"Inevitably Making Sense"
Catalogue essay by Ian White
This text is derived from a set of questions and answers between the author and the artist, that constituted a live performance at Maria Stenfors Gallery, London on 12th November 2010, during In No Particular Order’s exhibition there. Ten questions and more answers were written separately in advance by the author and the artist respectively, neither knowing what the other’s were. The questions derived from a series of intense studio visits and private conversations between the two during the development of the work. The answers take the form of carefully selected quotations from a diverse range of sources that variously (pre)occupy the artist. During the performance questions and answers were drawn at random, one pair at a time, in the order that they appear below. Their conjunction was pure chance (or something else), emulating or enacting structural and interpretive characteristics of the work exhibited, representing the kind of communication that might occur within a friendship.
Here these questions and answers have been used by the author to produce a further set of thoughts (which could in turn produce more); an ever-expanding open web of hypotheses, conjecture and poetics that also proposes emulation and enactment as communication and this also as the means by which the work might be described.
To what extent is the understanding of this project helped by its exhibition – within an architecture, an institution – and to what extent does it work against that architecture and institution?
Dark and wrinkled like a violet carnation,
It breathes, humbly lurking in moss
Still moist from love following the sweet flight
Of white Buttocks to its rim’s heart
These canvases are framed only by the room they occupy when exhibited (unconventionally stacked) and this room then becomes them, as in it is also the work. Space becomes material, a terrain plunged into by the viewer, that same strange ravine between at least two ideas of flesh that the viewer occupies in an act of looking. This work becomes by virtue of being there, in a room etc. that it works against, a crack, where a wall meets the floor, or canvases butt the ceiling, there if it is anywhere, of many parts and also indivisible. Thought. Almost a fresco, but split.
Is painting the expression of desire, even of an obsessive desire? To own, to make flesh if you like, a kind of transubstantiation of the depicted, image-paint-flesh?
Outside what used to be a massive General Motors car plant in Dayton, Ohio, I stand with two women who used to work there. It’s closed now, a victim of recession and globalisation. Road signs and overhead traffic lights swing in the wind. The only sign of life inside the derelict factory, which stretches as far as you can see, is a security guard who eyes us warily through the perimeter fence.
Otherwise defunct production continuing in the mind’s eye is here made manifest, enough to be understood as a practice that is also work, the ongoing production or reproduction of images, a production line proposed by the imaginary projection of their number into the kind of endlessness that these paintings and their organisation suggests. Personal relations are written in but more often written out, even dismembered, and this is a coldness to be contended with, seen. Conveyor belt emotion, horror, the modern gay corporation. Happy Days.
In this context is it ever possible to make the wrong decision? What could a wrong decision be?
I felt very unwell.
Woke up with a proverb that seemed very profound at the time: ‘Only when dogs are fierce will the inhabitants be loyal.’
So there it is. Only we are amongst a set of rules that cannot be read outside of an experience that it also determines, like how habit is, when there is every reason and no reason. Obedience to what? Loyalty to whom? Nothing and no-one. No wonder you feel unwell because everything is connecting within one, single, enveloping rupture, but gently like a seasickness of the emotions still to emerge.
Some of these images are explicitly religious and some explicitly sexual. The sexual images are erotic because of what they exclude. The religious canvases make me feel uncomfortable because of what they suggest. Why is that?
What the painting freezes is the terrible stillness of looking at a body that is neither living nor dead, neither Christ nor the artist’s model, an insatiable looking that is the living eye’s search for the image (the still image) of its own death. Since we are emphatically not redeemed, we call this body paint. We revere it and love it and look at it again and again because, unlike God, painting has and is a body we can touch.
Roland Barthes writes Robert Mapplethorpe’s Self Portrait, 1975, in these terms – that it is erotic because of what it conceals, not pornographic for what it reveals. And yet in the photograph he refers to we still see Mapplethorpe’s face, his outstretched arm approximately Christ-like. In In No Particular Order there are no faces as such. No image-mirror-paint-flesh in that sense. And we cannot touch even though somebody – you? – might have touched that which is depicted twice, in person and in paint. Is looking touching? Is painting, like desire, that absence? Light moves but I still wonder who they are. And then there is this other body pictured – and I know who it is meaning to be mainly by its wounds. He does not have a face here either. He is not unknown to me as the anyman of a sexual encounter, but rather as religious iconography, which is to say that like these other bodies he is somebody else’s.
Are we looking at a map?
“The division seems rather unfair,’ I remarked. “You have done all the work in this business. I get a wife out of it, Jones gets the credit, pray what remains for you?”
‘For me,’ said Sherlock Holmes, ‘there still remains the cocaine-bottle.’ And he stretched his long white hand up for it.
Land and the self might both be divided – into countries, constituencies, property, a grid of rectangular images, public/private, consciousness/oblivion etc. The map can be read contingent upon how visible or invisible the reasons for its divisions are, and it can give rise to material goods, a body or mysteries.
Is this the work or is that the work? Like, will there always be a performative aspect to this project? And how?
He looked, he stopped, he pondered before some object, dismissed it ironically, passed on to another. The same thing happened before a stall poorer then the others - if it could be called a stall. In fact, all the wares were spread on the ground, on the bare dust. Behind them, grazed by the feet of the crowd that walked along past the open doors of the shops, were the sellers; three young men between fifteen and thirty, whom the excitement and the night spent in the open (sleeping on the ground, just where they were now) had reduced to silence: an extraordinarily expressive silence, however.
The presence of the artist’s body is more often than not used in contemporary culture as a currency facilitator, as if it is evidence, proof or validation of the work made – or at the very least a supporting structure on which the visibility of the work made is dependent, or mediated as entertainment, even as the artist browses. At the same time there is an institutional conspiracy of silence around this functioning, as if this body might be but grazed by the feet of art history as it passes by. For to do otherwise would acknowledge an instability that the institution cannot contain, as in, it cannot be owned. It is in this way – when the body or its idea becomes the work in whichever way - that all performative structures offer the potential of resistance to a dominant culture and its means, bodies maybe sat on dust but also be themselves sand underfoot.
How do you make the decision about what to paint when? i.e. is there a connection that you make in your process or progress from one canvas to the next that remains invisible – or is deliberately obscured – by the way in which the work is shaped by this method of display?
The key incentive in his measures was that "work should always pay and that you should be better off in work than out of work".
Back to the line. Narrative is an inevitability – one thing always happens after another, even if this is just the passing of time rather than events, words on a page, or images in rows. This linearity almost always intimates causality. We look for it and insist upon it compulsively as a condition of the act of reading so familiar as to be subconscious. Here, though, a new line of chance supercedes the chronological order in which the individual canvases were made while at the same time suggesting it as something to be thought about. Narrative does not go away but in the combination of choice and chance, a/the line is broken and remade continuously, an endless game of sorts, just the suggestion of an unaccountable economy.
Across the individual canvasses here there is a flatness and a dismemberment and the two seem to have a relationship to each other – pattern, an almost photo-realism (broken by a blob of paint straight from the tube), a leg, a bum, a trunk. What’s the nature of that relationship?
The difference between illusions and delusions- so far as comedy, tragedy, and tragicomedy are concerned- is that delusions are best gotten rid of, whereas illusions are never abandoned without some risk.
The form of these illusions – these formal illusions – reveal delusions which would otherwise have been ours. The hand is definitely but only intermittently visible as a brushstroke. In the flesh – the flesh – images hang between what is sometimes a near-photographic surface (grapes, plums) and the depth of a painterly materiality (drips, blobs, unfinished finished-ness). Both situations might be read in the way we read a truncated body, like stop-points to the imagination, the refusal of a mise-en-scene, disbelief not suspended, against romance. Of the personal but things in themselves.
Is it inevitable that we – as in you and I and all viewers of this work – will always make sense of how the canvasses are ordered and presented? A certain inherent narrativising that we can’t avoid?
Orange and hazelnut go wonderfully well together. They offer a good balance of freshness and earthiness and the flavours are subtle enough to complement the beans without overpowering them.
Narrative does not go away. Passages appeal to taste (or distaste), which itself becomes the thing seen, while always understood within an irrepressible act of individuated reading – one that does not succeed through the conditions of collective agreement by which meaning is usually established, but rather threads separate, sub-rational stories that are most times silent.
How do you understand the balance between the personal and the formal in this work?
Saturday’s New Moon brings both very personal issues to a head and, equally, shakes up existing arrangements. You’re overwhelmed. Therefore, withdraw and allow what must happen to take place without attempting to influence events. This may be out of character. But you’ll soon realise things are far less fixed than you imagined. Plus you can make any necessary changes over the coming weeks.
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