29 Sep 2019 – 19 Jan 2020
Featuring effective artwork, Goldsmiths Centre for Contemporary Art presents a large number of videos made by Tony Cokes from the 1990s, along with two newly commissioned ones. This exhibition, titled after a mix-tape by Drake, If UR Reading This It’s 2 Late: Vol 1, is the first UK solo exhibition of the American artist.
The whole exhibition covers three floors, with just a few chairs and a screen or television in a dark room for the audience to attend. Cokes’ earlier artworks are composed of archival footages, such as FADE TO BLACK (1990). However, a combination of brightly coloured frames and effectively bold texts increasingly constitutes the main characteristic of Cokes’ videos. Surrounded by pop music in such an atmospheric installation, Cokes’ artworks, which usually confront contemporary issues, are thought-provoking, addressing issues of race, social justice, prejudice, and power.
Tony Cokes, Evil.16 (Torture.Musik), 2009-2011 (video still). Courtesy Greene Naftali Gallery, New York, Hannah Hoffman Gallery, Los Angeles, and Electronic Arts Intermix, New York.
Cokes frequently critically addresses a wide range of prevailing social conditions, with representations of race and misogyny recurring most prevalently. The themes of Cokes’ recent videos include the racism of the Bush Administration’s which engendered a culture of fear, and pop music applied to torture detainees during the so-called ‘war on terror’. Apart from these diverse subjects, what is central to Cokes’ work is an unexpected combination of text and sound; each film is like a track in a mix-tape, reflecting the exhibition's title.
Photo: © Goldsmiths CCA, London
Typically, many quotations can be found in his videos. For instance, in Evil.66.1. (2016), Donald Trump’s speech regarding sexism is excerpted. Quotations are usually unspecified during the course of play and are not attributed a source or properly come to light in their full form until the final frame. In this way, Cokes keeps the audience in suspense and provokes their own critical commentary in a meeting of ‘pathos and politics’.
The two new works in the exhibition are specific to the context of Goldsmiths CCA. Testament A: MF FKA K-P X KE RIP (2019) quotes Kodwo Eshun’s Mark Fisher Memorial Lecture, which was delivered at Goldsmiths University in 2018. Cokes presents a critique of Capitalism and reiterates Fisher’s work on ‘capitalist realism’, which could be seen as a pervasive hegemony greatly influencing aspects of society, such as film, music and visual art. The other artwork The Morrissey Problem (2019), which was also commissioned by Carpenter Centre for the Visual Arts at Harvard University and ARGOS centre for audiovisual arts in Brussels, viscerally embodies the social condition where Morrissey’s fans resist his recent alignment to far-Right politics.
Photo: © Goldsmiths CCA, London
Throughout Tony Cokes’ artworks, it seems that he has significantly exploited the potential of videos and critically articulated counter-arguments to established social conditions. This can undeniably provoke the audience’s discussion by exploring the effective qualities of his videos.
Edited by Charlee—Jane Kieser, Deputy Digital Editor