Missing You: Micheál O’Connell (aka Mocksim)


From the ‘Missing You’ series. Image Courtesy the artist.

Text written in response to Micheál O’Connell’s exhibition ‘Missing You and three other initiatives’ at Hundred Years Gallery, 5-6 June 2014. Published on the blog of the International New Media Gallery (inmg), 9 June 2014.

A package is due to be delivered by a courier. It may or may not arrive. Upon arrival, a person is required to sign. The signing takes place electronically. There is that moment, when handed the courier’s ballpoint pen (incongruous with the electronic surface) one fumbles awkwardly (ink no longer required). There are times when packages disappear without a trace except for the authenticating courier parcel tracking systems; and the mark of an invisible signatory. Other times, if no one is there to sign, packages migrate backwards and forwards between locations. Micheál O’Connell (or Mocksim) brings this banal activity into view in works collectively titled Missing You. He describes his own experience of the back-and-forth of a parcel accompanied by ‘Sorry We Missed You’ cards. He draws attention to the absurdity of checking the remote tracking system to confirm his parcel (after having already received it). And then he discovers the blurriness of a system that despite its performance of technological certitude is vulnerable to human error, chance and forgery: ‘Alongside the usual information I’d just left; a Point of Delivery (POD) signature. I keyed in an invented consignment number and saw the parcel information for a stranger; the times, movements and their similar JPEG image’. [1]

Signatures are embedded in the bureaucracy of everyday life and bind all kinds of transaction (whether economic, political, or social). In passports, signatures together with the photograph of identification function forensically. Historically (in art) signatures are linked to authenticity and to the identity of the artist: the butterfly monogram signature of James McNeill Whistler, for instance. Artists associated with the avant-garde disrupted the historical relationship between artist’s signature, originality and authenticity. Marcel Duchamp famously signed his ‘readymade’ ‘Fountain’ ‘R Mutt 1917’. Histories of forgery, notions of originality and authenticating marks are interwoven in both art and commonplace bureaucracy.

Mocksim’s 5 minute film PODS stages a sequence of ‘Point of Delivery Signatures’ from courier company parcel tracking systems. Detached from their context these signatures lose their apparent powers of authentication. Their meaning and significance is obscured. There is no way of knowing whether they are, in fact, real or forged. Or whether they were imagined by O’Connell himself. The signatures suggest a human, bodily presence: registers of individuality and intimate markings made by someone’s hand. Some of the signatures are straightforward. An identifiable surname accompanied by an initial: ‘S Bowdon’; ‘G Keller’. Others, in the context of Mocksim’s film, suggest word games or literary characters: ‘B Meek’. Many perform the obfuscation of those marking out their individuality with obscure lines or squiggles. The speed at which they flash past, in the film, functions to further exaggerate their absurdity. These images, electronically mediated, are pixelated (they suggest the functional low resolutions of the courier’s handset). In this electronic distortion the script is recognisable and yet its authenticity is under question. From the hand of the signatory to the courier’s device it is transformed, innocuously, into something else.

Mocksim’s new film ‘Delivering’ re-imagines the electronic signatures recast in PODS. An irreverent triptych of markings in a deteriorating ground are accompanied by a soundtrack/score by Stace Constantinou (composed according to the artist’s ‘confidential limitations/instructions’).[2] Prior  knowledge tells us that these are signatures but they are reduced to markings that could, in fact, refer to anything or nothing. Sound is similarly opaque. I imagine dripping water, sounds associated with decay, and electronic scrambling. I listen as I observe electronically transmitted images in what appears to be an aging, damaged surface.


From the series ‘Contra-Invention’. Image courtesy the artist.

Works collectively titled ‘Missing You’, ‘Contra-Invention’ and the ‘Yearly Print Project’ (conceived of in relation to 9/11) all engage the tension between knowledge grounded in the idea of objective, rational, empirical thought and other kinds of knowledge that (less easily placed) speak to coincidence, chance, absurdity, affect and fiction.  In the body of work titled ‘Contra-Invention’  (nominated for The Deutsche Börse Photography Prize, 2012), Mocksim explored the idea of photographs taken by Traffic Wardens (or as he points out ‘Civil Enforcement Officers amusingly abbreviated to CEOs’).[3] Similarly to ‘Missing You’ the artist discovered that these official visual documents (functioning forensically as evidence of public law-breaking) were obtainable and downloadable. Contra-Invention in catalogue form and as exhibited photographs (and related installations) make visible the ways in which human error and presence is registered in the apparently official records produced by the CEOs. Inadvertent incongruities such as the photographer’s reflections are captured similarly to the bodily presences or machine-ghosts generated by photocopy machines handled by invisible subjects.

Writing about the 9/11 print project in a piece titled ‘Rigidity Causes us to Make Mistakes’ (2013) I wrote that it is ‘a Memento Mori of sorts: it pays attention to transience and uncertainty even as it performs the language of empirical knowledge’. [4] Mocksim developed an algorithm annually calculating the sale price of the prints ‘linking their monetary and associated symbolic value’ to his own imagined life span and mortality. [5] Mocksim’s ‘calculations and the numerical language of grids, graphs and columns do not account for the unknowable, and the amorphous territories of chance and coincidence’. [6] But ultimately as I deploy my own subjective (imaginative) looking the work’s abstracted, electronically generated forms suggest architectural structures in which shrouded, cocooned corpses are ‘lost in a ground that (no longer sure of its place in the world) makes no sense at all’. [7]

O’Connell’s practice relates to experiences described in Rosi Braidotti’s book The Posthuman (2013). Subjectivity, embodiment and corporeal vulnerability encounter (in ways that are banal and innocuous), the circuits of machines and electronic transmission. The Missing You works include photographic iterations of an installation of POD signatures in a sledge filled with urine. The performance piece Rearing draws together the idea of bodies (human and animal) in an absurd ritualistic contemplation of conception, birth and child rearing. A male performer (wearing a suit) lies alongside three children’s potties. [8] One of these is filled with eggs which he cracks open filling a second potty with the messy yolky liquid (shells then deposited into the third potty). Messy liquid corporeality renders, absurd and impossible, the bureaucratic machine worlds of CEOs and PODS. O’Connell’s work brings vision, sound and technology into a dialogue with affect and its relation to human presence, experience and corporeality. The frustration of the human encounter with technology (flawed and vulnerable to failure) is as affecting as the human presences of the invisible CEOs or couriers: anonymous employees of an exploitative system. Braidotti writes about a ‘complex political economy that connects bodies to machines more intimately, through simulation and mutual modification’. [9] In Braidotti’s text Leonardo’s Vitruvian Man ‘has gone cybernetic’.[10] The politics of the Posthuman appears far more complex today: a critique of the enlightenment subject imagined as male, European and white but also a critical perspective located in the idea of the Cyborg. These cyborgs ‘include not only the glamorous bodies of high tech, jet-fighter pilots, athletes or film stars, but also the anonymous masses of the underpaid, digital proletariat  who fuel the technology-driven global economy without ever accessing it themselves’.[11] Mocksim’s ‘Missing You’ takes on a melancholic tone: the ‘you’ implies a human presence that in the work is ambiguously absent and present at the same time. It seems a nostalgic (perhaps sentimental) reference to the vanishing intimacy of the handwritten note between subjects known to each other. But it is also simultaneously ironic and located in a critique of everyday encounters with anonymous human presences and machines that cannot hear us.


Mocksim Performs (An earlier performance of ‘Rearing’). Photo credit: Joshua Uvieghara. Image Courtesy the artist.


[1] See: http://www.mocksim.org/Missing_You.htm Last accessed 4 June 2014.

[2] Email conversation with the artist, 3 June 2014.

[3] See: http://www.lulu.com/shop/mocksim-mocksim/contra-invention-colour/paperback/product-14458293.html

[4] Greslé, Y. ‘Rigidity Causes us to Make Mistakes’, text commissioned by Micheál O’ Connell, following 9 September 2013, and published on-line April 28 2014 http://mocksim.wordpress.com/ Last accessed 3 June 2014.

[5] Greslé, Y. ‘Rigidity Causes us to Make Mistakes’, 2014.

[6] Greslé, Y. 2014

[7] Greslé, Y. 2014.

[8] See documentation of an earlier iteration of ‘Rearing’ at Whitechapel Gallery, 17 November 2006: http://www.mocksim.org/works/Rearing.htm Last accessed 5 June 2014.

[9] Braidotti, R. The Posthuman. UK and USA: Polity Press, 2013, 89-90.

[10] Ibid.p.90.

[11] Ibid.p.90.


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