Words vs Spectacle: Robert Montgomery

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I saw an exhibition this weekend, a collection of words in a gallery, which I discovered are more at home on the street. Robery Montogomery’s work is reaction to advertising, and he has often taken over billboards and advertising space to put up poetic text, “like ghostly lyrical interventions” + that talk about modern life.

* ATELIER PERSOL INSTALLATION shot 71

His words are quite beautiful, and are often rambles, wax lyrical on ghosts, what it means to life through late-capitalism, and preserving a sense of self within it. Inspired by Guy Debord’s writing, Roland Bathes and Baudrillard, his billboards question our love for product, and make us turn inwards instead.

Guy Debord’s writing on advertising “draws an equivalence between the role of mass media marketing in the present and the role of religions in the past.[13][14] The spread of commodity-images by the mass media, produces “waves of enthusiasm for a given product” resulting in “moments of fervent exaltation similar to the ecstasies of the convulsions and miracles of the old religious fetishism”.[15][16]” * and it is this reserve Montogomery plays with.

He has said, particularly of his piece, WHENEVER YOU SEE THE SUN REFLECTED IN THE WINDOW OF A BUILDING IT IS AN ANGEL,  “[i]t is about trying to find a sense of the sacred in the everyday, a sense of God in the mundane […,]” ** a statement that I think can be applied to a lot of his work, as sort of an antidote to capitalism.

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He has said, about his work,  “I feel like I’ve been sort of forced into it, because billboards drive me mad. I don’t have the psychological armour to protect myself from them. They get me down and make me feel yelled and shouted at, so I felt compelled to work out a way of talking back in that space so I didn’t feel insane.”+

His way of talking back is more conscious and poetic than most,  “trying to write about our collective unconscious in public space [… or]  what it feels like on the inside to live in “Late-Capitalism” as Theodore Adorno and Frederic Jameson would call it. What it feels like to live in our cities, what it feels like to live with our privilege of wealth and our poverty of time, our privilege of material goods and our poverty of reflection, our anxiety as the systems of economy and ecology we rely on falter, revealing economic injustice and a future that’s more fragile than we thought.”***

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It’s a fragility that is reflected in his poetry, that creates a nostalgia in the viewer for a time when we were less jaded about the world/ times we live in, for a time when it was o.k to be a little more wistful and vulnerable, and not have to protect our interests against corporations through every move and every purchase.

Much like Barbara Krugar, Montigimery has worked in magasines, at Dazed and Confused’s commercial side, experiencing first hand the “cultural paranoia and fear – the mechanism of advertising”+, “see[ing] the existential trauma that the capitalist machine creates[,]” inspiring him to create work, that thankfully, provides some beautiful, and haunting, relief.

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+http://www.exberliner.com/culture/art/%E2%80%9Ci-don%E2%80%99t-want-to-be-ironic%E2%80%9D/

*http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Society_of_the_Spectacle

**http://www.interviewmagazine.com/art/robert-montgomery/#_

***http://www.dazeddigital.com/artsandculture/article/9142/1/robert-montgomery-ghost-in-the-machine

for more about Guy Debord’s The Society of Spectacle see here:

http://www.nothingness.org/si/debord.html

for more about Jean Bauidrillard’s The Consumer Society see here:

http://marginal-utility.blogspot.com/2005/05/notes-on-jean-baudrillard-consumer.html

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About CT

Claire Townsend is a freelance costume designer/maker and theatre practitioner.
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