“Work stops at sunset. Darkness falls over the building site. The sky is filled with stars. "There is the blueprint," they say.”
(From Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino)
An Impossible Blueprint
According to Daniel Kunitz (2011) the lesson of the earlier efforts in 1960s where art challenged context, is that if you want to disrupt the understanding of what art is you need to alter how it gets to its audience. He quoted the Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers who wrote:
"The definition of artistic activity occurs, first of all, in the field of distribution" (Crow, 1996 p.177).
On the other hand art that leaves its place of making is prone to endless manipulation, interpretations and vested interests (Buren, 1970; Krauss, 1989). In bringing the viewer into close proximity of art in its own closest reality I encounter fragmentation and art’s paradoxical inability to render life – indeed disclosing this gap through a kind of purposeful purposelessness (as has been observed recently) can lead, I have discovered, to endless possibility!
I therefore find myself contemplating the notion of fragmentation of a practice as a practice – as a trope of reflexivity - speculating on the insistence of a procedure that uncovers the spaces of potential and allows voice through what has now become a much more dispersed or feral practice. True, I still have a studio equipped with all the usual objects one might find in many an artist’s place of making – table, chair, even an easel, and through an intertwining of reality and fiction I produce improvised sites that are dialectically linked replies to one another.
Schematic works made by grouping together a range of highly selective media and materials including text and video, found and made objects, sound and lighting, painting, photography and stagecraft, I invite the viewer to walk the site, to get inside the work and reflect on the possibility of new and meaningful representation(s).
In this new work Ibid, created for the Power 2014 show at Kuandu Museum of Fine Art, Taipei, and for my on-going residency at X-Church, Gainsborough in the UK, I am referencing the idea of previous studio works as texts and quoting them in the viewing space. I am also alluding to the artist as a traveller within these texts (works), drawing the viewer in and inviting them on an existential journey – a journey through imagined sites of the fragment such as those witnessed by readers of Invisible Cities. The elements of the installations are dialectically linked and focus on architecture and site as metaphors for our mental states – they all refer to a place of making and unmaking, both real and imagined.
The installation(s) position the viewer within a fragmented and incomplete project where tensions between the meaningful and the meaningless, between creativity and fall, fiction and reality are all met. It is perhaps within our nature to shy away from such an unfinished work, or even feel robbed or affronted in some way, especially when encountered in a gallery or museum space – it is after all rather disconcerting to feel as though there is something missing - not quite there, or that the artist has simply abandoned ship.
In this work however, an attempt is made to reassert that the ‘right place’ for art is within this unresolvable state and put into reverse the negative stereotypes of the unfinished or the abandoned project - to invert it and create the potential for a more positive metaphor. In this work the viewer is immersed in a set of visual relationships that subconsciously he or she is aware of, to create allegories, new meanings and to foreground the creative potential of the fragment in a process of renewal and redefinition. Through the unfinished - the impossibility of art (the gap between the real and represented) and yet the possibility of art, is made apparent through the disclosure of this gap, loss or lack - through a kind of removal of myself. After all, the artist reveals gaps and doesn’t fill them in (Ross, 2006).
Ibid as a provisional site of models, texts, and broken forms, and the viewer’s experience of my making (and my unmaking) aims to open up this speculation on the notion of a work’s becoming and the hope that we can create for ourselves new narratives of possibility.
The elements within the show combine to reference unstable and subjective concepts of space and understanding, and tempt the viewer around seemingly unstructured activities and makeshift actions which ultimately draw attention to the unresolved poetics of the everyday and the indefinable beauty in the ordinary - particularly through such works as ‘I am from Leonia’, made during my X-Church residency, especially for the Ibid project.
This new video piece is influenced by Calvino’s book Invisible Cities, and in particular the sections about the cities of Leonia and Sophronia. In this short film played on a loop, the viewer witnesses my steady and progressive sweeping the interior of what was once a super-modern building but which is now an abandoned and ruined husk, in an attempt to fulfill the seemingly impossible blueprint referred to by the inhabitants of Invisible Cities.
The voice over in the film recalls the street cleaners who are welcomed like angels to the city, and who ‘engage in their task of removing the residue of yesterday's existence in a respectfully silent ritual that inspires devotion’. This is perhaps because once things have been discarded nobody really wants to have to think about them anymore:
“Nobody wonders where, each day, they carry their load of refuse. Outside the city, surely; but each year the city expands, and the street cleaners have to fall farther back. The bulk of the outflow increases and the piles rise higher, become stratified, extend over a wider perimeter. Besides, the more Leonia's talent for making new materials excels, the more the rubbish improves in quality, resists time, the elements, fermentations, combustions. A fortress of indestructible leftovers surrounds Leonia, dominating it on every side, like a chain of mountains.”
In the book, as in this show, the reader is compelled to reflect on the ultimate outcomes of such accumulations of the debris as an outcome of daily progress and thus question a wider logic around production and unbridled modernity.
This question about what to do with our worldly possessions, once we no longer have a use for them, is as poignant today as it ever was and Ibid is an attempt to pause, visualize and reflect on the status of the fragment within an embodied relationship with the world.
I often work in neglected urban spaces as the creative energy found in such settings offers a useful metaphor for our state of being. Working with fragments and ruins such as in the video piece I am from Leonia (2014) provides the marginal spaces I need for dispersing ideas – ones that do not stand for anything certain but that are renegotiating a relationship with audience; testing out whether a work could be perhaps not “of art”, as Duchamp once asked (1913). Through enacting what has become a nomadic studio in neglected urban spaces (as well as galleries) I am attempting to explore the human condition and negotiate a transient and momentary aesthetic of regular experience.
Through the unfinished I am also disclosing ambivalence – what is missing or not being seen – a disappearance if you like. I feel as though I am occupying the role of the wandering performer but unseen by any public - as Christine Ross so eloquently puts it, through ambivalence indifference is deployed as a condition of possibility. In other words, possibility is revealed by disclosure of ambivalence – what is missing or not ‘being seen’ (2005). In a world where an apathetic public seems disinterested in truths and only spectacle, I am trying to disclose the creative potential of the fragment to restore our relationship with the world.
Broodthaers, M (1969) in Crow, TE (1996) p.117 The Rise of the Sixties: American and European Art in the Era of Dissent George Weidenfeld and Nicholson Ltd
Buren, D. (1970) pp.100-104 ‘Beware!’ Studio International, Vol. 179, no. 920, March 1970
Calvino, I (1974) Invisible Cities
Duchamp, M (1913) From the notes assembled in À l’infinitif (The White Box), reprinted in Duchamp du signe, ed. Michel Sanouillet and Elmer Peterson (Paris: Flammarion, 1975), p.105
Kunitz, D. (2011) Texting: The Artist as Writer as Artist, http://www.blouinartinfo.com
Ross, C. (2005) The Aesthetics of Disengagement: Contemporary Art and Depression University of Minnesota Press