter­prets and reassem­bles a vari­ety of high and low objects and strate­gies, blur­ring the dis­tinc­tion between sub­stance and style, pro­duc­tion and con­sump­tion, cre­ation and copy, ready­made and orig­i­nal work.”8 By mak­ing art large­ly out of stuff that has been col­lect­ed rather than pro­duced, she is clear­ly ask­ing: In art as in life, do we real­ly need to con­tin­ue con­tribut­ing to the insa­tiable cycle of con­sump­tion and planned obso­les­cence, which points to future cat­a­stro­phe, or can we sim­ply make do with what we already have?” Through the strate­gies of post­pro­duc­tion, alle­go­ry, irony, and ostra­ne­nie, Lycan’s crit­i­cal stance directs our atten­tion to the capac­i­ty of art to wrest the imper­a­tive of estab­lished production/consumption modes away from sub­servience to cap­i­tal­ist dom­i­na­tion, to make way for the pos­si­bil­i­ty of a more engaged and hab­it­able socio-polit­i­cal condition.



1 Nico­las Bour­ri­aud, Post­pro­duc­tion, Cul­ture as Screen­play: How Art Repro­grams the World, NYC: Lukas and Stern­berg, 2002, p. 28. 2 In response to an invi­ta­tion to par­tic­i­pate in the event

  1. Accord­ing to Peter Slo­ter­dijk, cyn­i­cal rea­son is enlight­ened false con­scious­ness’; the feel­ing that one is with­out illu­sions and yet unable to act be- cause one feels dragged down by the pow­er of things.’

  2. David Batch­e­lor, Chro­mo­pho­bia, Lon­don: Reak­tion Books, 2000, p. 47.

  3. Ostra­ne­nie is a Russ­ian lit­er­ary term refer­ring to the expe­ri­ence of hav­ing the every­day made strange. This opens up a re-engage­ment with objects/ sit­u­a­tions, impart­ing new mean­ings to them. This becomes espe­cial­ly impor­tant when a once nov­el expe­ri­ence becomes ordi­nary, and is there­fore left unex­am­ined; ostra­ne­nie is want to make one look at a situation/object with a new crit­i­cal perspective.

  4. Wal­ter Benjamin’s Pas­sagen­werk, sec­tion H, quot­ed in Dou­glas Crimp, On the Museum’s Ruins, Cam­bridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1993, p. 202.

  5. Dis­played at the Con­cours Lep­in, Salon des Inven­tions, between a rub­bish-com­pres­sion machine and a veg­etable chop­per, Duchamp’s opti­cal machines seemed to occu­py a sta­tus between sci­en­tif­ic inven­tion, art object and com­mod­i­ty. Broodthaers col­lec­tion of objects in his Musée com­prised of dis­play items, com­modi­ties, art objects, dec­o­ra­tive objet d’arts, com­mer­cial and fine art prints, etc. and each item was labeled with a num­ber and the state­ment The is not a work of art.” All were bound by the sym­bol of the eagles, just as Lycan’s items are bound by the colour white.”

  6. Nico­las Bour­ri­aud, Post­pro­duc­tion, Cul­ture as Screen­play: How Art Repro­grams the World, NYC: Lukas and Stern­berg, 2002, p. 11.


Kel­ly Lycan received her BFA from the Nova Sco­tia Col­lege of Art and Design, and her MFA from the Uni­ver­si­ty of Cal­i­for­nia, San­ta Bar­bara and Los Ange­les. She has exhib­it­ed in solo and group shows in Cana­da and the US, most recent­ly at CSA Gallery in Van­cou­ver. She is also a mem­ber of Instant Cof­fee, a ser­vice ori­ent­ed artist col­lec­tive that builds social struc­tures, where ideas, mate­ri­als and actions are explored. Instant Cof­fee has exhib­it­ed in Cana­da, South Amer­i­ca, Europe and the US.