My young connoisseur -or collector of urgent life-impressions and artful invention- has begun school-life so close to the TM that a liquid-chocolate balm combined with ‘two rooms’ has become a fixture in our lives. In the process, he has elevated El Anatsui to quite a pedestal, but I continue trying my best to broaden his horizons. Bruce’s revolving head, tick, Bruce’s Violent Incident, getting there, Bruce’s dogs, well; there’s time…
Of course, these are not Les Chiens de Nauman. But those in the Art Room selection reminded me recently of their spirited precedents in Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster’s TH.2058. I was led there by a number of things; my own work-in-progress (articulating or #Rivering the Roding), and thus echoes of the river-beggaring I did floodplain-to-floodplain in Rotterdam; a ruined world of mud to be embraced with curiosity, reminded of that when receiving Defne Ayas’ archive of her WdeW years; Blessing and Transgressing; A Live Institute, which includes that first use of ‘rivering’ as a way of trying to articulate muddy-footed actualities with urgent recognitions of coming urban life, by a recent taste of DG-F’s work which reminded me of how much there is to enjoy and admire in it (esp. with a clear view of its span), close rubbing-ups against Vila-Matas (about whom much more some day, the writerly intimacies are too elemental. Dostoevsky once more or less literally saved-by-enabling my life, a very long time ago. V-M is a similar interior intimate on an extremely short list). They, as you know, have been working together since 2007 (when only Bartleby & Co, perhaps Montano too had been translated into English), and so I found myself thinking about TH.2058, a work that has remained with me more as a puzzle, or query, than a settled memory, or answer.
I confess that, for one thing, in 2008 I found the (large) elements of the work (largely) familiar. They included a small range of large -some deliberately over-large- recognisable sculptural works made as good copies (at Pinewood, in workshops and stages that I worked in up to 1990; indeed, H-Stage -the largest of them excepting the purpose-built Bond stages- played a significant role in liberating me in my existential pursuit of the judiciously placed comma. Freed a simple, urgent, live-or-die need (actually), see Dostoevsky (the only Q from 10 or perhaps 11yrs, once D. showed me a way to be in the world/a writer -without the within- and so live, was how? Money’s’funny… ), a couple of hundred metal bunk-beds, each with copies of a short list of books, The Last Film; a ‘showreel’ of human ruins, the sound of constantly running water and ‘street’ musicians, an ironic? tropicalia curtain-entrance, etc. It was a shelter for a post-flood scenario with the waters still falling and so rising… Utopian and dystopian…
In 2008-9, the ‘crisis’ weighed too heavily upon an installation opening December 2008 that was conceived before it happened. It’s ruins have a different pedigree, which incorporated the financial but went quite far beyond that (well, ‘capitalocene’ notwithstanding, etc.). Roberta Smith seemed to recognise the work at the time, but was also rather dismissive, writing of “accessible art-about-art” to describe TH.2058 as; “An effective pastiche of largely received ideas and familiar strategies, especially appropriation, it exemplifies the accessible (even obvious) Conceptual installation art that museums so often favor these days. By turns didactic, theatrical and hokey … In the brochure Ms. Gonzalez-Foerster alliteratively describes the situation as “a culture of quotation in a context of catastrophe” (now that’s a ‘hokey’ attribution! See below… ).
I admit that that is quite close to what I felt in 2008, breezily recognising elements towards the front of my own mind and therefore missing subtleties in the work and marching on. Honestly? it irritated me at that time in London, ‘knowing’ how it would be received (multiple mis-firings/-interpretations) though I thought it would generate dumb embrace, rather than not. This now seems crucial to my odd temperamental response. There is an excellent conversation led by Pablo Leon de la Barra with DG-F here, which I strongly recommend you watch as the former insists on giving the ‘missing’ context; the artist’s career to date (an odd manoeuvre, odder that I return to it, I know), with its identifiable thematics, obsessions, and rather sobering constant of distanced intimacies. He begins with reference to shows at Robert Prime in 1997 and 1998, which I remember as he does but there is much more besides to his authoritative critique. If it helps to mention our differing relationships with the Guggenheim Foundation at this point IN ORDER TO ENCOURAGE YOU TO WATCH THIS CLIP then so be it!
Beyond that, well, you can find your ways. It’s rewarding to do so. The conversation above and in particular is a clear articulation of what it means to make such an installation with familiar or otherwise elements in London, England, Britain at a certain time and ‘from’ a certain series of places (just one; in contrast to the Swiss approach to nuclear shelters with lashings of ambivalence, the British Government advised citizens to duck under a table). This is where subtleties amass. I want to point to one, as you might expect me to; the then (2008) barely-translated-into-English Vila-Matas (Bartleby & Co and Montano are both listed in Spanish in the catalogue bio). Here (L&R) represented by the original publications of El mal de montano and Hijos sin hijos (links to respective pages of V-M’s own site).
If memory serves, the visual artist or visual-arts-based DG-F, speaks of conversations with the writer and occasionally visual-arts-based EV-M, in which she would address him in French and he would reply in Spanish. Again, blessed memory insists on an anecdote about the former sending a proposal for a large show for collaboration and receiving a reply which she laboured through to a point of confused recognition that it seemed to be a repetition of much of what she had described of her interests, in an act of strange claimed-simultaneity, before realising it was just a translation from her French… Anyway. Subtleties…
One very clear subtlety is the inclusion of these books of Vila-Matas (and others in untranslated voices, I’m isolating one) amongst more standard British and other ‘future tales’ (cf Kathy Acker telling Angela McRobbie, mid-1980s; “Because there is no underground movement (in Ldn), a lot of sort of non-Oxbridge writing goes into science fiction. It’s the one place that you’re allowed to do everything…” p225 After KA, Chris Kraus, London, 2017), because -if anything- to most Londoners at best they act as a sign of displacedness, of distance, of otherness, of exoticness, of other potential worlds that must be recalled, or perhaps as ‘pretentious’, that crippling English accusation slash emanation… ‘Places’ not therefore not ventured to or towards, for the most part.
The subtlety, of course, is the full-hearted presence of the work-in-its-own-tongue deepening the broader project, deepening the longer shelf, and the use of the latter in the broader project. Portal, abyss. If a critic as good as Roberta Smith, the best first-responder, saw “accessible … received … familiar (and) obvious” she clearly missed this dimension. Right? It’s ok! as I say, I think that the Crash/crisis was blinding in effect. And context counts. There is place/dness, get over yourselves!
Subtlety is hard to see writ large though, too. Especially difficult when bridging cultural realms, even when all involved are canny and cosmopolitan, etc. When I use large font sizes I am emphasising –amplifying and contrasting- the subtleties and allusiveness of my words. It is not always taken that way, and I understand… (when I first exhibited a text, I made the letters less than 2cm over 10m x 2 because it was densely allusive writing). Time, bless, is the best ally in these things, at least it is if supported with articulation or more crucially, an articulator. In that guise here, I am not offering a full critique; I need a publication and/or event, appropriate time scale, interest and matching resource-exchange to do that. Never apologise! -except, as V-M might say, to horses. And so, inevitably, back to Dostoevsky! (See this excellent LARB’s piece.)
I have the interest, of course, but having in recent weeks had occasion to dig at DG-F’s catalogues as diversions to deep archival trawling and detailing in appropriate institutions, I am reminded loosely of that O’Hara poem in which he wished he could be an artist, or was it painter in his case? I envy the way that DG-F works, the way that that work has accumulated force and singularity in its relationships to things and other dimensions. She says she is a kind of failed writer, can’t stretch out in words and sentences in ways she feels impelled to do but is unable to sustain. Something like that, no?
2017 reminded me, again, that I am a writer in the same sorts of elemental ways. I can, have and will make visual art proper (and can see a clear pathway to much more overt efforts which require degrees of cynicism I don’t want or possess!), occasionally, but words are what showed me that I could live. They are that elemental, too elemental pragmatically-speaking, but simply sustaining even enabling of my life. Nobody (no absurdly insecure autocrat in Abu Dhabi, in this immediate instance!) can or will ever stop me forming, sharing and living words dangerously. In general, that’s a lot of necessity! and one which breaks or makes forms. In England! -see ‘pretentious’ above.
I sometimes still think that the John Ashbery approach of more or less describing what he sees as art in commonsensical terms is the way to write about art from ‘outside’ (‘critically’), but though I have done this (not Ashberied but written rare conventional/authoritative art critical essays) and will do when it feels necessary (see?! I mean from Nasreen Mohamedi in 1999 through Emily Jacir in 2014), essaying visual encounters (even unconventionally) feels to me like a working-against instinct, subtleties as sketched, the now that arcs out into the whatever… The kind of working-with that I mean is necessarily happenstance, spontaneous and peculiarly precise; made with, from, some shared spirit, even spiritedness if you like. Eternal as the flood, this! I look forward to whenever such circumstances strike again…
V-M, channelling The Jesus & the Mary Chain at Tate Modern 2008, from his linked site.
Meanwhile, since I started I will deliver a finish. I hesitate to put it like this, but you can find copies of the TM’s excellent catalogue for TH.2058 out there at silly (low) prices which reflects some of what PLB and others say above and elsewhere that London didn’t deserve! or anyway get it at the time. Or received it as one thing, when it is a number of others. That. Or something like it (NB; I have not written about it here -that takes thousands of words and tens into hundreds of hours- only sincerely and warmly gestured towards it). The catalogues contains the line quoted above, and mis-ascribed, from V-M’s (unmissably excellent) catalogue text entitled Towards a Culture of Quotation in a Context of Catastrophe;
“Dominique’s installations have always fascinated me for the way in which she connects literature and cities, films and hotels, architecture and abysses, mental geographies and author’s quotations. She is a great lover of the art of quotations. As was Godard in his early period when he inserted quotations, other people’s words -whether real or invented- in the midst of his film’s action and created -surely without knowing it- an atmosphere of passion for extraneous sentences and for building an apocalyptic culture of literary quotation, a culture of the end of a journey, or perhaps it would be better to say, the end of the world.” (TH.2058, DG-F, London, p98.)
I can’t resist looping back around by adding a quote of my own from Virginia Woolf’s late, i.e. Nov. 1940, Diaries; “When I look up I see all the marsh water. In the sun deep blue, gulls caraway seeds: snowstorms: Atlantic floor: yellow islands: leafless trees: red cottage roofs. Oh, may the flood last forever -a virgin lip: no bungalows; as it was in the beginning. Now it’s lead grey with the red leaves in front. Our inland sea.”
Hold that abysmal thought and read the text of mine linked to above; As Mud as Clear, with its post-flood visions from the Nile, the Maas, as well as the confluence of the Roding and Thames at Barking/Dagenham. Hold it tighter and await the completion and publication of my Rivering the Roding in 2019/20?
Or, as DG-F puts it in the TH.2058 catalogue interview;
“Water is the starting point of organic life the way we know it, it’s maybe the most primitive and important form of life on this planet. I can’t think of something more emotional than water, rain, tears, waves, sea, lakes, but also clouds, icebergs, plastic bottles, dry seas, liquid deserts, limited or impossible showers, last drop, first drop.” (TH.2058, DG-F, London, p188)
Finally, here are a couple of small gifts that you may have missed, which I direct you to while they are still out there;
Firstly, there is this very nice closely-related piece; ON RECORD #3: Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster Six Rooms for Enrique Vila-Matas with a clean link to ART-IT.Asia here. This details the epistolary relationship I refer to above…
Secondly, 1887 Hotel Splendide a publication written by Vila-Matas about and around G-F’s work in relation to hotels of that name. It’s a downloadable pdf of 250 pages from 2014 and now, if not already, it can be yours with one click! PDF itself here: v_m_gonzales-f-rster-dominique-1887.