Week 35 – Amy Stephens – August 31-September 6

12096235_10156151170120181_8789224296981707273_n“I left my heart in San Francisco,” crooned Tony Bennett. I once left my cashcard in Llandudno. There is also an artistic tradition of people deliberately leaving things in art galleries.

Duchamp perfected the objet trouvé, inventing the “ready-made” by exhibiting unaltered everyday objects designated as art. It’s less clear who if anyone invented the objet déposé, or objet abandonné, or whatever you might choose to call those works that are left in a gallery as a comment or as an intervention.

11700957_10156151169670181_469298560441831057_oBanksy has crept into the Tate and National Gallery in disguise and covertly stuck to the walls a number of satirical works. Another kind of intervention found Brian Eno peeing into Duchamp’s urinal, which seems much more sympathetic than the idiot who went to jail for defacing a Rothko in the name of his own ‘artistic movement’ Yellowism. Curiously, of these three instances it is Banksy’s that isn’t vandalistic, in spite of the larger part of his canonical stencil works being strictly speaking acts of vandalism.

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During Week 35 of Fig-2 someone left a postcard depicting “The Falls of Leny, Callander” though I’m still can’t quite convince myself it wasn’t actually part of the show. The rock formation within rushing water and an external overlaid shape left by a sticker perfectly matched the themes and techniques of the exhibition around it.

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Amy Stephens uses sculpture, drawing and photography to explore relations between geological, architectonic and sculpted forms. She plays with the intersections between objects and how we represent objects. In her show two-dimensional representations turn into three-dimensional objects and vice versa via interventions in the forms by introducing synthetic elements to organic forms and organic elements to synthetic objects.

fig-2_35_50_3The room had been split into two exhibition spaces: one large and a smaller one in the corner which at first I missed. It was lucky they told me it was there because without the second room the show didn’t seem to work. Together the whole show suddenly came to life as the totality of the pieces resonated. The two-dimensional forms first encountered in the large space suddenly spring off the wall into full sculptural form in this second semi-hidden room. Considering all the works together let them ring out together like an orchestra. It was literally an object lesson in curation, and proof that the ‘art of curation’ isn’t just an amusing turn of phrase.

fig-2_35_50_8I loved the slippage between media, the way that a geometric shape would be presented in the big space on a photographic surface and then you’d find yourself confronting the same shape turned into a sculpture, the way the colours yellow, cyan and red would pass between sculptural objects, photographs and across the walls of the room.

fig-2_35_50_4Solid and outline shapes in yellow overlaid the two silkscreens “Freeze-Thaw I & II”. A yellow line led along the length of a wall and continued inside a picture frame as if it had thrown itself off the wall, and finally found itself embodied in the yellow perspex lozenge of the spindly-legged sculpture teasingly entitled Silence.

fig-2_35_50_9The same thing happened with the blue waterfall roll of heat transfer foil “The First Dive” spilling back into the blue shape digitally overlaid over the rock form photography in the c-prints “Rock-fall I & II”.

12138351_10156151169685181_8429118969511032606_oThe digitally overlaid blue shape then turns white and emerges as the flock-covered lozenge-on-legs sculpture “Tethered Object”, and the heat transfer foil reminds us through artificial means of the great violence of slow geological processes to shape valleys and mountains from solid rock.

fig-2_35_50_6The rocks emerge from the flat plane of photography into the gallery in the form of “something. anything. everything. I, II & III” in which there are three rocks. I tell a lie, they’re minerals. Jesus, Marie! They’re minerals! Specifically the mineral ilmenite, a weakly magnetic black and grey ore of titanium. These minerals have been wrapped in red tape: line interacting with shape, then the line wanders off and finds itself as a red flocked fabric line going up through clear Perspex in the large sculpture “Unicorn”, where it looks like either the broadly ascending line of a rising company or the descending fortunes of a failing one. What it is in fact is not dissimilar: it is a representation of the Palio horse race in Siena, Italy created through extreme simplification of a horse or a person stripped to essential forms and motifs.

12108055_10156151169350181_6377449736809568949_n“Unicorn” seems at first a curious title for it. Just like “Tethered Object”, it isn’t tethered, just as a unicorn can’t be tethered. Being mythical it either doesn’t exist or it exists as an absence (like silence, maybe even the yellow lozenge sculpture “Silence”). A unicorn is strong, being a beast, and fragile, in terms of its mythical rarity. Similarly the sculptures all possess this simultaneous stability and fragility. Untethered, you could knock them over easily, and people always walk into things.

tumblr_inline_moaej6xV3d1qz4rgpUnicorn (Leocarno) is actually one of the seventeen contrade (city wards) that compete in the Palio di Siena, so we even find here slippage between language and form: the name unicorn becomes a thing unicorn (just as James Joyce had made a cork frame for a photo of Cork city). The emblems of the district are the same reddy-orange as the lines of “Unicorn” and “something. anything. everything”.

Mention of Palio reminds me of a point raised by Douglas Hofstadter: Chi dice Siena dice Palio — to mention Siena is to bring up its famous horse race. Which would go for Wimbledon too: you think of tennis (or wombles?). In any word, many concepts are sous-entendus: there, but whispered. Inherent. A tethered object.

10350629_10156151170070181_7459507364983449044_nEven the striking rock and mineral forms in the photographs have been created by the eroding action of water: stable and fragile, hard and soft. “Tethered Object” looks inscrutable and monolithic, but its hardness is balanced by its spindly legs and its covering of flock, the lustrous velvety fabric that is Amy Stephens’s signature material. Flock draws the eye and light in: it’s soft but it’s also highly synthetic. Black flock is used like bark to wrap a piece of wood, giving it a synthetic but somehow warm edge.

AS26In “Birch In Space” we encounter a branch of Icelandic birch wood that has been cast in eight pieces and welded together and suspended from the ceiling: the shape is organic and natural but the material is metallic and synthetic and the suspension gives it a lightness that offsets the weight of the metal. The pitching of the one against the other characterises all of the work. The shape of the cast birch also echoes “Unicorn”.

12107094_10156151170370181_6704806387226526579_n“Pulpit” shows a photo of a clifftop, a famous Norwegian tourist destination formed of ilmenite and rock. You can imagine Moses standing at the top and declaiming his fifteen ten commandments, telling us how to live our lives. The Tetragrammaton YHWH (Yahweh) is derived from the verb that means “to be”, “exist”, “become” or “come to pass”: another slippage between language and form, another unicorn: words cast in stone.

12122856_10156151169695181_5496369759480006322_n“The First Dive” is inspired by David Lynch’s book “Catching the big fish: meditation, consciousness and creativity” and the idea of diving in when creativity takes over: jumping in at the deep end and submerging oneself in that danger rather than remaining sat in the shallow end.  You need to take risks to move on. Any act of life worth living is a naturally occurring artificial intervention.

I found Amy Stephens’s work thrilling in the way it exchanged colours and shapes between natural and synthetic forms and between two- and three-dimensional realms. It’s like a daytime Nights At The Museum, as if the non-living things all come out and cause trouble in real life.

Causing trouble in real life is what artists tend to be good at, from Banksy’s interventions to Stephens’s more personal artistic challenges in developing her play with forms and materials, and so on to that troubling and mysterious postcard The Falls of Leny, Callander” . . .

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You can listen to the Fig-2 audio interview with Amy Stephens on Soundcloud

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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.

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