I'm Done | Michael Linders

Wed, January 15, 2020 to Sat, February 15, 2020
  • Michael Linders, 'Monument 1', 2019, Resin, Plexiglass, 45x30x25 cm
  • Michael Linders, 'T-shirt' , 2019, cotton
  • Michael Linders, 'T-shirt', 2019 cotton
  • Michael Linders, 'Artifact 2', 2019, opal UHI plastic, abs, LED lights, 180x45x15 cm
  • Michael Linders The End, 2019 Grundig TV, media player and found footage 35 x 50 x 45 cm
  • Michael Linders Monument 2, 2019 Gouache and ink on paper 130 x 84 cm
  • Michael Linders book, 2019 Paper 30 x 21 cm Edition of 100
  • Michael Linders The source, 2019 Lenticular print 104 x 70 cm Edition of 3 + 1 AP
  • Michael Linders The source, 2019 Lenticular print 104 x 70 cm Edition of 3 + 1 AP
  • Michael Linders, Façade, 2019 Wood, pvc, flourecent lights and fabric 375 x 266 cm

SMITH is excited to present I’m Done, a solo exhibition by Michael Linders. This is Linders’ second solo exhibition with SMITH, following 2016’s Exile. In this new body of work Linders interrogates cults and mythmaking practices.

Text by Thulile Gamedze

I came across a Wikipedia page labelled ‘List of people claimed to be Jesus’. The list, beginning in the 18th century, includes over forty of history’s (more notable) christs, detailing their spiritual journeys, deceits, or, in the case of Jim Jones, massacres. Jones, the infamous white American leader of the “People’s Temple”, gained fervent popularity, followed by global notoriety in the 70s. His life is of particularly sinister significance, as a result of his mobilisation of civil rights politics in his sermons, which allowed him to gain the trust and following of vulnerable American minorities and their families, who he went on to destroy.

Reference to the events of Jonestown, the ‘British’ Guyana-based commune of the People’s Temple, where Jones’ 1978 mass-suicide-by-Kool-Aid took place, surfaces frequently in Michael Linders’ I’m Done. The show - or artefact-site, or indoctrination-station-HQ of the defeatist and somewhat meta I’m Done cult - both reflects on and employs cult ‘affect’. Linders imagines the production of cult doctrine as a chaotic data-piling process, combining religion, political interest and history. Further than this though, the artist looks into the structural aspects of ‘cult-production’ - manipulation, authoritarian rule, and strategically induced psychological experiences, like that of the ecstatic. In both performing cult, and investigating cultness, the show - and Linders - engages an unusual relationship with the audience, who play roles somewhere between potential followers, art viewers, and consumers.

Cult, drawn from the Latin ‘colere’, is ‘to till’. Over time, the meaning transformed toward more poetically expanded associations with tilling, so that cult came to refer to ideas like care, labour, culture, and even worship and reverence. In other words, cult as the preparation of soil for the growing of crops, came to doubly allude another kind of tilling: the tilling of minds, bodies, and free will, in preparation for exploitation or ‘crop’ of some kind…

Linders’ wide research net of cult-adjacent information is hinted at best through the mysterious accompanying publication, where a bizarre amalgamation of vague allusions - to Jonestown, the creepy mythology of Pinocchio, space-race conspiracy, and pop psychology - meet, and are forced into conversation. The book makes a strange kind of sense of the project, whose presence in the gallery is realised visually in the always-exciting combination of Linders’ sardonic tone and bouncy, colourful aesthetic.

Unlike most cults, I’m Done declares its fourth wall on arrival, a constructed facade built on the inside of the gallery, through which potential converts must enter. And when the only way in is through a doorway, lit by a pulsating blue neon sign with no intention of deceit, the viewer’s seduction is constantly undone by their awareness of the not-realness of the place producing it. Inside, a lenticular print (one of those shiny pictures that changes when you look at it from a different angle, usually associated with Mother Mary, and tigers) shows the words “THE SOURCE” in bold yellow text against a blue background. As the viewpoint shifts, the source, as it were, is gradually replaced by a grand image of the Kaiteur Falls in Guyana. The image of the famous falls is mirrored in the publication, on a page captioned ‘single drop’ (you’ll figure it out). The falls gesture of course, toward the People’s Temple, where natural, undisturbed life, was abruptly met with geographically distant civil rights struggle, and a whole new kind of manipulative, narcissistic, and somewhat colonial-style rule.

This circle of reference moves throughout the show, where a monument-like resin sculpture, and a painting, re-reference Jones and his orchestrated Kool-Aid murder scheme, as well as dropping subtle and irreverent pointers toward disturbed fairy tales and conspiracies (that viewers will later find printed on the backs of their free T-shirts). The symbols float, landing and relanding, shuffling around and implicating each other in dark histories, while also offshooting some clues around the essential structure of cult patterns. Here, we might slowly begin to recognise the cult dynamics that underpin the creative industry itself, with the art gallery no stranger to exploitation relations, unbeatable western art market controllers, and the invention and re-invention of alleged relevance.

With Linders as a kind of un-cult leader, the converts - not unwitting - are positioned between the simultaneous allure and darkness of I’m Done’s appeal to release oneself into a post-cult nothingness. Articulated best through a video work that plays on an ancient after-supper family-style tv, I’m Done seems to look to the end of influence and the end of the cult itself (unintuitively, through a whole new kind of cult). The work consists of a long sequence of hundreds of old school Hollywood movie endings, in the few seconds where “The End” appears on screen, as the main characters kiss, walk into the sunset, or similarly self-actualise, before the credits role.

And so, eyes glazed over, the disillusioned Cape Town converts pull free T-shirts over their clothes, gazing at nothing more or less than the end, in the pulse of neon lights, iconic glassy monuments, shiny pics, and real - but fake - promises.

I’m Done runs from 15 January - 15 February 2020. For further enquiries or to request a Q&A with the artist, please contact Jana Terblanche at jana@smithstudio.co.za