‘File under Sacred Music’, the 2003 video by Iain Forsyth and Jane Pollard – this survey’s opener – remains the duo’s most absorbing work. Its replication of a 1978 concert by NY proto-punk rockers The Cramps at the Napa State Mental Institute not only riffs on the artists’ interest in the overlaps between making and faking, the passive viewer and active participant, but also throws up thornier issues of taste and exploitation – and their role in notoriety’s formation.
In subsequent works, such as the ranty intercom raps performed in 2005 and 2008 by Plan B and MissOddKidd in a two-part reference to a 1973 work by US performance artist Vito Acconci, Forsyth and Pollard’s interpretations of early video art seem more a case of opportunistic recasting than of reinvention. Similarly, ‘Performer. Audience. Fuck Off’ from 2009, in which comedian Iain Lee delivers a mildly excruciating stand-up routine to an audience face to face, then in a mirror, um, mirroring a 1975 performance by Dan Graham, alters content without adding much to the ideas surrounding the original.
There’s an argument that the artful recreation is only really appropriation-lite – a less dangerous, more worthy successor to the exhilarating acts of creative theft that pepper art history. Forsyth and Pollard complicate the issue by making homage and fandom an integral part of their subject matter – we see the emotional power of music tapped by twentysomethings earnestly describing their mixtapes in 2004’s ‘Anyone else isn’t you’, for instance. Yet, viewed en masse, the work leaves you in want of something edgier, more daring – especially given the duo’s evident admiration for artworld radicals like Nauman, Graham and Acconci.