Con Leche and Coca-Cola: Abstracting the Olympic Experience

Various groupings of Diet Coke bottles march through urban streets and alleys in Jordan Wolfson’s Con Leche, a 20-minute video piece. The bottles are filled with milk and exist as animations in a filmed reality.  In addition to the sound of marching feet in unison, the audio track is comprised of two voices: a woman reading found texts about social concerns including race, religion and sexuality, and the artist, directing the woman on logistical concerns such as the volume and tonality of her voice.  If nothing else, Con Leche is very absurd.

Jordan Wolfson, "Con Leche” (2009), Courtesy of Jordan Wolfson and Johann König, Berlin.

Con Leche is part of An Invitation to Infiltration, an exhibition in flux at Vancouver’s Contemporary Art Gallery, curated by Eric Frederickson and on view through the end of February as part of the Vancouver 2010 Cultural Olympiad. Naturally, I viewed the exhibition while in town for the Olympics. Earlier the same day, I wandered over to the Olympic Superstore, the largest of a small group of locations available in the city for the rest of the world to purchase official Olympic merchandise. Outside the Olympic Superstore was a massive line that wrapped around half of the department store building housing the space. Those waiting were being let into the building in groups of approximately 30 people every 20 minutes. Almost everyone else in line was Canadian, as evidenced by the mass of red, white and black sweaters, hats, jackets and mittens everyone was already wearing.  When the rope barriers were lifted and the doors opened, the line marched forward as the Superstore came within reach.  Once inside, three things immediately became apparent: the long wait made most people more inclined to shop in excess, promotional items from prominent sponsor Coca-Cola were being sold as “official” Olympic souvenirs, and restrictions in buying Olympic merchandise at this store only were likely a result of Visa’s need to control points of purchase as “the only card accepted at the Olympic games.”

Visa advertisement. Image from Photo District

There are inevitably processions everywhere in Vancouver; there are lines for an unobstructed view of the flame, the competitions and the admission-free Vancouver Art Gallery. Outside the art museum in Robson Square, Olympic patrons meander between a zip line, concert venue and ice rink. In the middle of this, the Vancouver Art Gallery constructed an “outdoor drop-in theater” for the presentation of works from over 50 international artists in CUE: Artists’ Videos. The selection of the videos is exciting, with an Olympic-esque, all-star lineup ranging from Gary Hill’s Attention (2005) to Dara Birnbaum’s Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman (1978-79) and Su-Mei Tse’s L’echo (2003).

Yet the appearance of video pieces on the giant screen, complete with amplified sound, in the middle of the plaza was surprisingly subdued. Although there were people everywhere, almost no one was captivated enough by the screen to stop and watch, a rare effect in the media age. Although I was in Robson Square specifically to see these videos, I still found it difficult to engage while standing among the tourists, wandering around, indulging in the sunniest of Vancouver days; the videos, dropped in the center of this city with the Olympics on almost every other screen in vicinity, somehow could not win their merited attention. Instead of providing a cultural contrast against the endless sports, the videos became part of the Olympic spectacle.

CUE Artists’ Videos, Vancouver Art Gallery, Robson Square

In many ways, Con Leche was a very conventional art experience in contrast to the Vancouver Art Gallery screen. Tucked in the back of the Contemporary Art Gallery, Fredericksen describes its relation to the exhibition:

“Jordan Wolfson’s Con Leche is presented in a formal screening environment, separated from the rest of the show. Denying the curatorial attempt to force juxtapositions within this group, Wolfson’s video addresses the show’s theme through its content rather than through its formal engagement.”

While Con Leche certainly engages with the exhibition’s theme effectively, in contrast to the CUE videos, its spatial separation from the Olympics creates a  relationship with the Games that does not become lost in the overall spectacle taking place in Vancouver. More individuals will encounter the Vancouver Art Gallery’s video display, but there is question as to how deeply the works are experienced as one element within the larger chaos of Robson Square. The content of Con Leche, while only one video, also has immediate relevance to the experience of being a spectator at the Olympics. After spending a day in the primary traffic zones of the Olympics (Robson Square, the Superstore and the plaza containing the cauldron), the marching Coca-Cola bottles of Wolfson’s piece evoked the red, black and white-clad masses walking the streets.  In addition to people, this section of downtown Vancouver was also covered in sponsorship presence, ranging form a Samsung- covered building to the Superstore shopping bags with Visa slogan, “go world.”

Jordan Wolfson, "Con Leche” (2009), Courtesy of Jordan Wolfson and Johann König, Berlin.

The visual parallel between Wolfson’s video and the scene in Vancouver is not a reflection on the Canadian crowd specifically, but rather a demonstration of how a single video of marching Diet Coke bottles abstracted the Olympic environment into one of colors, logos and other absurd symbols. After watching CUE, one was still in Robson Square, wondering when the next hockey game started; after watching Con Leche, Con Leche was effectively, and affectively, everywhere.