Recently, speculative boffins have developed a substance regarded as the blackest ever seen (or not seen); a light absorbent tangle of nano-tubes and balls which, when coating an object, allows the physically substantial to appear as an area void of physical substance. It’s hard to conceive of a more extreme disciplining of messy reality than to produce that which appears as a hole punched in space.
2001‘s alien monolith is this made cinematic flesh but also, inevitably, another kind of hole, one punched in the celluloid strip to reconfigure notions of space and time, restructure chronologies of evolution and futurity.
In Manchester’s ‘OBJECT / A’, Deb Covell’s installation / painting / sculpture ‘Here And Now’ is a wire hung, almost square rectangle of black paint - itself titled ‘Present’ - brightly lit from behind.
Hovering about two thirds along the narrow, corridor long space, the synthetic marzipan textured nullity implies an impossible act of gravitational denial, a temporary gnomic deficiency of anchoring solidity and the iteration of an invisible scaffolding; all in one slice of paint.
As we are unavoidably tied to the three-dimensional world, a black square tends to insinuate its extension into a black cube, recolonizing chaos with an even more rigid structure.
Like Kubrick’s monolith, monochromatic painting is a congealing of temporal shifts, it seems to excise difference. The most successful monochromes momentarily succeed in appearing to have the purity of an unmixed primary; the solidity of unmoving fact, unchanging and unchangeable.
So let’s get rid of the obvious precedent and note the most famous arty black square: Malevich’s ‘Black Square’ of 1915, or, rather, all four of them.
Replacing the ubiquitous Russian icon of his youth with this graphic rectangle may, in place of the censorious gaze of an ill-tempered creator, have left Malevich with an existential void but it leaves the (un)-believer with a renewed responsibility for populating this clearing space, a responsibility both creative and moral.
And this perplexing ground zero inevitably undermines the immateriality and spiritual aspirations of Malevich’s gesture; sensory deprivation leaves us readdressing real space and its ill-tempered twin time. Even in the case of Malevich’s original “Black Square’ rhino-hide cracks now infect the painting dragging the apparent blank back into crappy reality.
Keeping this interweaving mess of observations going, it seems most useful to consider Covell’s piece as a contemporary extension of the kind of visual spatial editing and narrative play flirted with in literature: the blacked out pages of Sterne’s ‘Tristram Shandy’ or the rectangular holes in the pages of B.S. Johnson’s ‘Albert Angelo’.
The spatial and temporal realities of ‘Here And Now’ escape the dreamy purities of High Modernism, and wilfully so; a secondary viewer’s body circling the slice of paint automatically soils proceedings with its disruptive presence or presentness.
None of these structuring narratives - historical and cultural reference points, the literary or the cinematic - are prioritized but are left themselves to circle the piece. It’s really then the responsibility of the viewer’s imagination to expand on the implications of this.
If anything ‘Here And Now’ becomes a bald statement about the impossibility of nothingness.