Since the early 1990s, US artist Mike Bouchet, a resident of Frankfurt since 2004, has been questioning social processes and structures in his work in a variety of forms including paintings, sculptures, installations, actions, performances, and videos. His artistic practice focuses on social and political issues such as ownership, consumerism, capitalism, and sex, yet also explores his own role as an artist. After Mike Bouchets participation in the 53rd Biennale di Venezia (2009), the Schirn
is the first institution in Germany to present new works by the artist in a solo exhibition from July 1 to September 12, 2010. The show centers around the work Sir Walter Scott, a group of 15 sculptures based on the Watershed project realized by Bouchet in the harbor basin of the Arsenale in Venice on the occasion of the Biennale. Also including a number of further sculptures, paintings, drawings, and prints, the Schirns exhibition New Living highlights the artists approach to questions of urbanity, the (ideal) home, and utopian forms of living together.
Born in Castro Valley, California in 1970, Mike Bouchet spent his youth in the United States and in post Franco-Spain, where he lived for five years. The artist experienced his return to the United States as formative: made sensitive through his sojourn abroad, he now regarded social and political circumstances in the United States with an outsiders eye and thus became all the more aware of their ruptures. While still studying at the University of California in Los Angeles with Charles Ray, Chris Burden, Paul McCarthy, a.o. from 1990 to 1993, Bouchet, already beginning to devote himself to social and cultural subjects, explored the genesis of personal fantasies, the development of consumer trends, and the emergence of popular cultures.
The 53rd Biennale di Venezia (2009) saw Bouchets hitherto most spectacular installation, which, shedding light on the subject of the single-family home, may be regarded as a prolog to the exhibition New Living in the Schirn. Bouchet bought a construction kit for a wooden single-family house from Forest Homes in Selinsgrove, Pennsylvania, made it buoyant, and installed it in the harbor basin of the Arsenale in Venice. For Bouchet, the Sir Walter Scott home, which is typical in US suburbs, stands for the dream of independence and individuality, yet also represents a commercial illusion of sorts, a borderline film set where one lays out the realization of the imagined freedom and autonomy. Against the background of the old city, the architecture of the house was something out of place, but maintained its position as a model for a possible extension of Venice and of global life on the water, as it were. However, it was not long before the dream of new living was to find an end: the house sank on the very first day, with only the roof remaining above water. Bouchet had not planned this part, yet spoke of a signature the bit of bad luck had endowed his work with. After the Biennale, the house was deliberately cut up with chainsaws so as to be made transportable, its parts painstakingly composed on fifteen pallets. The destroyed and transformed house thus became a new group of sculptures titled Sir Walter Scott. The cuboid stacks hardly reveal that it is a complete house we are looking at. Bouchet has set to work on it like a sculptor, adding and removing material, regrouping parts from one stack to another, and declared the sculptures which allegorically relate back to their original meaning as parts of a house finished at a certain point.
In the exhibition the components, which have been placed on selected rugs, suggest different concepts for new, visionary living situations. The rug, which Michel Foucault describes as a sort of garden that can move across space (Of Other Spaces, 1967), goes far back into mankinds cultural history and has fulfilled a variety of socio-cultural functions. For Oriental nomads, rugs corresponded to their mobile homes and marked the entrance to their tents. Alexander the Great returned with Oriental rugs from his campaigns in Asia. Analogous to a garden, Persian or Oriental rugs represent a sacred microcosm with the center of the universe in its middle and its four corners symbolizing the four continents: Africa, America, Europe, and Asia. The rugs motifs, their manufacture, and the process of their selection, the decisions for and against a certain model, constitute an additional level of reflection. Another room in the exhibition, which resembles a realtors office, provides space for paintings, drawings, prints, and sculptures that round off Bouchets associative, erratic and disruptive chart of new living spaces and forms. A further installation by the artist is presented in the Rotunda of the Schirn.
Mike Bouchet has continuously taken up social issues throughout his productive career. In My Toothbrush is Your Toothbrush (1995), the artist went back to the myth of hippie communes lived on the West Coast of the United States in the 1960s and to their idea of free love propagated in this context. Inviting arbitrary guests to sleep and live on a 17.5-meter-long futon sculpture in his studio for as long as they pleased and supplying them with identical white dressing gowns, food, and marihuana, Bouchet questioned the mechanisms of this utopian model of living together. After he had moved to New York in 2001, the artist again made his studio the venue of an art project. For Warsaw Travel/Travel Warsaw he turned the space into a fully functional travel office complete with computer terminals and specially designed travel posters and vacation flyers. Air passengers were able to book their flights there, but had to stop over in Warsaw where a photographer took a picture of them. The project was aimed at establishing a new air traffic hub far from the international routes and endowing Warsaw with a new meaning as a junction. Again and again Mike Bouchet relates to economic circulation processes, to phenomena, strategies, and ideas of consumption, marketing, and outsourcing. Whether he developed his own diet coke recipe for My Cola Lite (2004) and had the beverage bottled to be sent to China and given away there for free or designed his own label of jeans for Carpe Denim (2004), which he had manufactured in Colombia and dropped from a plane over the city where they had been made: his actions, installations, and sculptures always unfold concise pictures of complex economic and cultural contexts and the desires connected with them.
His projects are models of a reality which is both real and fictitious at the same time. You cannot alter your place in the world without first altering your image of the world, the artist says, his interest focused on the effects of pictures and the social desires they produce. Minimal contextual shifts are often all he needs to achieve this goal.
Mike Bouchets solo exhibitions include presentations in the BAWAG Contemporary, Vienna (2010), in the context of Frieze Projects, Frieze Art Fair, London (2009), in the Kunstraum Innsbruck (2005), as well as in galleries in Frankfurt, Paris, London, New York, and Los Angeles. Solo presentations of individual works by the artist were shown in the Centre Georges Pompidou, Paris and the MoCA Los Angeles (2007). In 2009, the artist participated in the 53rd Biennale di Venezia with his installation Watershed. Group exhibitions comprising works by the artist include shows in the Galeria de Fundación/Colección Jumex, Mexico City (2010), the Kunsthalle Bern (2009), the CAPC musée dart contemporain de Bordeaux (2009), the Astrup Fearnley Museum of Modern Art, Oslo (2008), the Palais de Tokyo, Paris (2006), the Serpentine Gallery, London (2006) and the P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York (2005).