Saturday, 28 December 2013

Presenting Absence (No 2)


‘Black’ is a sequence of four short-term exhibitions / installations / events (delete as appropriate) to be staged over an eighteen month period in a domestic cellar space of artist Stuart Edmundson’s house in Salford, North-West England.
So far, so 1990s, but the twist here is the fact that only the first 20 of the e-mailed invitees to acknowledge attendance can actually attend the launch bash. Conversations about the ‘art’ displayed are the primary concern, along with a liberal dash of beery conviviality and a temporary fuck-you to the choppy waters of funding applications and the marketplace.  
Considering the fact that Edmundson has predicated the function of the space as an enforced absenting of a large percentage of a prospective audience, the perfect artist would be one who, if not exactly making an effort to remove the art-object from proceedings, at least makes an effort to trim things back to essentials. Hence the opening gambit of handing over the space to Joe Devlin and his new piece 'Necrophagous Shadows'.
 Devlin has previously used the marks, stains and readers doodlings left in library books as a starting point for his work, ‘Necrophagous Shadows’ is more physically ambitious than his usual neo-conceptual output but remains equally enigmatic and self-contained. A gaggle of plinths radiate from one corner of the cellar illuminated by a desk lamp sat on the floor. Each is topped by a freestanding image of the shadow of an art object cut-out from an image in an art magazine.                                                                                                                                                                                                       
The casual grouping of plinths are really clunky skeletal echoes of functional plinths: either too narrow, too shallow, too high, or too low to be blankly reusable display supports their peculiar dimensions dictated by their shadow images positions within the source magazines numbered pages.                                                                                                           
With an inflection of anamorphic distortion the small shadow-shapes are all profoundly different from each another - one a linear fine archers bow motif, another a wonky Poirot-style moustache shape, others a miniature flattened Brancusi, a black corn-chip curl, and on and on. It’s impossible to reconstruct the absent form producing these shadows.
Visible vacuums, the tracing of an absence, vagrant bits; these are echoes of absences, awkwardly contextualized in a domestic space with a limited audience and blankly refusing a meaning, with the lack of a written attempt to elucidate the critical dimension of the piece acting as an additional absence.
The titling of the install - ‘Necrophagous Shadows’ - seems to be another destabilizing addition to the affair; a sarcastic acknowledgement of the excessive gothic lardings favoured by some contemporary practitioners and a pointer to the conceptual notions undercutting the display.
The life of an art object isn’t predicated on it being fixed, motionless, but on its semi-transparency, its fluidity as a trigger of associations which themselves shift in relationship with each other. 
Of equal importance, a play with stuff - materially imperfect, bloody-mindedly solid and soiled - has the added ingredient of the auric quality of matter and the additional edge of psychological invasiveness that thingness brings.

The simple fact of things in the world, stubborn reality, allows a shifting perspective to be applied but is completely indifferent to defining constructs, no matter how smart or insightful.

Things simply are. Any art work degenerates into an embodied ideology, which is both inevitable, necessary, and, often, rather tragic. 

Crikey, somehow the whole event seems to make sense!



Sunday, 15 December 2013

Presenting Absence (No. 1.)


Considering the fact that writing organizes human thought into a structured linearity (a narrative event), it’s sobering to reflect how insanely random everyday thoughts generally are: like a bee in a bucket or idiot spaghetti in a badly made crate. 

In response, plenty of contemporary art embraces the chaos and excess of day-to-day existence; other work pares things down to the point of using different forms of absence as a productive device.

From its establishment as a visual trope (truism), the place of the monochrome within the historical lineage of abstraction seems fairly straightforward. In reality the skeletal framework of potential interpretive perspectives on any bastardized contemporary offshoot of the ‘genre’ is a much more tangled and chaotic mess than any A to B to C simple family-tree model may suggest. Matters are not helped by artists insistence on taking the reductive simplifications of Modernism up strange creative side-alleys. 

One such example is Deb Covell’s exhibition ‘Zero’ at Manchester’s increasingly impressive ‘Untitled Gallery’; a half-dozen rectangles of acrylic paint playing with the physical fact of paint as stuff.

The intentionally grey walls of the show’s installation helps to emphasis the extreme contrast of the yin and yang of black and white layers of paint glued together by the hidden infrastructure of an acetate sheet. A simple twinning of absences.

It goes without saying that the act of building a painting is not the same as constructing an image. Equally the use of paint itself doesn’t necessarily indicate the procedure of ‘painting’. Here Covell seems more interested in forcing paint into a sculptural form more indicative of a sheet of paper or swatch of cloth; the surfaces, however, lack the purity of absolute flatness, the smooth fluctuating thickness of the paints topography radiating a stubborn thingness.

One piece brings to mind a cartoon handkerchief hanging on a nail, or a sleeping bat; another horizontal floor piece an accidentally kicked floor rug; two others show a tasteful fold to a corner revealing a pliable marzipan thickness to all the pieces. A constant is the light repelling, dead plasticity to the deformed rectangles of acrylic paint.

The end results are impersonations of paintings; comic narratives of hapless substance afflicted by the gravitational tug of time.

Under the primary pressure of its concrete object-ness, the surfaces are never allowed to act as a support for brushstrokes or marks, the pieces serve as absences, architectural punctuations and surfaces at one-and-the-same time, without comfortably satisfying any of these criteria.

So finally as three-dimensional events refusing a function the spectre of ‘aesthetics’ is allowed to sneak into the frame. 

That’s really asking for a fight. 

Tasteful indeed but maybe they’re not so polite afterall.