Michael Jackson

Slave to the Rhythm, performed at the 2014 Billboard Music Awards



This posthumous ‘live’ performance of a track Jackson had started working on before he died employed new technologies of video projection to create the illusion of ‘presence’, with Jackson even managing complex interactions with an ensemble of dancers in the sort of song and dance and pyrotechnics spectacle which we might rightly have expected to be HIStory. Of course this sort of posthumous video performance finds a precursor of sorts in Brandon Lee’s performance in The Crow (1994), and Hatsune Miku, a popular anime hologram popstar (produced by Sega and the comically sinister sounding Crypton Future Media), has being drawing enthusiastic crowds to ‘live’ performances in Japan for years. Perhaps due to the fame (and later infamy) that Jackson enjoyed during his lifetime his performance seems to go furthest in playing with expectations of ‘authenticity’, even hollowing out the necessity of ‘life’ from the spectacle of live entertainment. Yet, curiously these new video projection technologies are employed in other contexts precisely to provide a sense of ‘authentic presence’, where none would otherwise be available. For example, when on the election campaign trail, the current Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi of the Indian People’s party (BJP) used hologramic ‘live’ performances to travel the country, speaking directly to the billion-strong electorate. The disputes that emerged around Jackson’s estate in the wake of his death seems to suggest that some interesting issues around intellectual property and the ‘image’ rights of dead artists might emerge in the not so distant future. I am going long on Marina Abramović installing a permanent digital ‘presence’ in her private museumoleum.

Frank Gehry

New York (Advertisement)



This advertisement for a recent skyscraper designed by Frank Gehry in downtown Manhattan seems to offer a perfect distillation of the way in which the contemporary global city is marketed as a plaything/investment opportunity for a mobile international elite, and highlights the role of starchitects in adding the spectacular icing to the crude real-estate cake at the core of this project. The title of course already implies that this is New York with a Gehry twist – the city itself remade, Gehry-style. Sure enough, the advert starts with the hands of the ‘genius’ drawing – his gestures evoking the rush of New York’s streets, the waves of the bay, the Statue of Liberty’s torch (Immigration! New York still wants you – for the right price), and so on, all of which find their way into the twisted surface of an otherwise bland condo/office tower whose ‘cutting edge’ cladding already looks cheap and out-of-date in its very of-the-minuteness (like so many recent ‘iconic’ towers Gehry’s seems sheathed in the imminent aesthetic obsolescence of the latest design software). Yet by the close New York has been reduced to an image on a tablet screen that can be reassuringly swiped away – an infinitely seductive distraction that can sometimes be a bit much. Hence, the building not only promises stunning ipad-like views over the city but complete god-like control over urban life, and a neat leveraged solution to the perennial real estate dilemma of the wealthy New Yorker: ‘I love the energy of the city but I need a calm place to escape from it all, a place just to be”.

Nicholas O'Brien

You Alright?

Research Commission



For his research commission, O’Brien has produced a script and video essay, collectively titled, You Alright?. Based on a recent trip to London, You Alright? looks at the need for space, and the apparent lack of it, for emerging artists.

For an interview with the artist about his commission, please click here.