The Fine Line series marks a shift in Ian Johnston’s artistic practice from a focus on the materiality of consumer culture to an investigation of the role of doubt in mass culture. In Check Check, the ubiquity of the self-doubting individual is inextricably linked to a mass culture marked by distrust of the very mass media that give it shape. Stepping into a space intersected by four large projection screens, the viewer is surrounded on all sides by a looping series of such vignettes screened, variously in fragments and in their entirety accompanied by a four-channel score from composer Don Macdonald. The events and the non-events in Check Check unfold in a sequence that subtly choreographs the audience’s movement within and around the installation.
Johnston’s turn toward video for this piece stemmed from the consideration of an obsessive behaviour familiar to most, namely our highly emotionally charged relationship to screens and digital devices. The installation harnesses the knee-jerk nature of our conditioned responses to visual and auditory cues not only the pinging of a smartphone, but even going back as far as silent film.
Marked as it is by deeply-rooted experiences ranging from acute foreboding to limitless possibility, Johnston turned toward anticipation as a point of intersection between the personal experience of obsessive-compulsive behaviour, the logic of consumer culture, and the ongoing fragmentation of political discourse. Starting from the premise that consumer culture evidences traits associated with obsessive-compulsive behaviour, initial research focussed on popular and academic discourses about obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)1. This research confirmed certain aspects of the initial premise while also revealing an important distinction: unfettered consumption has none of the oscillation between doubt and certainty that is the hallmark of OCD, also known as the ‘doubting disease’.