Chooc Ly Tan: New Materials in the Reading of the World

Chooc Ly Tan: New Materials in the Reading of the World (2012) Art Review, London, Issue 57 (March). P.121

‘Oubliism’ is a fictive movement created by the French-born artist Chooc Ly Tan. A recent graduate of Goldsmiths college, she plays with science-fictional themes and an avant-garde rhetoric to animate Oubliism through films and other media. Oubli, derived from oublier (‘to forget’) means oblivion. In one sense oblivion captures the modernist dumping of the past in order to embrace a new world, while the condition of forgetting, or being unaware and unconscious of what is happening, is evocative of the schizophrenic predicament some theorists identified with postmodernism. On show here is the video New Materials in the Reading of the World (2011), which, being based around a reading of the ‘Oubliist manifesto’, allows for an engagement with Oubliism’s (purported) founding statements.

In an exuberant voice-over Ly Tan shouts, “To herald the genesis of cosmic time, Oubliism refuses the atomist attitude towards existence. It tears to fractions all those grand words like ethics, culture, humanism, good, evil, beginning, end, which are only covers for [pause] All-too-rational people.” Sporadic editing, with a drum-synth soundtrack, gives the work a rapid pace. The found images and film footage – offering a surface appearance of ‘scientific activity’ – make it feel like a spin on contemporary museums’ promotional videos. There is something quirky and optimistic about the work, reminiscent of Jean-Luc Goddard, but not as pensive or aggressive.

Watching the film for longer, as an ‘all-too-rational’ person, and it is apparent that the manifesto of Oubliism  doesn’t set out any clear aims or attempt to add any strategic weight to the abounding hyperbole: “Oubliism is the inconceivably vast expression of our cosmic time, the great rebellion of revolutionary movements”. I understand that Oubliism, like modernist precedents such as dada or ‘pataphysics, isn’t going to adopt a rational language in order to overcome the ‘symmetry of reason’, but it does need to reflect critical awareness. Imagining the world where all that is solid melts into technology, here suggested not only through the manifesto but also through the crashing together of black and white photos of modernist art, with graphs, sci-fi movies and SMPTE colour bars, sits very comfortably within postmodern capitalist culture. There just isn’t enough to demonstrate how the oblivion of Oublism is any different from a liberal consumerist free-for-all in which meaningful political positions are rendered inert.
For me the potential of fictive movements like Oubliism to “conceive new physical realities from which we will harvest fresh perspectives” depend on their ability to be convincing. Against a tendency of some artists to make an ironic nod to the wise or attempt to create a novel brand of art, Ly Tan’s energy and verve is exciting and seems to suggest that she pursues Oubliism intensively and sincerely, which is great. But, on its own, the film New Materials in the Reading of the World feels vulnerable; the detail of the narrative and depth of the ideas doesn’t quite hit the mark.

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