Since 2009, Oliver Laric has anchored his wide-ranging artistic output with a series of three videos works, collectively titled Versions. These videos act as gathering points for his theoretical, aesthetic, and research concerns with the bootleg, the remix, and the hybrid. Whilst the Versions videos function as kind of compendium of Laric’s evolving interests, they also act as sites where these interests can be further elaborated, played against one another, and allowed to coagulate, if only temporarily, into a whole.
This latest iteration of Versions, like it’s predecessors, is made up of a collection of discreet, yet thematically related segments that circle around Laric’s perennial concerns related to notions of authenticity, value, and permanence. In keeping with Laric’s interest in the semblance of things, Versions is accompanied by a computerized-sounding narration – a voiceover that is actually the recorded voice of an actress instructed by Laric to mimic the stilted diction of text-to-speech software. In previous iterations, the narration took on a quasi-expository role, whereas here it takes the form of a collage of gnomic declarations culled from high and low sources, in which one finds, for example, a quote from Bruce Lee juxtaposed with a passage from Jorge Luis Borges, or a rhyme lifted from the RZA. All of the quotations have a relevant thematic heft; some referring more directly to the visual piece they accompany than others. A case in point relates the famous epistemological paradox – known variously as the Ship of Theseus, or the Grandfather’s Axe – to a section in the video where Laric animates piece-by-piece the construction of Japan’s Ise Shrine. Raising the philosophical question of whether an object which has had all its component parts replaced remains fundamentally the same object, this holy Shinto shrine, recently removed from the list of World Heritage Sites, has been torn down and reconstructed from scratch every twenty years since 690 C.E.
Not incidentally, the Ise Shrine has also appeared as an element in several other works by Laric, including a sculpture in the artist’s last solo show at Tanya Leighton Gallery, Berlin indicating Laric’s interest in revision and reuse both as a practical methodology and theoretical concern. Similarly, the juxtaposition of two character animations from Disney’s Winnie the Pooh and the Honey Tree (1966) and The Jungle Book (1967), (in which the underling armatures of the cell animation were reused), is itself a reuse, in altered form, of a sequence from an earlier Versions video. The iridescent, three dimensional rendering of a Janus-faced Sun Tzu – a hybrid totem of the ancient East and modern West – is a echo from a series of poured-polyurethane sculptures Laric recently produced for the High Line in New York.
Whilst several sequences within the video deliberately retread past territory, many other segments are in fact, the result of laborious processes of research and development, unbeknownst to the viewer and only fleetingly apparent in the final product. Perhaps the most extreme example of this comes in the form of a flickering, kaleidoscopic ten-second clip of a man walking down a forest path, taken from Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon (1950). Playing off the film’s portrayal of differing accounts a woman’s rape and the murder of her samurai husband spun by four separate witnesses, Laric isolated each of the 250 frames that make up this brief, incidental scene in the movie, and sent each individual frame to a different image retoucher, with the request that they colourize the original black-and-white image. The resultant clip is a Structuralist gesture befitting our global age: a fast-flickering montage of hundreds of different colouristic viewpoints, outsourced to professional freelance workers the world over.
Versions (2012) also includes a brief vignette that lays the groundwork for possible future projects, a gesture that exists in neat formal congruence with Laric’s backwards-and-forwards facing bust of China’s philosopher of war, Sun Tzu. Towards the middle of the video, we are presented with a cartoonish, digital squid that bobs languidly against a white background, seemingly cooling its heels, waiting for something. It blinks. It changes colour. But mostly it just mutely is. Unlike almost everything else in the video, its presence seems entirely inexplicable – it lolls in the frame like a flat-footed non sequitur, plopped unceremoniously in the path of the work’s fugue-like narrative. Yet, this character is not as out-of-place as it first appears. It was produced at Laric’s behest by an animation studio in the Kaesong Industrial Region in North Korea – a collaborative economic development with South Korea, located just ten kilometers north of the Korean Demilitarized Zone – that exists as a kind of liminal or hybrid space. In a similar vein the squid, dubbed ‘Sealake’ by the studio, similarly exists as an entity in limbo, a readymade waiting for future utilization.
For Art Basel Statements Laric has also created a series of wall-based holographic works that draw on issues of authenticity, value, and freedom of movement. The artist has entirely covered large acrylic glass panels in a shimmering surface of five distinct, custom-made holographic stickers. At first glance, the panels appear to be merely elegant examples of later-day elaborations on Minimalism, but this seductive visual simplicity belies a more complex underlying structure. The stickers, here, are variations of the security sticker affixed to the Schengen Visa, the entry pass to the majority of the European Union. In a wry twist, Laric decided to have these phony security stickers produced in the roughly homophonic Shenzhen – a Special Economic Zone in China and the world’s largest producer of electronic goods, both authentic and counterfeit. As with previous holographic sticker works, whose designs Laric based on security stickers that aim to prevent the counterfeiting of consumer goods like CDs and DVDs, these visa stickers serve as the sole, flimsy authentication of their bearer’s validity. However, when these stickers are presented in such profusion, and in such a blindly iterative pattern, questions arise concerning both the spurious system of human equivalence that they seem to endorse, and, most importantly, the very notion of authenticity that they purport to shore up.
– Chris Wiley