In May, the Swedish poet and artist Karl Holmqvist will have two concurrent shows in New York - Words Are People at Alex Zachary Peter Currie and Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language, an exhibition at MoMA including 12 contemporary artists and artists’ groups, all of whom concentrate on the material qualities of language. The works on show at either location are pop and political in the same instant: hyper-modern protest texts, assembled from clippings and of-the-minute aphorisms. Holmqvist’s fixations, from codeine to caffeine to television, were first crystalised in 2005, as he created a perfect storm of the cut-and-paste cod-radical philosophy that characterised the rest of the decade.
I'm With You In Rockland tips its cap to the modern ideal of the web as an art form; the title itself is drawn from Howl, the Allen Ginsberg poem of great renown, but its style and format appear made for Youtube, a pair to the subtitled song-lyric video. Holmqvist’s delivery – deadpan and hollow, shot through with ennui - is half-robotic and half-Kerouacian, at times inhuman in its cadence, and his voice has the air of a thing which has been programmed, the buzzwords of news and of popular culture punched into a cynical Speak 'N' Spell toy.
I'm With You In Rockland is highly successful, years ahead of its time, in a strange condensing of Tumblog culture, or of the culture of Twitter or the Blogspot blog, where a lazy Beat delivery, signifying 'irony,' belies a net-generation obsessiveness. Holmqvist feigns detachment from the notes he has made on our lives as we know them – perhaps, we guess, he is even disappointed – but the list is still 25 minutes in length, an exhaustive collection of touchstones and ephemera. "White trash, human debris," he drawls, "how do you say Oprah Winfrey?"
This cod-uncertainty runs throughout Rockland, and "how do you say" is its only real and consistent refrain. It's a playful question, given the verbal nature of the work, but it also suggests the idea of a mind formed through learning by rote; we are made aware of Oprah Winfrey, of global warming and of Fred Astaire, by cultural proxy, the knowledge not sought out, but seeded memetically. One wonders what Holmqvist's stanzas would include if I'm with you in Rockland were made today ("Demi Moore breathes laughing gas/how do you say Kim Kardashian's ass?"), though perhaps the contemporaneity of the subjects in its dizzy, freeform list is immaterial. In the age of online activism - of the viral video and of the blind item blog, where knowledge and interest are trumped by shock and accessibility - we are all with him in Rockland, now.
If you are interested in other artists exploring the relationship between art and language, make sure to check out Lawrence Weiner, Marcel Duchamp and Carl Andre, all of whom are featured in the exhibition at MoMA.