Week 17 – Charlotte Moth – 27 April-3 May – The Story of a Different Thought

2015-04-27 18.25.20When Max Ernst was six years old his beloved pink cockatoo Hornebom died on the same day that his youngest sister was born. Max Ernst believed his fascination for birds came from this early event. He described his “feeling of nothingness” and also during a bout of measles experienced hallucinations of “a menacing nightingale” that was to recur throughout his work.

159829His sculpture Habakuk, constructed from casts of awkwardly stacked flowerpots, is a bug-eyed and beaky totem pole. The sculpture has a third eye, a supposed comment on artist as visionary or prophet, which is foregrounded by its being named after Habakkuk, one of the junior prophets in the Hebrew Bible.

Habakkuk condemned the makers of idols, that is, sculptors: “What profiteth the graven image that the maker thereof hath graven it; the molten image, and a teacher of lies, that the maker of his work trusteth therein, to make dumb idols?” Thus by naming it after the prophet Habakkuk, Ernst’s sculpture ‘Habakuk’ is in a sense a response to Biblical art criticism.

Habakuk appears repeatedly in Charlotte Moth’s installation ‘The Story of a Different Thought’. She describes the body of work as existing through three mediums – film, silkscreens, sculpture. Across these there are three aesthetics – mythic, essayist, diagrammatic.

GMA-FIAC-2014-010-800x1200A BIRD WITH THREE EYES
THREE VERSIONS OF THE SAME NAME
THREE WAYS TO TELL A STORY?

Leonardo’s Prophecy “The Shadow” is quoted as a frontispiece to the film treatment: “Many a time will one man be seen as three and all three move together, and often the most real one quits him (of our shadow cast by the sun, and our reflection in the water at one and the same time).”

Let’s take the three main elements of the show one at a time.

The film The Story of a Different Thought” uses voiceover and a mixture of visual techniques to explore three different spaces The Rathaus Marl, Twin Beaches, and Oberste Organe and how these buildings represent Flotation and Suspension.

450px-Rathaus_Marl_02The Rathaus Marl is a ‘suspended tower’ you can think of like a reinforced concrete mushroom from the top down with office floors hung doiwn from the building core. It was completed in 1964 as a new expression of identity for the town of Marl, which had grown wealthy in the 1920s for chemical engineering and coal mines, but following the war initiated a change in infrastructure, with the centralisation of the town and the creation of this new town hall, which was conceived so it could in principle serve as a building core that could be expanded on. However, the fortunes of the town deteriorated, as did the materials used to construct the building. In the 1980s the towers had to be reinforced, at great expense to a town down on its fortunes.

11169950_809023855835275_733661968465303452_nTwin Beaches is an unfinished house on Lake Manatoba, the world’s third largest glacial lake, which can fall to temperatures of minus fifty — colder than Mars. On the shoreline a small experimental architecture firm called DIN Projects has constructed a building which has floors that can rise when the water level rises. This means you could call it cybernetic, in that it responds and adjusts according to stimuli that it monitors and feeds back in. Oberste Organe is a civic building with essentially a floating roof which is also cybernetically managed by a mysterious “ring balance equation”.

22725_808356299235364_2468193614526650773_nCybernetic architecture sounds rather science fiction but it has been around for a while. Bridges are constructed with certain gaps to allow for expansion in hot/cold weather. Earthquake proof buildings flexible, they are in a sense less rigid than conventional buildings so they can shift when the earth does. The concepts of stability and flexibility are interlinked: to be strong, a building must give way. The three structures the film presents all express suspension and flotation whether in a cybernetic way as here or in a more monolithically modernist way as in the Rathaus Marl.

The film also shows us Donatello’s statue of Habakkuk, which is part of the Santa Maria Cathedral in Florence, another building which is seen as a landmark of Renaissance architecture for its “rhythmic, geometric unity” ie. balance, which is another configuration of flotation/suspension. We also also see footage from Florence of workers marbling paper, a process employing flotation and suspension.

GMA-FIAC-2014-014-800x1199The second element of the show is five large silkscreens that present different outlines and formations of the themes, beautiful Renaissance concepts and other demonstrations of ideas, physical locations, the story of Habakuk and its inspiration in Max Ernst’s life. The silkscreens chart links between the various configurations of Habakuk – Ernst’s sculpture, Donatello’s, the prophet Habakkuk, and also our third variant spelling Habbakuk, which was an ice warship from the Second World War used as an emergency landing platforms in the Atlantic. In those days sophisticated computer modelling hadn’t been invented so testing would involve going somewhere and blowing shit up, and the place where this technology was tested happened to be Lake Patricia right next to Lake Manatoba, adding another connection between Habakuk and flotation/suspension and the buildings.

10600525_810074382396889_8253089921417061757_nThe third element of the show is the sculptures. These “maquettes” are not conceived in relation to any one space, are the hardest to understand in the context of everything else. They’re these little open boxes on stilts, one with sort of disappointed candles without strings. Moth seems to intend them to be “experiential” ie. that you explore them as you do spaces in buildings. They don’t present a structured view or narrative in themselves but allow another approach to the themes. In her fig-2 interview Moth explains “Not everything can be said through a film or through a photograph or just one way of seeing.”

In considering notions of suspension and flotation we are exploring balance, and another way the show explores this is via Habakkuk and the notion of chiasmus.

18193_810065269064467_4298429106165295772_nIn rhetoric, the classic example of chiasmus is Kennedy’s “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” Chiasmus can be represented as an ‘x’ structure of four points, one for each topic, wherein the top left topic is repeated as the last, and the other two repeat to form the ‘AB-BA’ structure (country, you, you, country). This criss-cross structure existed in the ancient world but was especially appealing later to Christians, though perhaps not so much for the ‘cross’ structure (which might be me labouring it) but because of the articulation of the balance of order within the structure of text itself.

GMA-FIAC-2014-011-800x1199Rhetorical chiasmus is found extensively in Milton and (less obviously) in Shakespeare, and in the Greek and Hebrew texts of the Bible and throughout the Book of Mormon. Habakkuk’s book of prophecy is said to have a chiastic structure “in which parallelism of thought is used to bracket sections of the text.” It’s not that words and phrases repeat, but that the whole structure on a higher level of motifs, turns of phrase, or passages, employs chiasmus.

In examples like Kennedy’s statement chiasmus creates two sides of an argument or idea for a reader to consider, excluding all others and leading you to favour one. It is a fake presentation of options, narrowing an agenda and leading an opinion. This is what rhetoric does, and why rhetoric is so important to structuring and leading political discourse. Right wingers use it intuitively partly because it works but mainly because there ideas really are that simplistic. Left wingers tend to be policy wonks and get bogged down in complexity. Interesting then that in UK politics it was Prime Minister Tony Blair, or at least his Head of Communications Alastair Campbell, who didn’t invent the ‘soundbite era’ but whose rhetoric immediately came to embody it.

11182049_810065679064426_2747283788480373188_nI notice in the notes I made at the show I’ve inadvertently committed chiasmus (I think) in a note about a shot from the Twin Beaches section of the film in which,

There is snow indoors; and outside the walls are white as snow, and snow is all around, burying the house, which is already burying itself, and being buried from within.

The thought/sentence moves from the inside of the house to the outside, then to the outdoors and its irruption into the indoors; the sentence turns round on itself but while the initial image is surreal and amusing the conclusion is darker.

GMA-FIAC-2014-013-800x1199“The Story of a Different Thought” is truly impressive, making astonishing connections between disparate elements. The show works as a poetic system of interconnections from which you can take what you like. That’s what art does, how it differs from more meaning-hungry deterministic forms such as conventional essays such as the one you’ve almost finished reading, which may or may not mean nothing at all.

GMA-FIAC-2014-012-800x1199The connections are disparate but not difficult to notice and to begin to slot together in your mind. The show was obviously put together with much thought over a great deal of time. It’s not a fig-2 show as such, it’s not created in response to the overall project, it’s just staying over for a week. The connections aren’t overdetermined but are solid, aren’t as ad hoc and experimental as those in for example Week 5 (Young In Hong) or Week 11 (Beth Collar), as Francesco Dama’s review/wrap of fig-2 a quarter of the way through pointed out.

11148611_810065985731062_3031555285054830484_nMoth says “It was a very luxurious thing to able to research a project for a year, and when you have that possibility it becomes more and more layered.” This is far from the method of Fig-2’s one project a week. Then again, behind even the most hastily conceived project is a lifetime of preparation.

The show is a mapping of different ideas, but you could very well find or infer a central message or moral if you wanted to. You could get really cosmic about it and say that there is a representation of the balance of evil and good in the world, expressed through Habakkukian chiasmus, architecture as ideology and cybernetic systems.

11169959_810065055731155_5236401543579776879_nIt’s in the exploration of the ideological impetuses behind architecture that we can learn something for the future. The Rathaus Marl is an explicitly ideological construction borne out of the post-second world war structural changes in society. This contrasts with Twin Beaches, which is an experimental building more like a piece of art work that expresses a need to a need for environmental responsiveness, “an architectural solution to a specific geography of instability.” Buildings like Twin Beaches might be able to respond to the rising sea-levels of global warming, but most of our architecture will do an Atlantis. There is a war going on between different ideological positions, whether you view them as Good and Evil or not, with global warming in the middle, and the very future of humanity hanging in the balance.

FullSizeRender (1)

Week 15 – The White Review – 13-19 April

Izzy-McEvoy-still-from-Linear-A-2015-video.-Image-courtesy-the-artist

The quarterly White Review publishes photography and art (decide for yourself what and means in that sentence) alongside the usual shorter literary forms from essay to poetry. It is named after and partly inspired by La Revue Blanche, the French art and literary magazine run between 1889 and 1903, which was strongly associated with Marcel Proust in the days before he became an ultra-marathon runner.

For Week 15 of fig-2 the editors Jacques, Ben, and Harry, wanted to think about how to present what they do as editors and commissioners of printed work transferred to a spatial setting. This is arguably more challenging than print because there are fewer limitations. Instead of printing costs, page size, ink, and a final printed form read by an imaginary reader, you have to interface with 3D people moving around through time. It’s much easier to present ideas in a magazine than in a space, and this is one of the problems of gallery presentation. It’s almost impossible not to either over-explain and sound pretentious or to under-explain and leave your audience baffled.

Their initial idea was to have writing going on in the space, which would have recalled Will Self’s week during fig-1 in which he wrote about the people going in and out of the Fragile House in Soho (now demolished and presumably coffeeshopped or oligarchised into a non-residential safety deposit box). Then they decided to start with Eduard Levé’s book Ouevres (Works), which is extracted in the thirteenth edition of the White Review.

Levé’s Works is my new favourite book. It’s a collection of unrealized ideas (works), the first of which explains: “1. A BOOK DESCRIBES WORKS THAT THE AUTHOR HAS CONCEIVED BUT NOT BROUGHT INTO BEING.” This is playfully self-referential and enacts a kind of Cretan paradox in that it is part of just such a book, and has therefore successfully been realized, meaning that the book it describes contains at least one work that the author has conceived and brought into being. Believe me, I’m lying.

Works has been called a lampoon of conceptual art. It includes some incredible imaginary projects, many of which are impossible, but naggingly possible. I really especially really want to make “15. A leather jacket made from a mad cow” or the Grayson Perry-esque “24. A house designed by a three-year-old is built.”

The White Review first approached film-maker Patrick Goddard about executing some of Levé’s works, and he freaked out. To him, realizing them would be merely illustrative. Reporters report, but artists in the contemporary mould are supposed to be foremost makers of ideas. Your Hirsts don’t sully their hands cashing their own cheques, they’re project managers. The Great Masters were the same, which is why we’re never sure which bits of a Rembrandt were actually painted by Rembrandt or his massive team of assistants on below minimum wage.

Patrick Goddard didn’t actually end up making any work for the fig-2 show, apart from his film A Reverse Gun Shoot, which is hilarious and consists of video footage of his conversations with The White Review about his problems with what they’d asked him to do. It’s kind of like the fine art equivalent of Stewart Lee’s radical deconstructions of comedy as comedy. After an idea is raised of “digging up Margaret Thatcher” and making the aforementioned leather jacket from a mad cow, they discuss leather, one of them realizing that “I can’t tan! The exhibition is in ten days, we can’t do that!” with a detour via The Silence of the Lambs whereupon Goddard notes that it was in fact Buffalo Bill who did the tanning in that film (NB), before announcing that this is all “Not curatorially relevant.” I intend to use this phrase at every opportunity. Salt an vinegar on the chips? Thanks. That would not be curatorially relevant.

If I weren’t going to Warsaw on a jazz junket next month I’d be looking forward to Cally Spooner’s forthcoming Whitechapel event discussing “art that adopts the language of its own production as its content.” This probably means stuff like Singing in the rain, but it made me think of Patrick Goddard. The product of the film is its process. This sort of thing is why people hate contemporary art, but I thought it was a blast. Well, I’m a twat, innit, and every bit as white as the White Review. Around the ICA studio space, they’d already pre-empted us on this, fixing texts in unlikely locations, including “The sound of my own voice narrating aloud the sounds I can hear. (annoying)” which is presumably a comment on criticism (hai guys!), and then at length the final inevitable FML printed on the wall above the fire exit:

The sound of the middle classes applauding their own guilt distantly echoing from somewhere in the ICA.

FullSizeRender(1)

Week 13 – Shezad Dawood – 30 March-5 April – The Room

CBA9zblUUAArvdt

Part 1: Art For All

The fig-2 openings are getting hectic. I think some bastard has been publicising them. This isn’t how counter-culture works. It’s more like.. in the year 2009 full-time Eddie Redmayne impersonator and occasional guest on Star Trek Professor Stephen Hawking threw a party for time-travellers. Afterwards he sent out the invitations. Nobody turned up. Nobody had turned up. He cited this as experimental evidence that time travel will not become possible. My own experimental evidence is more cynical: that we don’t remember the birth of Christ with a sponsorship placement on it. The Emirates Birth of Christ. Wow, that’s confusing. How about ‘The Barclays Birth of Christ – investing in irony.’

I’m kidding about counter-culture. Fig-2 is sponsored and paid-up and part of the mainstream, whether us hipsters like it or not. I’ve been to most of the increasingly popular openings on me tod, avoiding eye contact and scribbling in a notebook. Various people I know have to my surprise popped up there randomly, which has been lovely. This week, lucky Week 13, I must have been tired. I arrived and there they were, these two nightmares from one of my previous lives, suddenly manifesting at my pretentious gallery opening. Two poets, as it happens, representatives of a beaten tranche of the counter culture that has given up on political agitation and gone to nihilism, rejecting everything including itself. Why were they there? I’m not sure. There was the gin. In the truncated time I stayed each managed to knock back three or four of the free cocktails. I kept wondering if they were going to smash shit up. I hadn’t really realised that counter-culture can also mean anti-art. Immediately it was obvious they were not there in an accommodating positively minded spirit.  I gritted my teeth, ready for something embarrassing to happen in which I, by virtue of knowing them, would be implicated. Which publisher was it said he’d sooner have an armed robber in his office than a poet?

I’ll have to invent a term for this experience, when characters from one area of your life suddenly irrupt into another, the clang of cognitive dissonance. You’re at Torture Garden being spanked and suddenly discover it’s your line manager in the next sling. It’s interesting how we separate people and realms. Colleagues and friends. Friends and ‘friends’ (qv Facebook). It might be that, but as I said it’s usually lovely when you bump into people randomly. This felt like a clash of cultures, with me crushed in the middle.

Regarding the art, the crowd, the space, they were unfailingly rude; but had at least the good grace to be rude about every single thing they talked about. I’m not sure which of the creators of fig-1, Jay Jopling or Mark Francis, they meant when they referred to “Cuntface.” As for the ICA, it hasn’t been exciting since 1955. I got the strong impression they thought all art was shit. Everything, really. Just everything. I’m sure I even detected weird homophobic inferences coming out. One of them even drew attention to the university staff card hanging around my neck, and somehow inferred some kind of disapprobation, an obscure subtext of contempt for paid work that made me feel somehow lame for having a job. I suppose to nihilistic counter-culture this is being in cahoots with the capitalist machine. Like voting; with the election coming up, we’re seeing plenty of argument that voting is endorsing the whole sick machine, so you shouldn’t vote. And as for art…

Not everyone in New York will pay to see Andrew Lloyd Webber’s face. Not everyone is a critic. But, fuck it, everyone hates art. Everyone hates criticism. So… art criticism?!?!? Jesus. What am I doing? I mean, my pal Sid thinks I’m a twat just (well, not just) because I’m on twitter. Donald has refused to read any of my fig-2 blogs on principle because he is against any and all forms of Criticism. It’s said that writing about music is like dancing about architecture. I’ve always thought dancing about architecture sounds ace!

There’s a strong belief in the mind of the counter-culture that mainstream culture is dominated by cabals of powerful individuals working to exclude the rest of us. The art world is notoriously cliquey, so crony credence abounds. Unpublished novelists might become convinced that mysterious powers are suppressing their work. It was interesting to see the irruption of two figures from nihilistic counter-culturalism into the rarefied domain of fine art. Private Views are gurningly good-natured two-faced affairs. That’s what they’re for. Networking and stuff. They are exclusionary. Even when they’re open to the public like the fig-2 openings.

CBlDp8sW8AIfrYx

Part 2: Who Rules The World?

For Week 13 of Fig-2 Shezad Dawood created an animation that nods to ideas about posthumanism and secret esoteric societies that decide the destiny of humankind. Two brothers in Saffron coloured hooded robes, reminiscent of Philip Guston’s cartoonized KKK figures talk about Shangri-La in a weird landscape inhabited by Maoi (the Easter Island heads).

In his fig-2 interview Shezad Dawood says the reason he chose to make an animation was because he wanted to “do something that would surprise people in terms of expectations of practice.” Now, artists should never do this. It’s the equivalent of a band you’ve never seen before announcing “This is a new song!” — darling, to me they’re all new —

Brother P wears an adaptation of the muted trumpet from the postal service in The Crying of Lot 49. In Pynchon’s novella evidence accumulates of a secret underground postal delivery service called the Trystero, which might be a conspiracy, a practical joke, or a hallucination, indicated by arcane references on bus windows and toilet walls.

Brother S has an adapted symbol of the Pharaoh Kih-Oskh in the Tintin book The Cigars of the Pharaoh. The Kih-Oskh Brotherhood is a vast criminal organization smuggling opium throughout Egypt, Saudi Arabia, India and China, in fake cigars, with strong systems of communication and transportation and intelligence operating covertly within all levels of society.

In an amusing random continuity, Fig-2 Week 12’s Tom McCarthy has written an entire book analyzing the Tintin cartoons from a structuralist perspective. He notes that Hergé’s politics move from right to left wing during the course of the books. In Cigars from the mid-thirties the villains are “typical enemies of the right, key players in the great global conspiracy of its imagination: Freemasons, financiers…” and, of course, Jews. By the 1970s, as a consequence of World War II, the politics of the Tintin books has shifted over to the left to the extent that in Tintin and the Picaros the hero sports a CND logo on his moped helmet. McCarthy notes that “there remains the interesting paradox that, despite his political realignment, Hergé keeps the same villains in place: men in cagoules, the secret cabals of Cigars of the Pharaoh, serve as straw men for his leftist world-vision just as well as they did for his rightist one.”

In essence Lot 49 and Cigars of the Pharaoh are expressions of the question “Who rules the world?”

In his series The Secret Rulers of the World Jon Ronson goes behind the scenes of the Bilderberg conference, the annual grouping of the elite that has been accused of being a “secret government of the world”. According to the “American Friends of Bilderberg”’s press release “Bilderberg’s only activity is its annual conference. At the meetings no resolutions are proposed, no votes taken, and no policy statements issued.” Highly mysterious. If it doesn’t rule the world, then what exactly does it do? Daniel Estulin’s The Secrets of the Bilderberg Club describes “sinister cliques and the Bilderberg lobbyists” manipulating the public “to install a world government that knows no borders and is not accountable to anyone but its own self.”

Conspiracy theories exist to address our fear that the world might be completely beyond anyone’s control. It’s a theological impulse, to combat the uncertainty that is inherent in supercomplex systems such as economies and societies. There are certain things we just know (echoing Rumsfeld). Scottish mineral water from Tibet: we know it’s tap water from Peckham. We know a ‘no reply’ means ‘no’. We know the Emperor is in the nip. We know. Look. It’s quite simple. Jewish Islamist Masons in the KKK built Easter Island. It’s obvious.

The world government is really just Capital: money markets that transcend national borders and to which states and governments are in thrall. As David Graeber notes the state is no longer a bulwark against capitalist rapaciousness, but works with it hand in hand. Let us also remember that fine art is capital; owning a verified Rembrandt is a securer investment than owning a flat in central London. In short, if you are not with the boorish anti-art vision of the counter-culture, you are propping up the whole capitalist system.

How do you win? You can’t. The game is rigged. Even your dissatisfaction has a dollar value. There’s that Clash lyric: “Turning rebellion into money.” Counter-culture is culture sold over the counter. I’m a sell-out and so are you. At least Tracey Emin is honest and happy about being a Tory voter. She’s happy because she’s won.

photo 3

Week 11 – Beth Collar – 16-22 March

I must be obsessed with liminality. It follows me around like a fog, or I move through it like a ghost. Neither one thing nor another, everywhere and nowhere, I’m never sure what I’m supposed to be.

Liminality in general usage is variously employed to mean ‘between two things’, kind of both and neither. The state between caterpillar and butterfly; the periods of adolescence and twilight; where you are during a spiritual vision or in an airport, in No Man’s Land or at a crossroads. Non-heteronormative sexualities and genders are liminal. Angels, centaurs; Lear’s wise fool, Lear himself; spies, ethnographic researchers; writers and artists. Consciousness itself seems to exhibit an ineffable liminality, existing between the past and the present, between rationality and instinct, between free will and determinism.

Liminality as a concept was originally developed in anthropology, specifically to describe ambiguities in the middle-stage of ritual activites such as initiation ceremonies, where participants stand at a threshold. It also came to refer to periods of cultural and political change during which social hierarchies are questioned, traditions ruptured, the future thrown into doubt. Basically: ENDTIMES… but thousands of years ago…

Over three hundred bodies have been found in bogs in Ireland. These ‘bog bodies’ date from as far back as the Bronze Age. The oldest is the Cashel Man from 2000BC. There is strong evidence to suggest that many of the bog bodies found in Ireland were ritually murdered. The Cashel Man may have been a Bronze Age king murdered by his tribe to appease the goddess of fertility, following the failure of crops. The inauguration of a king was a symbolic marriage to the land itself, with a responsibility toward the future of the tribe. So if a harvest failed, the tribe might replace him – through a ritual killing.

IMG_7509

What they couldn’t have known was that a climatic shift was happening during the Bronze Age, with increased rainfall and lowering temperatures. The increasing evidence of bog bodies from the period could stem from the fact that such conditions are ideal for the formation of bogs, but also because these conditions created a liminal period during which times became harder, and ritual tribal activity to appease the gods of the elements became more marked. What is theorized here is that the ritual killings evidenced by the prevalence of bog bodies were a prehistoric response to climate change. Which is an amazing thought. Imagine if we ritually sacrificed our oil-friendly climate-change-denying political leaders so we could cross the threshold into a greener period of history. Imagine bog-workers in four thousand years uncovering the immaculately preserved bodies of the leaders of the G8.

IMG_7494

Bog bodies are a beautiful collaboration between human ritual actions and natural processes. Following their very violent death and deposition, the bodies have been preserved because of the acidic composition of the bogs. There is water but not oxygen. This contrasts with the human efforts of cryogenics to remove the water from the body in order to preserve it (because water expands when frozen, destroying corporeal cells). The bogs themselves are of peat formed from the dead bodies of plants. The bog forms a record of history (not unlike the rings of a tree), both climatic and social. The stratified layers in a metre of peat can contain a millennium of history which can be ‘read’ in a laboratory: the presence of varieties of pollen can indicate farming activity; ash and birch are evidence of intensive human communities.

IMG_7202

Thus, the human is written into the landscape. This is literally the territory of Beth Collar’s work for Week 11 of fig-2, developing themes she began exploring during a 2014 residency in Bristol using not peat but mud as a starting point, making shaky videos of mud and water and silt — liminal substances — in the New Cut, a man-made cut through the River Avon in the middle of Bristol. In her interview with curator Fatoş Üstek she compares this to the Andes where she discovered similar landscapes that in the films (exhibited at fig-2) are seemingly devoid of the trace of the human. But are they?

10407908_787189941352000_2433533959501501222_n

Theodor Adorno said that form is “sedimented content”. I think of this as I look at the work. Videos of tea and milk in water forming beautiful clouds, then the clouds over the Andes and the silt brought up into water as the tide comes in. The use of dehydrated turnips as part of the framing of the drawings on the walls, presenting pencil landscapes, one of which was actually a vagina, or rather labia. The human drawn into landscape or the other way round? The drawings presented with stratified layers of wood and paper, framing but also integrally part of the content: layered, suspended, sedimentary.

IMG_7201

The centrepiece of the exhibition was an uncanny water feature involving a disembodied head-like sculpture that degraded over the week owing to the action of the water being pumped back round from the pool. This mimics natural processes of erosion and decomposition, as well as reflecting the ephemerality of the installation itself. The show is over, the victim of water and time, whereas the destructive forces of nature have a paradoxical creativity: nothing is lost, only changed.

Beth Collar’s work for Week 11 forms a reflective exploration of liminality through transformations in matter and through substances that can evoke multiple states – like the undead status of the murdered bog bodies, discoloured by the peat but still distinguishable as themselves, the product of both ritual action and natural process. There is a compelling poetry in the connections between all of these substances and states, bodies and landscapes, that is both alien and familiar, profound and full of emptiness. Then the stratified layers of the bog revealing history, and the ‘sedimented content’ of the bog bodies: dead kings ruling over a kingdom of rain.

photo 1

I am indebted to this BBC Four documentary on ‘bog bodies’ http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b03js0gf

Week 3 – Hiraki Sawa – January 19-25 – Lineament (2012)

“A boy shuts his eyes for a moment. When he wakes the world he once knew is gone. His room is an unfamiliar place. His language has failed him. he has forgotten everything and everyone he ever knew. Gone. The world he now lives in is one of lost things.”

Text-HirakiSawa

From this terrifying conceit, Hiraki Sawa’s two-channel film “Lineament” draws us into a surreal world of dream-like continuity and disjuncture, in which we are taken from the familiar world and into the logic of the film. In the same way, in the corner of the ICA studio there is a record player playing the sound, a palindromic score, and on the screen we see the same record in different situations, playing on a beach, held up to the ear to try to listen to it without playing, or merging into someone’s head like a halo, or being played in strange rooms.

therecord

Curator Fatoş Üstek has spoken of a desire to create a “continuum” through the 50 weeks of fig-2, with threads continuing through the whole year, incrementally resulting in a “subliminal constellation of meaning.” One of these threads is this week literally represented by thread. Throughout the film we see black string stretching between spaces and experiences. We see the vinyl record being played and as it is played, the outer grooves come away as string stretching off elsewhere, visually dramatising the ephemeral act of listening/apprehension as the vinyl disappears into thread, drawing off a three-dimensional artefact into two-dimensional string vanishing into the single dimension of a vanishing point.

This is itself interesting and beautiful, but it also ties into a primal theme in the production of art: the line. This is where it all began. Recent cave art has discovered abstract line drawing created by neanderthals half a million years ago, and pretty much all of what we think of as visual art can in some sense be reduced to ‘the line’. Cubism developed Cezanne’s theory that be everything could be broken down into cylinders, spheres & cones (lol note: not cubes). He thought these could then be shown to recede to a central point; note that another contender for oldest identified work of art is a single red dot made 40,000 years ago.

recordhead

Fatoş Üstek has identified “stretching a line” as one of the themes of her intended “continuum” for fig-2. For Week 4, and, wait for it, next in line, we look forward to the poet Simon Welsh, whose basic building block for poetry is, of course, another kind of line.

What Hiraki Sawa does with his line is to desconstruct multi-dimensional space (ie. the record disintegrating into string) and then to repattern it according to a dream-logic that works by visual association and transformation. We see the string proliferating into series of lines coming down a wall. We see beautiful webs forming, which are then echoed by images of chandeliers and clocks and gears, radiators and plugholes. These are the visual vocabulary of the film, elements which are repeated in different configurations and which echo or transform into each other.

The string is pulled into strange machines made of outsized old-fashioned clock parts, which then join with the central character of the film, not physically but compositionally; we also see him as a soft machine with the string going into his head and out again through the ears.

The film enacts an attempt to reconstruct memory by contructing a new (sur)reality out of these abandoned objects all connected by a thread that is symbolic of silence: when the vinyl record has turned to string, all this is left is this connecting material, which is in turn symbolic of the order of meaning-making whereby, according to poststructuralist theory, objects (such as words) do not have inherent essences but are used to create meanings that exist between them rather than arising out of them.

This is how we construct and reconstruct reality every single day, constructing and reconstructing the present out of the forgotten lost things of the past. In the same way, I have constructed an at-this-precise-moment meaning for the film “Lineament” by connecting the objects according to ideas I am familiar with, arising from what they bring up from my memory. But really there is only the line, and clocks, and rooms, and the objects in those rooms. What they mean is whatever you can make them mean by drawing connections out from your amnesia. And now, perchance to sleep. The point about a nightmare is that you wake up.

upsidedownman

listenrecord

longarm

3rd stamp of 50 on the loyalty card:loyaltycard3

Link to fig-2 website for Week 3: http://www.fig2.co.uk/#/3/50

Week 2 – Charles Avery – January 12-18 – Untitled (Dihedra)

Charles Avery’s project for week two of fig-2 is now called “Untitled (Dihedra)” following the ubiqituous ‘Untitled (Title)’ format that never gets old.  I like the original working title “Ghosts Circumnavigating A Trefoil Knot”, from the sketch for the looped film that comprises the three-chambered heart of the work:

FIG2-02 Avery_Sketchoftwoghostscircumnavigatingatrefoilknot_2014

Ghosts are sexy, though not as sexy as maths. Avery describes the work as “highly mathematical.. a distillation of different dimensions” intended to form an intersection of different spatial ideas. It sexily comprises several elements demonstrating these: hexagonal floor tiles in a 2-dimensional Euclidian plane, a cage which when projected against gives the line in one dimension across the wall, and then, projected from a noisy old ELF film projector, two pairs of dihedrons (two isosceles triangles together, in the shape of a bird) circumnavigating the path of a trefoil knot. The trefoil knot is made of one line weaving round on itself through a three-leaf clover shape (see above sketch).

The work feels Duchampian, mathematically precise, but there’s more to it than just geometry-porn. There’s us. On the outside of the enclosed projection space there is a framed statement “we don’t stay here because of gravity we stay because we like it”:

FIG2-02 (5)

This is initially puzzling in relation to the rest of the work, but is a big clue, intended to underline the centrality of our subjectivity in relation to the qualities we perceive in objects, rather than in the objects ourselves. Avery says “the cage represents the structure… in concrete terms, and the viewer brings the subjective element, which is the ghost.. which inhabits that structure.”

We are on the ground not because of the theory of gravity, but because we choose not to fly.  The ghostly projections of the bird-like dihedrons flapping around their trefoil have no choice in the matter; they are mechanical, mathematical. They are shadows made from the absence of light from the projection of film. They have no substance, even as light. They are ghosts. Ghosts are defining liminalities: both presence and absence at once. We as objects are abidingly present (unless you choose to “refute it thus” and break your foot) but our perceptions, and by extension the ‘quality’ of any perceived object, are liminal, ghostly too.

Avery says “the ghost of this being that inheres in objects is a lot to do with my idea of art as quality not as an object.”  Thus the work is only formally Duchampian, mathematical in its means, but really it’s an attempt to apprehend where we are in the world of things: what it all means to be yourself, the viewer, the ghost in the machine.

The final irony is that we thus become prisoners of our own subjectivity, little better than dihedral birds, ghosts circumnavigating a trefoil knot. Though that’s just my subjective view.

FIG2-02 (4)

FIG2-02 (2)

FIG2-02 (1)

Official fig-2 page for week 2: http://www.fig2.co.uk/#/2/50

Interview with Charles Avery concerning the work: https://soundcloud.com/fig-2-1/250-fatos-ustek-interviews-charles-avery