There is Always an Alternative

There is Always an Alternative
Project for temporarycontemporary, London and
The International 3, Manchester
co-organised with Dave Beech

Dialogue with Dave Beech

View larger images here

Preface from Catalogue

In an age of identity politics, There is Always an Alternative is odd. The sense of a reclamation of marginalised history might have echoes of the feminist or postcolonial assault on the canon but this exhibition does not represent any social group or abused identity. The alternative referred to in the title does not point to any specific brand of otherness. There is Always an Alternative documents an under-represented array of radical practices from the early-90s that share no ethnic, sexual, social or other identity. Nevertheless, the constellation of practices gathered together in this exhibition presented a different model of artistic practice than that which came to be seen as dominant in Britain and elsewhere in the 90s. As always, things could have been different and still could be different. There is Always an Alternative puts forward an alternative history of art in the early 1990s and in so doing, provides a resource for all those practices seeking to confront the limitations, both arbitrary and ideological, upon what can be done now.

There is every chance that There is Always an Alternative is not your alternative. This is because alternatives cut across what passes for the universal without encompassing all that exceeds the universal. Alternatives are partisan and partial. Each has its own distinctive trajectory and its own corresponding horizon. In the case of There is Always an Alternative, that trajectory plots a path leading from a very small point. It is organised according to the logic of a ripple effect, always moving outwards from its origin. Its origin is utterly contingent, but its ripples provide the context that situates such contingency in a shared constellation. That origin is the experience of Dave Beech and Mark Hutchinson working together as young artists in the early 90s in London; those ripples include other politicised artists who were in the same predicament but they extend to include artists working in Berlin, New York and Manchester. The outer ripples connect Beech and Hutchinson with artists who perhaps share very little of their experiences but who, in their own contexts, represented an alternative at the same time. 

Each artist involved could be placed at the centre of an alternative constellation and every artist not included in the show could be the centre of yet another alternative constellation. ‘There is always an alternative’ is not presented as a representative or comprehensive picture of art’s excluded others, which is why Beech and Hutchinson have not gone out of their way to research the full range of overlooked, under-represented or radical artists. Actually, the selection was pretty clear from the start. We knew who we associated with and we had a good idea who we wish we’d associated with or who we have since discovered were close to us but somehow did not appear on our radar at the time. If There is Always an Alternative does not constitute your version of the alternative, then, it is offered as a model for practice: as an invitation, simply, to organise your own. There are always alternative alternatives.

The title derives from an inversion of one of Margaret Thatcher’s favourite ideological phrases, “there is no alternative.” This is a phrase used by people attempting to undermine whatever alternative there is and in that sense is always false and falsifying. One of the techniques available to the status quo is to minimise or eliminate the sense of any alternative in the present or immediate future by obliterating the alternatives that existed in the past. The market is a very good mechanism for this sort of institutionalised selectivity. It is through recovering alternatives in the past, therefore, that we will inform and spur on alternatives in the future.