The British video artist’s latest work brings his evocative, cut up style to the YouTube Generation, reflecting on memory in the age of the internet
Mark Leckey first made his name as a video artist in the late 1990s with ‘Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore’, a proto-YouTube tribute to the underground dance scenes of the 1980s and 1990s, made from snippets of found footage carefully meshed together. In a time when the relationship between art and digital was still uncertain, Leckey took advantage of the undefined spaces, exploring the potential of the music video to define a time, place and feeling in underground British culture. Coming of age in a pre-internet era but developing as an artist predominantly in the digital emergence of the 1990s, Leckey explores what this change has brought for the preservation of memory and mood. In recent years, the endless sharing potential of the internet and the debris of recorded moments have provided him with his raw material. Sifting through the mass of footage uploaded to YouTube and across the internet, he pulls together depictions of a found past that are at once raw, melancholic and full of life.
His latest film project is a collaged video record of his life and British pop culture from 1962 to the last moments of 1999. It is screened at Cabinet Gallery, an unassuming space tucked away within an office block on Old Street. An LED poster flashing the title of the installation ‘Dream English Kid’ invites visitors to the darkened room, where Leckey’s film plays on a continuous loop, immersing the viewer completely as if tumbling, clip after clip, down a YouTube hole. Made from cuttings of footage found online, and carefully woven with pieces from Leckey’s own work, the film is a flitting record of passing time. He reconstructs history from traces of film, music and adverts, drawing hundreds of sounds and images from the past. These are then pieced and layered back together to intensify remembered emotions, so as to recapture a fragment of authenticity in an age where memory is so often saturated and distorted by digital recording.
Sifting through the mass of footage uploaded to YouTube and across the internet, he pulls together depictions of a found past that are at once raw, melancholic and full of life.
Memorable moments of the 20th century drift across the screen, transported amidst cut-up footage of road trips, flowing from muffled recordings of the moon landing to the millennium count down. A boy, perhaps Leckey himself, stands in a forest listening to Joni Mitchell on his portable record player, and later watches a blonde woman combs her hair while a grown-up party goes on somewhere behind the walls. In the following shots we see a reflection of Leckey the artist looking into a screen, as he cuts to a group of clubbers dance to the looping echoes of Luther Vandross’s ‘Never Too Much’ - a scene that swells with regret, cutting to a news report on the Korean Air crash of 1999, before jumping emphatically across time and place to a TV frame that reads ‘London Kills Me’.
Repetitive shots of urban peripheries and long roads, pylons and flyovers, ground the elusive, fast-moving chronology of his visuals, as they subtly change through time. The film ends with the 1999 solar eclipse, as the sounds of a dial tone merge with a millennium count down. This was the year that his video experiments with ‘Fiorucci Made Me Hardcore’ brought him artistic acknowledgement and eventually a Turner prize. Five years later, YouTube was launched, and cementing the true emergence of the collective online realm into wider consciousness. While the screen counts down the ‘Time to Totality’, the feeling is at once apocalyptic and nostalgic, perhaps revealing Leckey’s own tangled relationship with the archiving of memory and emotion in a digital age.