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Thomas Hirschhorn: In-Between, 2015

Thomas Hirschhorn. In-Between. Photograph: Mark Blower

Thomas Hirschhorn's In-Between at South London Gallery has been reviewed in The Guardian under the title: 'Things fall apart: the beautiful Marxist bomb that's hit south London;  Artist Thomas Hirschhorn plays on our manic pleasure at seeing ruins by making a whole building collapse in on itself'   

But not really, it is in a gallery, which is still standing.  This is a simulacrum of a building collapsing in on itself.  Whatever he is doing, and it is explained in Adrian Searle's review, one has to ask whether or not such an installation does give us manic pleasure.  I'm not sure.  Hirschhorn quotes Gramsci's note, from Prison Notebooks, 'destruction is difficult; indeed, it is as difficult as creation'.  Well, whatever.  What is strange is that this art installation must be taken seriously in the light of the fairly simple destruction taking place in Palmyra, and the very similar images seen every day from Aleppo and Damascus.  Or even the destruction of the MSF hospital in Kunduz, which although it took half an hour, was relatively quick and one might say simple.  

Hirschhorn's ruins are actually made of cardboard and styrofoam standing in for concrete and steel, so technically, I suppose, a maquette, or a model.  He says, 'a ruin stands for a structural, an economical, a cultural, a political or a human failure' and it is failure he is giving form to.  Art is used here as an intermediary between real ruins and the causes of the real ruins, as if the lessons need to be spelled out.  Indeed Adrian Searle appreciates this.  If this exhibition is popular, does this indicate some sort of disaster fatigue amongst the general gallery-going first world public?  'oh god, another front page photo of a bombed building with little kids playing in the rubble. Can't take it in. Let's go look at Hirschhorn's ruin instead.'  

Compared to Jeremy Deller's It Is What It Is, his exhibition of the bombed car that killed 38 people in Iraq in 2007, In-Between is a limp thing, lacking in commitment and urgency,  It remains a maquette, and as such doesn't ask for much from the viewer.  Of course it is unfair writing about any work one hasn't seen, but I hadn't seen Deller's piece either, but I got it, or at least got what I needed to hear out of it.  And that is the point.  What, and how much, in any piece of art, passes a critical point whereby viewers find something to engage with, not just gaze at. In-Between seems a gesture, only. 



Vincent Lamouroux. Projection: time and site-specific intervention on the Bates Motel, Los Angeles, 2015

No doubt everyone has seen this, the whitewashing of the old Sunset Pacific Motel slated for demolition on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles.  Vincent Lamouroux is the artist, there are several videos out there about the process (big machines spraying the trees, the ground and the building itself); it was open as an installation from 26 April to 10 May, 2015 and then left to the weather, again.  

Much has been made of the informal reference to the motel as the Bates Motel and Hitchcock's Psycho, despite the motel in the film being one of those old auto courts beside a lonely stretch of highway, and not in a city at all.  But whatever, a motel is a motel, evidently.  Does any derelict and empty building become sinister because it no longer functions in society?  And are motels particularly susceptible to this? Motels in film always offer anonymity for antisocial plot and action, it is a building type that exists outside the narrative of law and order, family homes and settled, normative lives. 

The Lorraine Motel, Memphis, TennesseeMartin Luther King was shot at the Lorraine Motel, now part of a Civil Rights museum in Memphis.  As it stands, un-whitewashed, it seems conventional, disengaged from its history.  If it had been painted white, or black, or any detail-obliterating colour, would that have transformed it, empowered it, or rendered it exceptional?  This touches on a discussion in On Site review 33:land about the limits of architectural expression; how much of architecture is form, how much is typology, how much is programmatic history. 

The Sunset Pacific no-longer Motel has become a 1:1 white gessoed model piece in the greater model that is the actual city: its form is both heightened and made meaningless, its typology is lost along with its function, but its history is alive in both its nickname and in its original, hopeful, end-of-Route 66 name: Sunset Pacific.  This is old California, the palm trees, the deco assemblage of building parts, and it is middle California of Sunset Strip, sleaze and screens that got small – all clichés that made a derelict building very attractive for the transformative processes of art.   Now it is a French art installation in an arid city in an urban desert in a four-year drought.  


issues of representation

“Representation of Dark Matter,” mixed media 2015. Abdelkader Benchamma. (Jose Andres Ramirez/Courtesy of The Drawing Center)

Modernist me, in love with reduction and minimalism, I am suspicious of this drawing.  It is called Representation of Dark Matter, which isn't the same as a drawing of dark matter, which no one has ever seen, being a molecular void and therefore visually absent.  No, this is a representation, not of dark matter, but of Abdelkader Benchamma's idea of what dark matter ought to look like, which is a particularly subjective, layered, autobiographical presentation of one person's idea of cosmology.  So I find it not as interesting as, say, Christine Hiebert's work which makes no claims to represent anything.  

Here is a discussion between Benchamma and Maryam Modjaz, an NYU astrophysicist:  

The Benchamma drawing addresses the confusion I experience when watching almost anything on the news to do with space, or medicine or science: the text being presented is always a voice over a graphic which turns, for example, DNA into the helix, all striped and coloured with falling telomeres.  I don't actually know or understand whether the helix is a representation of a set of molecular relations that make up proteins, or if these make actual helixical structures.  I could look it up I suppose, but it isn't just this instance as graphic representations of all sorts of things abound, and whose veracity I mistrust.  

I doubt that veracity is the goal; a turning impossible-to-wrap-your-head-around concepts into graphics is.  As with the radio piece which is determined to introduce the topic in a slangy, non-threatening, cheery sort of way, I feel vaguely patronised.  The act of thinking about dark matter, its invisibility and its power, is full of possibilities and so rich compared to fixing just one idea of it in a giant drawing. However, in the absence of a million other images of what it might look like, this is the one that begins to represent it, that fixes it.  This is a disservice.  


Christine Hiebert's blue drawings 2003-4

Christine Hiebert. Wall Drawing / The Drawing Room, Easthampton, NY 2004; blue adhesive tape, glue on wall. 11'-4h x 20'w

This is an artist who has made drawings with blue masking tape since 2000.  in this 2012 conversation she mentions when working graphically before computers learned how to draw everything for us, she would make curves using very thin tapes.  Yes, I remember this, a physical relationship between hand, tape and eye that was sensual and scaled to the arm: the automatic marks of the anthropos.

On her own website she talks about how the lines are flung out into space as a negotiation of the unknown, or the unexperienced.  It seems that how they land on the wall is not unlike a map that precedes experience, indeed, frames experience.  The selection of certain marks, the choosing of certain widths of tape, of placements, draws a map of desire and intention.  These are landscapes – they follow mapping conventions that are difficult to ignore.  However, just because they look like maps does not mean they are maps.  They are drawings that delineate planar areas where the borders of each territory are made significant: nothing is blurred, or ambiguous.  Some are strong, some weak – have I slipped into metaphor again?  Yes.  They are pieces of blue masking tape on white paper and white walls that spur us to think of things.

Christine Hiebert. Wall Drawing / The Drawing Center (view #4)

and a very small image, but showing that the scale is way beyond the hand and arm, it is now the wall, the ladder and the whole body. 

Christine Hiebert. RoundTrip. A wall drawing for the Pinakothek der Moderne, 2005



Shelagh Wakely: ground, 1991

Shelagh Wakely. Curcuma sul travertino, made up of loose turmeric scattered in baroque patterns on the travertine marble floors of the British School in Rome, 1991

What might be the opposite of all those assertive pieces of last week?  Perhaps Shelagh Wakely's large ephemeral pieces that lie flat on the floor, and if not a sheet of gold or turmeric, then small fruits and vegetables, covered in gold leaf, that slowly collapse.  Her potted biographical note shows both the RCA and a BSc in Agriculture which might be one of the roots of her affinity to the horizontal surface, its inscriptions and patterns.

©Shelagh Wakely. Partial recreation of Paisagem Inutil, 1997.   Camden Arts Centre – Shelagh Wakely: A View from a Window, 2014. photo: Marcus J Leith


Phyllida Barlow, dock 2014

Phyllida Barlow, dock 2014. Tate Britain, London

Phyllida Barlow is the artist chosen for the Tate Britain Commission of 2014 and her work has recently opened – riotous spills of debris from the doorways and halls of the neo-classical Duveen Galleries.

The Tate Gallery has always been about British art and there has been much problematising of its founding and its legacy: Tate & Lyle was a Victorian Quaker sugar refinery established after the abolition of slavery, nonetheless sugar as a prime commodity was part of the infamous Atlantic Triangle of the eighteenth century: Africa for slaves sent to the Americas to extract resources shipped to Europe for refinement and consumption. The International Slavery Museum shares the Albert Dock with Tate Liverpool.  Henry Tate had the Tate Gallery built to house his art collection which he donated to the state. Duveen was an art dealer whose family wealth came from importing art and antiques to Britain.  He funded the extension of the original 1890s Tate in 1926 and again in 1937.  Patrons and collectors of art – Clore: finance, property, retail, Courtauld: textiles, Tate: sugar — without them, and many others, Britain wouldn't have its public galleries at all.  

With this kind of financial, industrial and accumulative spatiality, Phyllida Barlow's work is particularly human, warm, messy, chaotic, inexpensive, temporal and ephemeral. She has worked her whole career with detritus gathered from skips and building sites.  Her project is not the diamond encrusted skull that critiques the twenty-first century art market, rather it is the making of 'things' from rich found materials, the assembly of structures from the unusable. Barlow herself saw the Duveen site as having 'two particular contradictory aspects: the tomb-like interior galleries against the ever-present aspect of the river beyond'.  dock ambles and shambles through several galleries with vast paintings pinned to complex wooden constructions that both crawl and tower.  It is, apparently, much like most of Barlow's work: massive installations that are dismantled after their exhibition, i.e. work with no commercial value but clearly of great import.

dock isn't just great piles of junk; the name itself takes one to the noise, the cranes, the hectic nature of docks from a time when they dealt with more than just shipping containers.  Once on a passenger ship docked briefly at Le Havre, I watched as a crate of wine being winched aboard fell back to the dock splintering into a pile of sticks, bleeding burgundy across the concrete.  Docks were full of tremendous incident.  Even watching logs loaded at the CPR docks in tiny Nanaimo was fraught.  

Although I can't see Phyllida Barlow's dock, from the photographs one senses that these pieces must rustle and creak – they are wood, wood always moves.  Leaving the term dock aside, as sculptures they are unfixed, they cannot be perceived without walking in, around and through them, as one does architecture.  The scope of this installation is complex and extended, it rings of bomb sites and redevelopment clearance, poverty and an obsessive love of materials, no matter what their status. 

Phyllida Barlow, dock 2014. Tate Britain, London


street farms

Noisivelvet with AltgeldSawyer Corner Farm, Logan Square, Chicago, 2011

This was a four-hour, 3,000 square foot urban park, done with a Block Party permit from the City of Chicago.  What is the point if it is only for an afternoon?  To give people an alternative view of the city where there are not cars and roadways become lawn? 

I bit more useful are Havana's agriponicos, below, where raised beds are built on rubble sites, old parking lots and in city parks:

Havana, CubaIn response to the US blockade, in place since 1961 and the fall of the Soviet Union in 1989, between 1989 and 1994 these were mixed subsistence farms with animals and crops with all products consumed by the producer. After 1994 restrictions were eased and crops could be sold by the growers at markets. 

It makes one question the luxury of the whole concept of the public park – a space for the eye and the mind – we have in our cities, that produce little in the way of material well-being.  The Chicago pop-up above is its apotheosis: wasteful of resources and energy to make a rhetorical point.  Meanwhile we have to drive long distances spewing fumes and exhaust to get to a local-ish farmers market, or else get our vegetables sent from the US because for some reason this is cheaper for supermarket chains to do than to buy locally. 

Our open-space values need some revision here, not just fun projects, but serious and permanent connections between urban open space and food provision. 


paid parking

One of the original Park(ing) day spots in San Francisco

Park(ing) day, originally a guerrilla project in San Francisco in the mid 2000s, now spread over many cities around the world.  On one day in September, parking meters are fed and the parking space is made into a temporary park, rather than being occupied by a car.  Fine, point made, city streets are inhospitable with their wall-of-steel edges, when they could be lined with boulevards of grass and trees instead.  

However, a festival aspect has entered Park(ing) Day, a celebration of pop-up parks: it is not longer a guerrilla action, it is sanctified as a street festival in many cities, street fair licences are bought, the protest element has been infantilised. Balloons abound.

The surest way to disarm protest is to commodify it, to bring it on board as a celebration.  What is actually being celebrated here?  That one day in a whole year, car parking is suspended in a few streets?  Point lost.


'Lighter Than Air' Park(ing) Day balloon installation at Public Bikes on Valencia & 17th St., San Francisco


Jeremy Deller. English Magic, 2013

Still from Jeremy Deller. English Magic, Venice Biennale British Pavilion until November 24, 2013

Jeremy Deller, passionate chronicler of the tangents of war.  The reviews have called his installation at the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale aggressive. Angry, yes; resigned perhaps; this video captures something else. Deller's 2008 piece at the Imperial War Museum, It Is What It Is, was made from a bombed Baghdad car: there is something about the gratuitous destruction of cars in this film that with that earlier car in mind seems obscene. As does the aftermath of the inflatable Stonehenge: heritage as entertainment, the critique levelled at Danny Boyle's orchestration of the positive side of Britain for the opening of the 2010 Olympics.  There is a place and time for critique and the London Olympics was not one of them.  Deller has no such restrictions.

He isolates contradictions in Britain – the gap between pride and insignificance, between a blithe skipping along and a still, red in tooth and claw, countryside; between an imperial history and its modern incarnation as entertainment and celebrity.  Perhaps not contradictions, rather they are complex, near-inexplicable realities which artists and critical theorists keep trying to explain, reframe, re-present.  Adrian Searle calls Deller's Biennale installation a war on wealth — maybe, obviously I haven't seen it, I'm not British and I receive such works through a different lens, however, it seems that at the heart of Deller's work is a critique of war that uses a panoply of images used to disguise the project of war as a series of successes, heroisms and parades.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

Will Gompertz on BBC World last night reported on Jeremy Deller's Venice project: the language a classic put-down.  'Aggressive' figures as the first word in every review, every report. If someone is angry, and as Deller said, these things had been in his mind for a long time, they can be dismissed as being aggressive, much as how angry women are written off as strident.  

And then, and this is unforgivable, Gompertz called Deller's angry, close to the bone murals that show just how socially conflicted England is today, 'the heir' to Danny Boyle's Olympic extravaganza.  This trivialises Deller by giving him a critical biography not from art but from the world of entertainment.  Controversy safely contained.


Ann Hamilton: the event of a thread

at Park Avenue Armoury, New York, December 5 - January 6


oyster shell middens

John Heron, Hidden Midden 1. 2011

We are talking about numbers of oysters at an almost inconceivable scale: there is an Oyster Shell Beach in Hong Kong, Oyster Bays in both New York and New South Wales, Oyster Creek in New Jersey, Oyster Point in San Francisco, Oyster Cove on Vancouver Island, Oyster Bed in Prince Edward Island.  There is an Oyster, Virginia.

Oyster middens can be miles wide: two kinds, the discards of oyster-eating peoples, and natural banks of oyster shells on beaches.  According to Kaitlin Pomerantz, the erosion of empty shells releases calcium into the water needed to build new oyster shells, plus providing a foothold and a habitat for new oysters.   

However, tons of oyster shells were used as road beds in the early twentieth century; more tons were ground up for chicken feed and agricultural use.  It is a similar story to the mountains of buffalo bones photographed beside the CPR line in Saskatchewan in the 1890s: destination, fertiliser.   Oysters are under threat from over harvesting and the removal of habitat. So, nothing new then.  

Pomerantz has built a monument, Hidden Midden, for Chesapeake Bay (between Maryland and Virginia), not quite as tidy as the drawing above, but better: it is topped by a slab of asphalt road that registers the destruction of oyster middens, and offers a footfall for occupation, not for oysters unfortunately given that it is in a sculpture garden, but for other kinds of life.

Kaitlin Pomerantz, Hidden Midden, Annmarie Sculpture Garden, Solomons, Maryland. November 2011.


David Sylvian: The God of Small Caresses

Uncommon Deities poem (Punkt 2011) on music by Jan Bang, Erik Honore and David Sylvian.

Uncommon Deities appears to be a reconstruction of an audiovisual installation by David Sylvian at the 2011 Punkt Festival at the Sorlandets Kunstmuseum in Kristiansand, Norway.  For the cd, Sylvian's poems are read against settings by Jan Bang and Erik Honoré, Arve Henriksen and Sidsel Endreson.  

As all of this is alternative and for sale, the David Sylvian website has lots on information.  The piece that led me to this is The God of Small Caresses, of which one can hear an excerpt if you click on the image above.  

Otherwise, here is a rather beautiful video introduction to the cd with The God of Single Cell Organisms. 


Janet Cardiff: The Forty Part Motet, 2001

Janet Cardiff The Forty Part Motet, 2001. Re-working of Spem in Alium Nunquam habui, 1575, by Thomas Tallis.
40 track sound recording, 40 speakers, 14 min. Museum of Modern Art, 2001. Gift of Jo Carole and Ronald S. Lauder in memory of Rolf Hoffmann. © 2012 Janet Cardiff. Photo: Thomas Griesel. Courtesy of the artist and Luhring Augustine, New York and Galerie Barbara Weiss, Berlin.

Janet Cardiff's 2001 sound installation, The Forty Part Motet, was part of Peter Eeley's 2011 September 11 exhibit at MoMA PS1. However, it had been been installed MoMA in October 2001, and became the soundtrack to the processes of emotional reckoning in New York following the 11th of September. 

Eeley says, 'That work for me will always be tied to 9/11, since I encountered it here in the weeks following the attacks. Earlier in the year, Janet had created a spatial adaptation of a 16th-century piece of choral music by Thomas Tallis, recording each member of a choir individually and piping each voice into its own speaker, the group of which she arranged in a circle. Sitting in the middle of the room, we hear the full song, but, wandering among the speakers, the voices of the specific singers emerge more strongly.
The experience of hearing a collective song and the individual voices constituting it immediately summoned for me, and for others, the dead of 9/11 and their sublimation into the grief of national tragedy. I decided to simply put the piece back in the same room where it was in 2001—in part to think about what history has changed, and what it has allowed to stay the same.'

On You Tube there are a zillion different versions, mostly people recording while wandering around picking up voices from individual speakers, in cathedrals, churches, large empty spaces, controlled gallery spaces, always the same: banks of black speakers on stands arranged in a big circle.  

Not even tourists can distract from what is a pretty powerful experience, even in a 2-minute hand held extract.

and another, with discussion, at the Howard Assembly Room, Leeds.



The Deep of the Modern: Manifesta 9

Coal Sack Ceiling homage to Marcel Duchamp, Manifesta 9. Photograph: Kristof Vrancken/Association Marcel Duchamp, Paris

This year, the biennial Manifesta is centred on the Waterschei mine in Genk, in in the coal-mining region of Belgium.  Adrian Searle has written a fulsome review of it in the Guardian, and there is a slide show of some of the work here.  
Searle talks about the Bechers and their recording of the industrial landscapes and infrastructure of eastern Belgium, Holland and the northern Ruhr, where Manifesta 9 is being held.  The Bechers are in this exhibition as well, but the arresting image of the coal sacks indicates the interventionist nature of some of the work, beyond the recording of landscapes that shock by their mere presence alone.

The catalogue is here.  The first paragraph of the curatorial concept for Manifesta 9 states, 'The Deep of the Modern intends to create a complex dialogue between different layers of art and history. Its point of departure is the geographical location itself—the former coal-mining region of the Campine in north-eastern Belgium as a locus for diverse issues, both imaginary and ecological, aligned to industrial capitalism as a global phenomenon. Manifesta 9 takes its cue from the previously abandoned, recently restored Waterschei mine complex in Genk.'

The Deep of the Modern.  What a title.  The image above is an homage to Duchamp's 16 Miles of String of 1942. This free ranging through the twentieth century of art and industry, production and politics shows how they inflect each other, rather than presenting the isolation of each of these activities into the discrete silos that they have generally pretended to be.  This is an obvious and natural discussion of the world in which art is an integral part, however it signals a big change from late twentieth century art discourse.

On Site 26:DIRT looked at the surface of the earth, issue 27:rural urbanism investigated in many of the articles how the earth, the dirt, agriculture, the mines and resource-extraction industries locate cities.  On Site 28: geology, next spring, will be continue this discussion of geological consequences and how we are both shaped by them and try to intervene in them ourselves. 


on site in situ

Archizines exhibition at the Storefront for Art and Architecture, New York

Sent by Greg Barton, one of the contributors to on site 27: DIRT.  Nice to be seen in such heady company.


Richard Wright: The Stairwell Project

Thomas Hamilton. Dean Orphan Hospital, Edinburgh,1933. Photograph from 1850

If there was ever a meditative painter it is Richard Wright, Scottish, who paints directly on walls.  He received the Turner Prize in 2009 exhibiting at that time No Title (05.10.09), a gold leafed baroque pattern blown up the size of a gallery wall, in fact laid onto the gallery wall and necessarily ephemeral.  

The Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art commissioned Wright to do a permanent work in the public stairwell of gallery, previously the Dean Orphan Hospital built in 1833.  Terry Farrell + Partners did the conversion in 1999, but it remains a classical Georgian building, tilting into the Victorian era, still full of light and space.

The Stairwell Project consists of small black twisting fleur-de-lys each positioned about  4" apart, but in no discernably regular pattern.  As the flowers are directional, it gives the surface of this stairwell a tension and a liveliness that paradoxically isn't actually determined by the architecture, although literally painted on it.  Rather, Wright's painting seems to sit on the surface, but is not of the surface.  

Now, clearly I'm intuiting all this from the photographs, but what strikes me about the project is that in its conceptual simplicity so many things happen: the moire patterns of any semi-regular array of marks, the references to death and the death of children: the flowers are black, the are small, they are faintly disturbing.  The daunting nature of the interior architecture, which has been considered inviolable for the last fifty years: Georgian classicism is considered a near perfect case of mathematical and cultural elegance.  The obvious quiet of the actual painting (small brushes, close work, unvarying marks: not expressionistic, narrative or biographical), just the process of painting each small  figure.  

It is meditative in the way that artisanal craft is meditative: there is a goal, and one's hands get you there, no matter how slowly.


Urbanbees: Fleur de sel

Urbanbees. Feur de sel, 2011. Jardins de Métis/Reford Gardens Photo JM-1102

This year's International Garden Festival at Les Jardins de Métis includes Fleur de sel, a salt garden by Urbanbees, an international group which includes Farzaneh Bahrami who wrote on the use of public space in Tehran in On Site 25: identity, and Enrique Enriquez who wrote a meditation on exile in On Site 24: migration

Enrique describes Fleur de sel in a pitch for On Site 26: dirt – 'a contradiction thing that came to my mind using a material that it is considered for landscape designers as the first enemy for plants. But salt is a simple tiny material that can speak a lot about our maniac cleanness in the society we live in now.'

Going to Extremes is a Channel 4 documentary series running on Knowledge where Nick Middleton, an Oxford geographer, travels to the hottest, coldest, wettest, driest environments with particular cultures that have evolved, survived and even thrive. Last night Middleton went to a region called Dalloi in Ethiopia, once a sea which as it dried left a five metre deep crust of salt.  It is mined, hacked out in concrete-like slabs, loaded onto camels and walked out – a two day walk to the nearest source of water. 

It will be interesting to see how Fleur de sel at les Jardins de Métis fares over the summer. It will be in situ from June 25 - October 2, 2011, through rain storms, high humidity and dew.  Will it turn to a hard crust as happens with my lovely pink salt from Afghanistan, sitting in its salt cellar on my table?  Will it stay like sand?  Is it Morton's Salt: 'when it rains it pours', a slogan I heard all my life and only just got?  Will it create an eco-system of its own over the three months?  We shall wait and see. 


Ceal Floyer 2

Ceal Floyer. Overhead Projection, 2006. Incandescent light bulb and overhead projector


Ceal Floyer

Ceal Floyer. Things, 2009. CDs, CD-player, speakers, cables, woodCeal Floyer, born in Pakistan, studied at Goldsmith's in London, lives and works in Berlin and currently has an exhibition that fills the four floors and annex of DHC/ART in Montreal.

This work could not be more minimal, more delicate, more gentle in its humour.  Like Duchamp, there is a visual pun and then an unspoken onslaught of art history, contemporary theory and pop culture.  It is as metaphorical as all get out; it is also as simple as can be.  Whatever references are stirred by each piece, it is all to be found in the mind of the viewer – previous knowledge we bring to the work, rather than written on the surface of the work itself.

There is quite a fierce clamp on the images, so cannot show here Door (1995) which brings tears to the eyes.  An existing steel door in a dim corner has a projector on the floor in front of it, humming away, projecting a bright bar of light at the very bottom of the door  One registers the mechanics of the piece, as I just did, and then in a flash it becomes magical: there is a sunlit room beyond this too-short door, inaccessible to us, but clearly so brilliant, so hopeful, so illuminated. It is like being ill, as a child, in a dim room, aware of the bright strip of light at the bottom of the blind telling you that the world outside continues on without you, an elysian field. 

Things (2009) is a gallery of 30 white plinths about 5' high with a white speaker grill inset in the top.  The plinths are more or less evenly spaced but not gridded: a field of posts.  Each speaker erupts with the word 'thing' cut from a wide range of pop songs at irregular and unsequenced intervals.  There is nothing else but these blasts of things that never continue.  It is very funny, not just because the wall of sound in most pop music is so absurd when you only get a split-second of it, but because the set up is so immaculate, so formal, so white-wall gallery, the modern gallery itself is so very gently mocked. Then, again in a flash, the deep connection between all the galleries one has ever been in, all the installations, all the music that ever accompanied your life are concentrated in a single moment, in a room full of white posts. 

Deceptively simple, again, is Working Title (Digging) (1995) which is set in the opening of a small bay: you hear the sound of a shovel hitting a pile of gravel from one speaker,  and then farther into the bay from another speaker you hear the gravel landing.  Having done a lot of shovelling in my time, the speakers are too far apart, the gravel would land sooner than the tape tells us it does: the landing is delayed, so somewhere in the bay and in the time within the bay is a suspension, an interregnum unaccounted for. The space between the speakers – a physical distance on the floor – is paradoxically stretched by the space registered by the sounds coming from the speakers. 

I haven't seen such beautiful work for many a year, nor a show that restored my sense of humour, sorely tried recently.  


Marlene Creates

Marlene Creates. Entering and Leaving St. John's Newfoundland 1995. collection: Government of Newfoundland & Labrador, Provincial Art Bank.Marlene Creates, Newfoundland artist, has long photographed signs by the road, in the woods, attached to telephone poles, assembling the images into visual maps that indicate the emptiness of space in this country, whether they are in downtown Victoria or the outskirts of Hamilton.

Her early work shows influences of both Ian Hamilton Findlay and Richard Long: marks on the landscape, minimal reorganisations of nature that document that one was there.  More common are the highway signs, enigmatic markers of the edges of the city, or the edges of acceptable urban behaviour found in 'no parking' signs. 

Ian Toews did a segment of Landscape as Muse on Creates – The Tolt, the Droke and the Blast Hole Pond River; including, memorably, a project where she holds a camera under the blast hole pond and takes photographs looking upward, through the boiling water to her own face. 

Of Entering and Leaving St. John's Newfoundland, 1995, she writes,
'The City Limits signs that first caught my attention are the pair across from each other on the Trans-Canada Highway. When approaching St. John’s, one comes upon a sign announcing the city’s limits, but then there’s another 30 km of driving by woods and bogs before seeing any evidence of the city. And when leaving St. John’s, one drives those 30 km before coming to a sign that tells you that you really hadn’t even left the city yet.
Most of the landscapes surrounding these signs do not correspond at all to the image one might have of St. John’s. This creates a disconnection between the label announcing the city, the actual surrounding place, and the idealized image one may have of this city. St. John’s is larger than whatever idea we may have of it, including for those of us who live here. And Newfoundland, too, is and is not the Newfoundland of the imagination. Which is why my work may or may not be what one expects of a Newfoundland artist.'