We live in an age of image proliferation. Visual media constantly bombards us across multiple platforms, from print and television to computers and mobile phones. Even before the internet paved the way for sharing – and repeating – information, American artist Sturtevant (professionally, she drops the Elaine) was mimicking the work of her contemporaries, with machine-like precision.
Entering this 83 year-old’s first UK retrospective feels as if you’re in the main processing hub of the world wide web. The gallery pulsates with clubbing beats and images whirr past you. At the beginning of her career in the mid-1960s, Sturtevant showed gumption as she cheekily copied the work of Pop Art greats like Andy Warhol, Jasper Johns and Roy Lichtenstein. Later she turned her attention to the more conceptually minded likes of Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Beuys and Félix González-Torres. The fact she repeats the works of male artists is, she claims, coincidental and not deliberate.
What is deliberate is her choice of artists who lifted their imagery from pre-existing sources. Sturtevant doesn’t regard her pieces as copies or homages but artworks in their own right. During her formative years as an artist, theorists were questioning authorship and although the philosophical and conceptual concerns of eminent thinkers like Gilles Deleuze frame her practice, they don’t stifle the work or alienate the viewer.
This is a welcome introduction to an artist who in her ninth decade is still at the top of her game. Maybe as a generation of You Tube uploaders, we’re more engaged with the concept of appropriation, so her video works collaging TV footage in a slideshow manner are more relevant than ever.
The repeated image of an owl plastered all over the first gallery comes from a royalty-free website and emulates the type of reuse that’s rife on the internet. Sturtevant even refashions parts of her own previous work. Parts of the film ‘Elastic Tango’ reappear in two ‘Rock & Rap’ video projections, creating a rhythmic loop.
So, from the multiple blow-up male sex dolls peering out at unsuspecting walkers in Hyde Park to the reimagining of the exhibition catalogue as a flip book, this show invites you experience works that continually refresh the idea of repetition. For a generation of retweeters, Sturtevant is the ultimate re-posting pioneer.