Alasdair Macintyre: The Long Martch

The stormtroopers, in the epic Star Wars films, were a collective of military personnel. They carried out Imperialist duties, prescribed by the evil Lord Vader, with cool efficiency. This is an interesting choice of imagery, for an artist of politically subversive and culturally critical means. For Alasdair Macintyre, his shiny white warriors are emblematic of universal marching armies, such as the Red Guard and the Nazis – brainwashed and unquestioning, disturbing in their indoctrinated order. They are, for these reasons, a vehicle for Macintyre’s social commentary and creative engagement with art history, theory and practice.

Macintyre is known for his pastiches, his visual puns that hold underlying political sway. He builds small dioramic mise-en-scène and scaled models of the white cube gallery, wherein his sculpted art world inhabitants perform their one-act plays. His sculpture has consistently been an intelligent and philosophical account of the state of aesthetics and the hierarchies of the art world. This latest series of works, using the Star Wars emblem of clean order, continue his developing interest in popular culture, as totems of subversive disorder, within an enclosed and dramatic environment.

Macintrye’s latest trope, the stormtrooper, has become a symbol of clone-like behavior or action, as a cautionary reminder for us to think for ourselves. He warns us not to fall prey to economic or social dogma. The artist is also making a comment on the ‘army of similar art’ that relentlessly marches through our galleries and museums, with deafening thuds. The artist is a philosopher of sorts; his art practice is his methodological art tool, used to interrogate the state of active being in the world. For over a decade, Macintyre’s work has grappled with the curious nature of our lives, political conventions and social systems. Why must some of us beg on the street, while others will never fear starvation? Why do some artists prosper, yet others do not? Why must we submit to political policies that are inherently immoral? In the past, Macintyre’s character, Aecap, has led us on a merry art world dance through these sticky issues. Popular culture and art world propaganda have been both his source and his target.

Macintyre builds sculptural elements, comiclike characters and toys from a nostalgic era. These are not figurines bought from eBay or collected from antiques markets. On the contrary, Macintyre is that rare beast: the true artist/artisan. He creates his sculptural characters by casting them in polyurethane resin. This is a complex process of manufacturing elements. It is a crafted endeavour, an arduous task that is much too conveniently forgotten when considering his final forms. Once Macintyre’s figures have been cast, he plays with elaborate tableau settings and detailed/imaginative finishes to the surface of their armour, relating to historical and extant art icons such as Jackson Pollock and Damien Hirst, both of whose work has earned enormous remuneration and consequently suffered the scrutiny associated with impossible price tags.

Individuation, read through the philosophy of Gilbert Simondon, refers to the unity of being as an essence*. This idea is tempting to apply to Macintyre’s stormtroopers. They enact clone-like behaviour, yet they are individuals, separated by a gap of infinity or potential space. The artist says, ‘through the arts, a cold and heartless individual can be humanisedand softened, and that over time, a moral compass, an awareness of social justice, and a conscience can be developed.’ This then suggests an individuated action or a system about to occur, a character or an artwork about to become. Indeed, Macintyre has noted that this body of work is about transformation.

Macintyre’s troopers can be read as both aggregates that make up a larger system of order, but also as separate specimens that exist beyond comprehension. By painting their armour with visual reminders of past artists or other artworks, his referencing makes the troopers both a classification system and also an independent lament for our limited lives, our finite opportunities and the flawed qualities of human ambition.

Moving back to the question of independent thinking, Macintyre’s artistically-transformed stormtroopers reflect our need to individualise, while also needing to be situated within an identifiable group. To stand out from the crowd might, in the end, be an impersonal and sisyphus-like task. In this vein, Macintyre is aware of the paradoxes of fame, as a brutal act of conformation rather than transformation. We personalize the impersonal, in order to

belong, yet we crave to stand apart. This perverse existentialist toil is particular to the human condition. Perhaps understanding that a true transformation is a surrender to unity, is the basis of Macintyre’s work.

 

By Prue Gibson

[Art writer, Teaching Fellow (creative writing) and PhD candidate (art writing) UNSW.]

 

*Simondon, Gilbert. “The Genesis of the Individual” in

Incorporations, ed. J.Crary, S .Kwinter, (New York: Zone

Books, 1992).