From September 16, 2006, to January 21, 2007, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (SFMOMA) will present New Work: Phil Collins, the latest exhibition in the Museum’s ongoing New Work series. Organized by SFMOMA curatorial associate Jill Dawsey, the exhibition will feature the work of British artist Phil Collins, who was recently short-listed for the Tate Britain’s 2006 Turner Prize.
Working in conflicted geopolitical sites around the world, including Baghdad, Belfast, Bogotá, Kosovo, and Ramallah, Collins employs video and photography to create strikingly intimate and nuanced portraits of people and places. Departing from much documentary and site-specific practice, Collins often communicates through forms of popular and youth culture, from pop music to reality television, soliciting people from the far-flung communities in which he works to participate in highly contrived performances. Recent projects include a disco dance marathon in Ramallah (they shoot horses, 2004), a restaging of Andy Warhol’s iconic “Screen Tests” in Baghdad (baghdad screen tests, 2002), and the production of music videos in Bristol (the louder you scream, the faster we go, 2005).
Says Dawsey, “Collins is engaged in producing an art of powerful counter-representations vis-à-vis the mainstream media and entertainment industries (not excluding the art world), which so often offer only a culture of leveling spectacle and sameness. Paradoxically, it is his use of a pervasive form like pop music that ends up dispelling stereotypes, showing how people appropriate and use pop culture toward their own ends, in their own idiosyncratic ways.”
The presentation at SFMOMA will center on Collins’s 2005 video installation dünya dinlemiyor (the world won’t listen), which features young people in Istanbul performing karaoke versions of tracks from the eponymous 1987 album by the British band The Smiths. First presented at the Ninth International Istanbul Biennial, this project is the second in a trilogy; the first, el mundo no escuchara, was filmed in Bogota in 2004, and the third and final installment will take place in an as-yet-undetermined location later this year.
For each incarnation of the project, Collins has selected local musicians and performers through an open call inviting fans of The Smiths and/or “the shy, the dissatisfied, and the narcissistic, to come and have their chance to shine,” in the language of the posters Collins wheat-pasted around each city. The volunteer vocalists take their turns at the microphone situated in front of a simulated backdrop, singing songs by The Smiths in their best nonnative English—it’s clear they know the words by heart. Collins records the performances continuously, with minimal edits, allowing the alternately awkward, disturbing, touching, and hilarious moments to unfold in real time.
The Smiths’ original fan base—the disaffected, rebellious youth of 1980s, Margaret Thatcher–ruled England, of which Collins was a part—found in the music a resonant message. Within the fraught context of Istanbul, The Smiths’ melancholic pop takes on new poignancy and urgency, as the karaoke singers ask us to listen to what the rest of the world won’t. In this way, Collins challenges the alleged hollowness of pop music, revealing its emotional core and the individuality of its fans. While dünya dinlemiyor establishes the power of pop music to bridge communities, transcend borders, and bring visibility to a part of the world rarely seen or heard from in a playful context, Collins is keenly aware of the potential to exploit his subjects in such a project.
About his work, Collins has said, “A camera brings interested parties together. It attracts and repels according to circumstance or whim. A camera makes me interested in you and you maybe interested in me. In this sense, it’s all about love. And exploitation. You could say that [this work] is driven by an emotional relationship with the subjects, rather than the rational or sensational standards of journalism, which also inhabit these territories.”
Collins was born in 1970 in Runcorn, England, and has been based in recent years in Belfast, Brighton, and, currently, Glasgow. He received degrees from the University of Ulster, School of Art and Design, Belfast, and the University of Manchester. Collins’s work has been the focus of solo exhibitions at the Tate Britain; Tanya Bonakdar Gallery, New York; the Temple Gallery, Tyler School of Art, Philadelphia; Milton Keynes Gallery; Wexner Center for the Arts, Columbus, Ohio; Espacio La Rebecca, Bogota; Stedelijk Museum voor Actuele Kunst, Gent; Neue Kunsthalle St. Gallen, St. Gallen; Sala Rekalde, Bilbao; and the Wrong Gallery, New York. Collins was short-listed for the 2006 Deutsche Borse Photography Prize at the Photographers’ Gallery, London. As a finalist for the 2006 Turner Prize, he will participate in the corresponding exhibition opening October 3, 2006, at Tate Britain.
New Work: Phil Collins will be installed on SFMOMA’s fifth floor in conjunction with Between Art and Life: The Contemporary Painting and Sculpture Collection, a presentation of post-1960 contemporary art from the Museum’s collection. A free illustrated brochure, with an essay by Dawsey, will be available in the galleries.
The New Work series is generously supported by Collectors Forum, an auxiliary of SFMOMA and the founding patron of the series. Major funding is also provided by Mimi and Peter Haas, Nancy and Steven Oliver, Robin Wright, and the Betlach Family Foundation.