Daniel Devlin

[1968- ]

Method painter, publisher, con-artist and galleries. He has been described as a postmodern naïf and a conceptual provocateur, he claims that it is never been his intention to mislead anybody.

if he might only pretend to act like an artist, he might successfully pull off the illusion of being, or at least feeling, like an artist.

Article written by Jennifer Viviani for Contemptible Art Magazine in 2006

Just Begin, Daniel Devlin!

One must not spend time doubting, one must just begin’ is the opening slogan for one of Daniel Devlin’s films, and yet Devlin never really begins any art. In fact, Devlin habitually avoids making any art, preferring rather to languish in the Ur stages of the art process. He frets not about what artwork he will make but rather indulges himself in neurotic self-analysis about what art itself is. In the video Conversation, Devlin and his Doppelganger (the artist plays both characters) sit around drinking coffee, one of the Devlins boring the other with rhetorical questions regarding the definition of ‘art’. Devlin 1 ponders one such definition he has read as ‘culturally significant meaning skilfully encoded in affecting sensuous medium’, a phrase he muses over until he drives Devlin 2 so crazy that he throws a glass of water over him. With a background soundtrack of canned audience laughter, booing and hissing, the philosophical questioning here is reduced to the slapstick humour of an American sitcom. Devlin is not really interested in finding answers; if he were, then he would have to get on and make some art, not lazy conversation.

Devlin is a self-confessed cynic. His videos are full of references to belief, and more specifically his inability to believe in himself as an artist or really to believe in art. He suggests that if he might only pretend to act like an artist, he might successfully pull off the illusion of being, or at least feeling, like an artist. In Window Tate, for example, Devlin Photoshops his name over the entrance to Tate Modern, replacing for a brief moment the existing exhibition banner for Frida Kahlo. He has also created a bogus magazine advert publicising the upcoming Recent Paintings exhibition of Herzog Dellafiore, a fake artist created once again by Devlin. In both cases, he neatly sidesteps the responsibility of making his own work, in the first instance allowing his name on the exhibition banner to stand in for any real exhibition, in the second passing off a badly disguised Bruce McLean painting as his, or rather his pseudonym’s, own. Each time, Devlin conceives of a seductive and plausible decoy to deflect the attention of the audience away from the gaping absence of his own work.

Devlin is, then, an expert in making meta-artworks: objects and statements that explain art or function as its accessories or souvenirs, but can never be taken for the artwork themselves. He has even created his own wikipedia entry with links to his publishing company Susak Press and Susak Expo, an annual ‘art event’ on the Croatian island of Susak initiated by Devlin last year, and which, despite the grandiose internet statement (since erased) favourably comparing the latter to the prestigious Venice Biennale, will probably not have a second outing. Adding to the smokescreen of misinformation, Devlin also claims to be part of a group called the Young Chelsea Artists (note that this neologism doesn’t receive wikipedia legitimisation). Like the Emperor’s New Clothes, Devlin attempts to expose the gullibility of art aficionados when in fact the humiliation should be his – for having nothing to show but empty promises and an aptitude for self-aggrandisement.

In another attempt not to make any art, and in fact sadistically to stop others from doing so, Devlin asked the artists he’d invited over for Susak Expo to paint all the wheelbarrows on the island. Taking advantage of the goodwill of the artists in his charge, he also demanded the gratitude of the locals: he made them pose for photographs alongside the new garish orange wheelbarrows that they had never asked to have decorated. Devlin has reversed the well-meaning (if often misguided) intentions of Relational Aesthetics: he constructs scenarios that cynically mimic the utopian model of reciprocal inter-human relations, all the while rendering the model completely meaningless with useless gestures and the exploitation of others for personal gain.

Fortunately for Devlin, he has just enough charisma, just enough hint of vulnerability, to fool his audience into believing in the sincerity of his soul-searching, the real agony behind his tormented artist act. In the first scene of Dokumentary, we find Devlin sitting in a darkened room, face obscured in the shadows. With muffled voice, Devlin makes a pathetic plea of victimhood like the reformed criminal in a crime investigation series: ‘I never intended to cause any harm to anybody… It was never my intention to mislead anyone.’ In a society that raises the bar ever higher for personal achievement and ambition, failure becomes an acceptable, even desirable outcome to hopes and dreams, and Devlin’s work relies on our ability to empathise with his constant failures. Yet when, like Devlin, one tries very little to achieve anything, failure becomes a reassuringly inevitability, an effortless alternative to the stressful expectations that result from accomplishing goals.

When Francis Fukuyama declared the end of history in 1989, he also exposed the inherent limitations of postmodern art, an art doomed to recycle itself. All that had been hailed as achievements of postmodern thought – an end to the tyranny of originality, an end to fascist ideology – was revealed to have an unpleasant corollary: an end to the possibility of change. In the 21st century, then, it’s no longer feasible to appropriate postmodern strategies wholesale without appearing to support the status quo, a position increasingly untenable in a new century blighted by violence and intolerance. Devlin’s practice, however, relies on pilfering and recycling art from the past. He re-enacts past artworks – Bas Jan Ader’s Fall, for example, in which the artists cycles straight into a canal – in the manner of the worst pop music cover version: as a vulgar marketing ploy. He usurps the romantic, tragic status of Jan Ader in order to win the compassion and respect of which he is so undeserving.

by Jennifer Viviani [2006]

 

STATEMENT [2013]:

My subject matter is art (objects, artists, institutions) and the search for my position within it. I feel like a devout believer in art, searching for its meaning and trying to work out if I can legitimately call myself an artist, yet at the same time an irreverent sceptic who thinks “What the fuck are those bricks on the floor?

One of my earliest videos, Amsterdam Fall, was sparked by this dichotomy: I saw Bas Jan Ader’s piece showing him cycling into a canal and decided the best way to find out what it was about was to experience it.

I (attempt to) subvert art institutions using their own tools. I created and printed 2,000 copies of a booklet with the look and form of a Tate Modern exhibition catalogue. I placed these throughout the Tate Modern and expected a reaction – but my booklets had infiltrated the Tate so well that I wasn’t getting one! Frustrated, I sent someone to try to buy a copy from the shop. Initially, the management were apologetic not to be able to find it on their system – but once they realised it was a “fake”, they angrily searched the gallery and threw away all the copies they could find. I lost all my books and had nothing to show apart from a badly filmed video and a few anecdotes but I still believed that I had made some kind of institutional critique whereas in fact it was a childish prank that nobody remembers.

I organise art exhibitions and events that try to seem what they aren’t, curating fictitious group shows in the oddest places, (e.g. Madagascar) each with a London one-day preview show, opening, catalogue, ad etc. as well as mounting ‘genuine’ exhibitions that really take place – as in Graz and Vienna in 2012.

I have organised the Susak Expo Biennale since 2006, it’s an international art event that takes place on a remote Adriatic island, they have all the correct biennale ingredients: international artists, leaflets, catalogues, quarter page ads in Frieze, the only thing that isn’t quite right is that there are usually more artists exhibiting than visitors seeing the show.

In 2006, I contributed to the Venice Biennale Wikipedia page, the official page says that the Venice Biennale takes place every odd year, I added in brackets “(similar to the Susak Expo Biennale that takes place every even year)”. My contribution was quickly deleted but by that time, several other Wikipedia-like websites had automatically imported the information so that if you google “Susak Expo” and “Venice Biennale” you still get that piece of information.

I have an alter-ego artist, Herzog Dellafiore, inspired by the surrealist poet Benjamin Péret (who used to publicly insult priests), Werner Herzog and Gustav Metzger. As Herzog, I made a piece in 2006 called 4 quarters, which consisted of four paintings made in proportion to quarter page adverts in Frieze, Art Forum, Flash Art and Art Monthly. The paintings had wording insulting artists and art institutions, The Frieze ad had “You art fair conceptualists – I shit on your art and spit in your cappuccinos” worked into the painting. They all advertised a genuine solo show organised by Tracey Neuls, but once they realised that these paintings weren’t going to help promote designer shoes, the exhibition was immediately cancelled.

I am also a publisher. Under the name Susak Press, I publish catalogues to all the exhibitions I organise (real and fake), artists books for myself and others, and catalogues to proper events (like the Marmite Prize for Painting). As with the ‘Late Modern’ I also publish books that don’t exist, but which have a real ISBN, a cover image which I then put up for sale on Amazon. I once asked my sister to buy a book I’d ‘published’ in this way – when Amazon contacted Susak Press, I told them that the book was out of print -but  once something is out in the net, it proliferates – I have injected a benign online virus, a marker that allows you to trace its progress through the internet’s vascular system. This book is now on sale from many other online booksellers internationally.

I’m interested in the traces, the unknowable realities that are left for future historians – imagining someone, in a few years time, picking up an old copy of Frieze, Flash Art, Art Forum and thinking, what was that Susak Expo, that strange exhibition that took place in Antananarivo, Madagascar (I didn’t know they had a Museum of Contemporary Art there, and who was Herzog Dellafiore?).

I organise events as both curator/organiser and artist: I not only often show work, but also consider these events themselves part of my art practice. The exhibitions play an important part but are not the main part; I like to create a framework and then ask artists to help me make it happen as a collaboration, so that we’re all both contributors and creators.  The whole includes the shared experiences, the putting up and taking down of the show, the politics, discussion and after the exhibition, the catalogue and other art peri-phenomena, like adverts, flyers, invites etc.

I am interested in the relationships and interactions between the artists involved, (not in a Relational Aesthetics way although I do often make coffee for people and organise Osman’s Café once a month).

Since working on the Susak expo Biennale, what could be termed my more traditional ‘sculptural’ practice has led to the exhaustive use of orange wheelbarrows (the island’s only means of transport is the wheelbarrow – painting them a uniform orange was my un-asked for intervention – they now populate the entire island as movable land-art).

My video works that often take the form of a conversation or dialogue. These conversations usually start with a script or a plan but they are not strict and are free to change direction. Sometimes these conversations are between me and a doppelganger.

In Don’t Fucking Lucy Lippard Me, Maxine Peake who plays the part of Herzog Dellafiore interviewed by Daniel Devlin followed the script quite closely, but in In conversation With Socrates (not the philosopher but the captain of the 1982 Brazil football team), the only plan is that we would have a socratic conversation about what is beauty in football. And when I had my conversation with Bruce McLean, the plan was to promote The Dan Devlin Show, I had a script but he didn’t read it.

I’ve been called a postmodern naïf, a conceptual provocateur … and many other things. Maybe I’m just a fraud.