For her first solo exhibition in the U.S., Scottish artist Morag Keil presented a meditation on property and authorship in the digital age. Keil treats her shows as visual essays, and this one—titled “Would you eat your friends?”—centered on how networks can facilitate a kind of metaphoric cannibalism, whether it’s the art world’s historicization of appropriation as a conceptual strategy or the Internet’s offering of vast, easily accessible content that can be recycled in endless ways.
Keil has previously exhibited videos, audio pieces and elaborate sculptural tableaux, but here she offered mostly paintings and photographs (all works 2014). There was not much visual pleasure to be found, as the uniting aesthetic gesture was that of the purposefully sloppy copy. The photographic works consist of inkjet prints of what look like pixelated screen captures, including one of a computer desktop featuring a low-resolution background image of a controversial 1989 United Colors of Benetton advertisement, in which a black woman is shown breastfeeding a white baby. At the back of the gallery hung a painting of a winking pair of eyes that appear to have been hurriedly stenciled from a clip-art image. On a pedestal in front of this canvas, Mock Tudor House—a found plastic toy house that the artist painted with thick, wavering brown lines that suggest the timber frames of Tudor-style homes—seems similarly slapdash. The crude production of these works serves to highlight the ease and casualness with which material is copied and disseminated today.
The most visually appealing works were from a series modeled on Warhol’s famous “Oxidation” paintings of the late 1970s, which themselves parody Jackson Pollock’s drip paintings. Like Warhol’s works, Keil’s “Piss Paintings” are coppery surfaces featuring haunting abstract shapes of oxidation produced by urinating on the painted canvases. Urine appeared again, in a streetside puddle, in the photographic print Piss Tabloid; the print was hung as part of a grid of images that mixed anonymous residential interiors, blurry window views, street scenes and advertisements. One advertisement, for a London-based real estate firm that urges readers to “sell your home with us for only one pound,” points to a thematic concern explored throughout the exhibition: the ways in which forms of property are produced. Copying, urinating, marking, selling and buying are all actions that create property—whether intellectual, land-based or personal.
Partway through the exhibition’s run, Keil added a video consisting of footage taken in the gallery, including snippets from a talk she gave about the work. Visitors are seen entering and leaving the space, checking their phones and listening to the artist. The camera moves through the gallery, lingering on works here and there and providing glimpses of the back office and the bathroom. The video thus captures the experience of visiting the exhibition, but it also compresses it, making it portable and shareable through the same channels that delivered much of Keil’s source material. A copy plays on the gallery’s website, available for anyone to rip, alter and circulate.