The Serpentine has staged two exhibitions that, at first glance, could not be more divergent or diverse. Although, on reflection, there is a commonality of ‘product’ that overlaps. Craig-Martin is mildly obsessed with everyday objects, mostly obsolete technology, all rendered in intense flat colour with a thin black outline around each, whether it be a laptop, games console, watch, computer, cassette or incandescent light bulb. When he painted them, the objects were cutting edge, and he thought they had a permanence that would last for years, but the technology was advancing at such a rate, objects such as VHS and audiotape cassettes became redundant, along with the players, so that there was no means to access the data in them. Even the humble light bulb would be outlawed by the EU and replaced with energy-saving ones.
Craig-Martin has a meticulous way of working – firstly, he scans an object, pulls it through Photoshop, and reduces it to a basic isometric shape, which he then projects onto the canvas, which, in many cases, is painted black. So those thin black lines are not all that they seem; through masking and painting the large expanses of vibrant colour with four-inch rollers to achieve the flat effect, they are what is left. Two of the black and white drawings were ‘painted’ directly onto the walls, using a projected image and electrical tape, which can be be bent to go round corners. It is the precision of the works that is so appealing, and the background colours he uses, not just on the canvas, but on the walls of the gallery, as he did so startlingly at the Royal Academy Summer Show this year. There is nothing Farrow and Ball about Mr Craig-Martin’s colour swatch – shocking pink, an equally shocking turquoise, Viridian green and deep blue, and in the first two rooms, he had lined the walls with his own wallpaper, specially-designed for the show, featuring more outlines of obsolete objects, this time in grey on a white background. Only two of his subjects are non-techy – a running shoe on a pillarbox-red background and a carton of McDonald’s-style chips, but painted in toxic green. He has reduced a credit card to a minimal purple rectangle with a black strip and a white signature box, but still recognisable. The star of the show is Eye of the Storm, a whirling maelstrom of out-of-scale objects, including a garden fork, a safety pin, a cassette, a knife, a bucket, a pair of pliers, a metronome, and a light bulb. If there is a hidden meaning, then it passed me by, but it is the sheer energy and vibrant colours that assault and excite the senses. His most recent works feature a current lap-top, but these, too, will doubtless become redundant and superseded by something thinner, smaller, and smarter, along with all the other objects he has rendered.
Hack, either as a noun or a verb, has a number of meanings – a humble horse, a literary drudge or second-rate journalist, a rack for feeding animals, a piece of advice, a walk, an irritating cough, the act of chopping, or a kick in the shins. Since the 1980s, hacking has taken on a whole new meaning, that of unauthorized remote computer break-ins using communication networks such as the Internet. These criminals are often termed Black Hats, but there are those that try to debug and fix security problems, referred to as White Hats. Simon Denny: Products for Organising is a hi-tech exhibition that traces the history of hacking, from its origins in a student organisation formed at MIT in 1946, to the present-day commercial tech companies like Apple, and Government Communications Headquarters in Cheltenham (GCHQ), the British intelligence and security organisation and the largest information-gathering and listening-post in the world. Most of the language, jargon, and terms used by the designer Simon Denny at the press view, were virtually impenetrable, flippantly using words like Holacracy and Agile, radical management practices, tension processing, branded managerial techniques, business process re-engineering, computer bulletin-board systems (BBSes), and ARPANET. My head began to hurt, as, not only did I not understand what Mr Denny was telling us, I didn’t really care. There was no real explanation as to exactly how a hacker breaks into a network, or even why? There were plenty of vitrines with computers, flashing lights, scrawled graphics, plush toys, books, LED strips, T-shirts, and hardcore graffiti spray cans, alongside architectural models of GCHQ, the Apple Campus, Zappos and Agile/Holacracy Workspaces, covered in graphics, which were mounted on their ends, so that the visitor had a bird’s-eye perspective on the circular buildings, but they did not really bring anything new to the party.