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Mood in Progress | Meg Hale

No wonder Duchamp gave up and just played chess. The more you think the more you realize how pointless everything is. To enjoy anything you have to delude yourself. Sean Landers, [sic]

In 1993, American artist-cum-writer-cum-artist, Sean Landers, released his first book, [sic], a self-described ‘chronicle of idleness’ handwritten over 454 pages. The book’s self-deprecating and disaffected tone was synonymous with so-called ‘slacker’ or ‘abject’ art— a movement at its prime in the early 90s, and of which Landers was a main player. Slacker art ‘favoured the abject, the pathetic, the loserly and the slackeresque’. 1 Marked by a lo-fi, DIY aesthetic, artworks from this era voiced the dissent of ‘a new “lost generation”—the white middle-class offspring of baby-boomer America, lacking the exigencies of an unjust war to oppose, a countercultural revolution to fight, or even a strong intellectual left to join’. 2 In other words, a purposeless generation, plagued by boredom.

For the characters in the aptly named Slacker (1991)— film director Richard Linklater’s own contribution to the abject movement—boredom is all-pervasive. In the opening scene, one character (played by Linklater himself) recounts a dream he just had on the bus, in which ‘there was nothing going on at all…I was just traveling around, you know, staring out the windows of buses and trains and cars, you know…when I was at home I was like flipping through the TV stations endlessly, reading…I mean how many dreams do have where you read?’. Other characters in the film continue to play out this narrative in real life, ‘lollygagging around’, ‘sleeping a lot’, and ‘pretty much hanging out’.

This boredom, while undeniably rooted in the relative freedom, privilege and unprecedented opportunity afforded to this generation, is primarily a reaction to the overwhelming stimuli that pervades contemporary life, and the individual’s lack of agency to control it. Within such a torrent of information, individual content loses its meaning, resulting in disillusion and disengagement: one becomes indifferent, and stops listening. 3 Thus, it is not the boredom bred from a lack of stimulus that is at play but, conversely, that which comes from having too much. Seán Desmond Healy refers to this as ‘hyperboredom’, ‘in which all people, objects, relations, and activities are permanently, and it seems unaccountably, stripped of interest, and in which the search for anything of interest itself appears utterly uninteresting, worthless, or totally ineffective’. 4 While the slacker art movement itself burned out by about 1996, its brand of ‘hyperboredom’, along with its lax, lo-fi aesthetic, is still prevalent today, and largely informs this exhibition, as well as Tahiraj’s practice more broadly.

In her single-channel video, Mood in Progress, Tahiraj presents a contemporary version of the slacker paradigm, sited within the framework of online social networking. Her use of web-cam technology references sites such as Facebook and YouTube, which have become the ultimate refuge of (displaced) boredom. In the video, Tahiraj is idly playing in front of her computer’s web-cam, a process she calls ‘video-jamming’. Apparently unconcerned that she is being recorded, her movements are spontaneous, and yet lack purpose and energy—she seems to be making it up as she goes along, just passing the time. In the manner of a child, she plays with pieces of scrap paper, holding bits up to her face, draping a whole bunch over her like a cape, hiding beneath it, then tossing it around.

Her actions are inherently listless, bored, the video reminiscent of countless YouTube videos where authors turn the camera on themselves to share their mundane everyday lives with the rest of the world. Yet while many of these other examples are driven by diaristic or confessional dialogue, Tahiraj’s video is void of any text, spoken or otherwise. It seems she has nothing to do and nothing to say.

In place of any direct message, Tahiraj’s video instead acts as a self-described space of contemplation. Using a chroma key filter, the whites of the pieces of paper Tahiraj holds are rendered transparent, revealing a second video layer: footage shot by the artist on her mobile phone during a journey back to her home town. In a recent conversation, Tahiraj explained that recording journeys had become a regular occupation for her. They provide contemplative, in-between spaces, spaces for thinking in which she can process her relationships and experiences, draw connections, and ‘figure stuff out’. The fact that she has to document these spaces, rather than simply experience them in the moment, is reflective of a heightened disengagement with contemporary culture, in which experience is largely mediated through some sort of screen. Her camerawork in this sequence appears as undirected as her bodily movements, the largely empty landscape reflecting the banality of the actions played out in front of the web-cam. It seems the footage itself is not as important as the contemplative act it documents.

At one point in the video, Tahiraj turns her mobile phone from the road to the sky, an ominous dusky grey blanket. Simultaneously, the web-cam footage slowly fades away, the flat clouds completely filling the frame. In some ways this is a gift to the viewer, a space in which they themselves can contemplate and reflect on their own existence, and draw their own meaning. The fact that this space is essentially a meaningless void perhaps holds a significance of its own.

Like Landers’ prose, Tahiraj’s video is made up of ‘streams of nothing’. Yet, while Landers and many of his contemporaries coupled idleness with acerbic dissent, Tahiraj consciously rejects the angsty, punk attitude of her predecessors—in fact, she seems to reject any attitude at all. Mood in Progress is beset by an emotional emptiness, a lack of any actual mood, setting it apart from its earlier influences. Rather than presenting a counter-culture, Tahiraj’s work presents an anti-culture, a complete disengagement from life itself. It is this allencompassing apathy that is at the core of the contemporary slacker.

by Meg Hale

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1) Michael Wilson, ‘Just pathetic: Michael Wilson on sore winners’,
ArtForum, October 2004, accessed 25 August 2010 from http://
findarticles.com/p/articles/mi_m0268/is_2_43/ai_n7069268/
2) Jan Avgikos, ‘Sean Sucks…Not: Portrait of a Young Artist as a Young Artist’,
Artforum, April 1994, p. 67.
3) Isis I. Leslie, ‘From Idleness to Boredom: On the Historical Development
of Modern Boredom’, in Essays on Boredom and Modernity, ed. Barbara Dalle
Pazze and Carlo Salzani. New York: Rodopi B.V., 2009, p. 39.
4) Seán Desmond Healy, Boredom, Self, and Culture. London: Associated
University Presses, 1984, p. 44.

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