The Lisson Gallery turned forty this year, and in celebration its summer show explored the work of a new generation of “mostly European) artists whose practices are rooted in the Conceptual work that the gallery helped pioneer. Curated by Emily Pethick (director of Casco, Office for Art, Design and Theory, Utrecht), “Imagine Action” was billed as a “look at the space between the individual and the social” – a phrase that raises various teasing problems. Given the inseparability of contractions of individual identity and collective social formations, the “space” might be nonexistent. And yet if the individual case is stripped of its particularity and represented as just another category, it is effectively negated. Reflecting the paradox, many of the show’s exhibits both revisited, yet seemed subtly to ironize, Conceptualism’s tendency to represent social relationships through abstract schemata rather than via representations that particularize and concretize subjective social experience.
…Hinting at both liberating play and disguised indoctrination, [Luca Frei’s sculpture Untitled 2004, is] a decidedly ambiguous artifact. So is Althea Thauberger’s Zivildienst ≠ Kunstprojekt (Social Service ≠ Art Project), 2006, a video of a dance performance developed over several months by Thauberger and a group of young German men participating in a government program for conscientious objectors, as an alternative to military service. Clambering around a bare scaffolding set, the men mime a sequence of schematic social scenarios, announced by written captions: “A misunderstanding leads to conflict, “ for example. Shot in monochrome and beautifully lit, the film is faintly camp, yet also sincere, even epic. Posing questions about the social uses of aesthetic production, it undermines its own title’s sign of nonequivalence.