Das Platforms / Contemporary Art

The Digital Monsters of Heath Franco

by Giselle Stanborough

19 Apr 2011

We are a generation fortunate enough to experience a shift in Meta-media not seen since the sudden affordability of television half a century ago. Should you want for any kind of information or amusement, look no further than the computer on your desk or the Smartphone in your pocket. Given the online nature ofDas500, I’m going to go ahead and presume your attention is directed toward such a machine right now.

If you aren’t already aware you are now absorbed in what is sometimes termed the ‘read and write’ web, in which participants, such as myself, can alter the content such as this text (albeit under that watchful eye of a moderator). Economists have coined the term ‘prosumption’ to refer to the way in which such user-generated websites obscure the divide between producer and consumer.

So, what effect can we expect such a rationalized economic model to have on the mythologized status of artist as Creator, as Sharman of the Unknown, when the very landmarks of the digital mediascape, Facebook, Wikipedia and YouTube not only allow but necessitate its participants to be the creators of its content?

No one, not even the much-criticized Guggenheim giants behind last year’s YouTube: Play exhibition, has the answers. But given the web’s participatory nature, it seems appropriate anyone can have a crack. Heath Franco is one such artist.

Upon experiencing his latest work Wunder Closet in the Tp gallery of Db in Sydney’s Surry Hills, I could not think of a more fitting exhibition space than a toilet. This is not some punning allusion to the work being shit. Quite the opposite. I am instead referring to the changing nature of the domestic sphere as one in which we not only consume but create media content and the impact that such changes have. The work itself features a half-naked (the bottom half, if you’re wondering) Franco assuring you that ‘You’re just so good’. One can of course see this in relation to the sycophantic niceties that are to be expected at any respectable inner-city art opening, but it is its conscious placement in the bathroom that specifically relates to the private, often solo engagement with video media that has become a daily experience of the online realm.

Db is not just any gallery. It is a house moonlighting as a gallery, or vice versa depending on your priorities. The only thing separating the shared exhibition space from the personal space of the occupants is a metal chain hanging horizontally across the living room. Thus there is a certain irony that it is the toilet, an area even more private that a bedroom when occupied, that is chosen for transformation into a viewing space.

Should the viewer be bold enough the close the toilet door and view the work in complete darkness and solitude, a myriad of ambiguous interpretations emerge. Its placed at eye level when you are sitting on the toilet, which for a female viewer makes little difference, but for a male viewer perhaps calls for a specific kind of action. This time, the joke is not a Manzonian one where the punch line is the Artist Shit. Its your shit, and in the words of Franco, ‘its just so good’. I couldn’t think of a better catchphrase for prosumption if I tried.