Space Interrupted / Notes and slippages on the schizophrenia of the day
Mark Waugh, 2015
LIMBO SUBSTATION PROJECT SPACE
19 February-5 March 2015
I was invited by Clare Sheppeard curator of Space Interrupted to act as interlocutor between the artists and artworks assembled at Limbo. This text is a supplement to the interviews that followed. I have prepared a formal framing device or structure which will transpire in three parts: a short preface and introduction in which we shall perambulate around the space and finally the body or content of the event which will be a series of questions prepared for the artists in advance.
To cross a threshold into a gallery we observe all the existential rules of perception as explored by the French Philosopher Mauruce Merleu Ponty in; The Visible and the Invisible, and earlier writings. In deference to the spirit of brevity we might note here that he suggested : Space is existential. That existence is spatial- that humans are fundamentality related to space - inhabit space - are not merely in space. Like Gaston Bachelard for whom we pass over in order to wrap ourselves momentarily in his absence, this late twentieth century, pre digital space, already imagines space as an architecture of extension, of subjectivity projected in texts which simmer and mutate like the performative graffiti of late Ramazilazee, the philosopher artist of 'Ikonoklast Panzerism', and allow us to follow traces of aesthetics and history through the sensual array of letters which form our speech. Today our ideas will hopefully share an exploration of the theorisation of space as ethical, technical and teleological as described by Avital Ronell who infamously according to the Amazon preview of the Telephone Book, (which should not be confused with a preface) "installs the telephone in the space of thinking Heidegger reserves for poetry and art, producing a series of reflections on philosophy, Ronell calls us from afar. She does not think the question concerning technology by submitting it merely to evaluation, as has been done so often and so poorly. Rather, she seeks out what 'thinks' in technology and what is 'technological' in thinking. Her concern is located not in the instrumentality of technology with its good and bad points, but in unfolding the presence of technology in discourse, as discourse, or as the silence hidden within discourse."
LIMBO artists interviewed
‘Construction Three’ exhibited in Space Interrupted explores the human desire to construct. All around us we see monuments to human endeavour, many of which are poorly constructed, designed and unsustainable.
The work explores the futility of construction through the fabrication of works that have no purpose or functionality but are merely built as a result of a human desire to construct. The work explores a struggle over whether it’s acceptable to construct for sheer enjoyment of the process and outcome or whether we should morally be making more profound statements about society.
As a practising Architect and Artist, I struggle with issues around the constant need for re-construction in the design industry due to changing fashions and trends, ultimately leading to huge waste. My work is developing in a direction that explores the role of construction in society and the by-products of the industry.
My structural and making knowledge from practising Architecture informs the type of work that I produce, in terms of aesthetic qualities, detail and precision. I am influenced in my art practice by many architectural references and the built environment around me. Most of the materials I use in are informed by what I come across when producing buildings.
Scale always has a role to play in my work, particularly as a result of spending much of my time producing scaled drawings and models for larger Architectural proposals. There is also an inherent curiosity in people to imaginatively explore scaled objects, positioning themselves within the scaled works, my work often explores these relationship the viewer has with the work through keeping it ambiguous as to whether works are to scale or not. The works in Space Interrupted are imagined as scaled objects of much larger objects, or could also be read as furniture scale objects, the ambiguity and relationship to the human scale is important to allow the viewer to relate to the works in several ways. In turn the shadows produced by the works in the exhibition are of a much larger scale and perhaps offer a more physically immersive experience of the works.
The work explores relationships between the drawing and three dimensional works and is therefore in its three dimensional form reminiscent of drawings through the use of fine and delicate material. Using the lighting in the space to manipulate the three dimensional perception of the work the work can appear very three dimensional or quite flat. Shadows projected add a further level of exploration to the works as a temporary drawing on the wall.
Perhaps such interludes are not heard on the recording of the preface but surface here like Electronic Voice Phenomena, whispering of a detailing of space that precedes and eludes us. Or to pursue this distraction we must recognise that we find it hard to focus on the written word as it is texted across an infinity of screens, another voice enters her and says," In the preface to Finitude's Score, you suggest that "electronic culture" signals for you a kind of "prosthetic écriture" that puts "writing under erasure"; and a few lines later, you make the rather startling statement that you're "writing for writing because it died." Would you elaborate on that a bit? Are you suggesting two different senses of "writing"?
The phone goes dead and we arrive with the question of how we orientate our bodies and behave as political bodies, social bodies. This rapid acceleration of the digital impacts on our experience of subjectivity, we find [ Space ] simultaneously sampled and original, real and imaginary, symbolic and gendered. Our Space is interrupted by a multiplicity and never a singularity - an aporia beyond ourselves - towards an infinity. Back in the 1960s when beatnicks and hipsters read philosophy they would have found solace in the idea that the world is not simply an object... and that as Maurice Merleau-Ponty said, " Things pass into us as well as we pass into things."
In Space Interrupted there are three sculptural forms created by three artists that engage directly and indirectly with the spectres & ghosts of other spaces. These works exhibited collectively offer a colliding and montaging of geometries that resolve themselves into a theme park of perspectives. We must assume that behind closed gallery doors intense arrangement and alignments have been agreed. When we open the doors of the gallery- wow there is stuff in this space. Our vision shifts between apertures and focuses simultaneously and then specifically on each work whilst holding the others in our peripheral vision.
My practice involves making a response to a place or space, preferably a building or site that has had a range of previous functions and re-configurations. Limbo offered a unique opportunity to explore the remenants of a functional building in the process of change. My intial impressions sprang from the grittines of its material qualities and the traces of previous occupations. I like to test myself against a building or space – can I make something that echoes, dispupts or highlights elements that are already there ? As a fairly large empty space Limbo offered a chance to imprint something conceptually connected but also visually disruptive onto it. The constructed ‘tower’ structure was made to visually interrupt the space but also as a foil to bounce off the lights, projected films, sounds and shadows.
I like to experiment with a range of media, employ unsteady narratives and construct fragile forms to express a sense of dislocation and anxiety. This project started off as a series of projections at Fabrica in Brighton last year and has evolved through 3 further adaptations. For this piece I wanted to create a palimpsest whereby one spaces is superimposed with the remnants or traces of related forms and sensations. As a whole my practice is achieved through a process of research into three central themes, mapping space, an exploration of an embodied experience of space and finding ways to disrupt existing meaning, the balance of which shifts from project to project.
The wooden structure echoes pylon construction and disrupts it by being a hanging form rather than something rooted in the ground. The installation is a play between projected film fragments, the solidty of the structure, broken shadows and a sense of immenent collapse.
I am interested in the work of Finish Architect Juhani Pallasmaa, whose writings suggest that because we are exposed to a superfluity of visual images, our other sensory experiences – hearing, smell, touch, peripheral vision are pushed into the back ground, undermining a rounded and embodied experience of the world. His ideas have inspired me to explore ways of creating installations that enable the viewer to have a broadly embodied experience shaped by the contrast between light and dark, space and structure, sound and location, captured and synthesized imagery /sound. I like to experiment with the gap between an embodied experience of space and the creation of its opposite – something which underlines the constant collection and collapse of simultaneous imagery/sound into a sense of the perpetual visual present. The substation presented an opportunity to reflect upon the production of energy and its transmission and the fragility and fragementaion of it’s delivery and sustainability.
The role of the audience is an important visual aspect of the work, the use of lights and projections helps draw the viewer closer into the building and into the work so their fragmented shadows and reflections are fleetingly flung back into the host space and integrated into the whole. At the same time the projected shards of film and light connect the structure to the building and highlight its various industrial features and animate the building.
1. Foreground. Zoe Fudge : Construction three (wood, paint, metal) 2015 Keywords or tags might include: projection, shadow play, architecture, scaffolds, elegance and the precarious. Three small works in finely cut pine arranged as if a shrine to modernism and the geometry of, Falling Water by FL Wright.
2. Middle distance. Rachel Wilberforce : Perceptual ( Apparatus) Installation 11 [Perspex sculpture, coloured Perspex segments, transformer, pigment, transparency print] 2015 Keywords or tags, neon, pleasure, illuminated, shards of words, broken, recycled. This work gestures towards the resurrection of Dreamland and the illumination of an historic architecture which is erased by the dominance of the SiGN.
3. Horizon. Sharon Haward: Substationdislocation ( wood, mirror, projection, light, sound) 2015. Keywords and tags, power, electricity, cinematic, totem, decoys, surveillance, mirrors. A large pylon draws our vision toward a vanishing point beyond the gallery signifying a fragmentation of perspective and the substitution of the heliotropic religions for the cults of energy.
Following this introduction and before we proceed to hear from the artists I would like us all to play a game in which where and who we are are lost in the abyss of subjective space. Please close your eyes.
My practice explores contemporary subjectivity through the relationship between everyday and other space, specifically drawing on Foucault’s notion of heterotopia . I’m compelled by places with uncertain borders, sites on the edge, fleeting and precarious, hovering between different histories, uses and meanings. I’m often drawn to places slightly apart from mainstream society or society as we know it to be. These spaces allow for certain things to happen, or acts to be carried out, that somehow ‘mirror’ or invert society. My interest in spaces is specifically sparked when places are in transition; moving from one identity and purpose to another, or at the point of coexisting. In two recent projects, I studied this process with a prison, hospital and factory. Often with public, controlled and formal spaces such as hospitals, I am interested in the transgressive elements that reveal themselves on the fabric and architecture of the site. I am drawn to the 'leakages' in those spaces; where fissures or details in the infrastructure or aesthetic reveal hidden thresholds or desires. An example, is that of the prison space that is replicated in order to confuse the escaping prisoner. This controlled measure or act, turns to transgression, in a camouflaging and disorientating effect of space. By observing the waiting rooms, long corridors and the spaces where activities have recently taken place, one might begin to enter a transcendental state in a metaphorical passing through of space, time and context. It is this exploration of the psychology and experience of space, that I seek to examine.
My project work always begins with a period of extensive research. In the case of this project: Perceptual [Apparatus] II, the sites of LIMBO and Dreamland are my subjects in the main, and my primary focus is the idea of transition and semi-status of place. Beyond the two sites, I am very interested in the idea of issues of universality and contemporaneity being conveyed through the work in terms of the fabric and makeup of society, the individual and the collective: it’s interwoven relationship and the elements of order and chaos, or anomaly therein. As society is a complex phenomenon, it is often conveyed as ‘the matrix’. This sculpture adopts a sort of matrix approach in terms of its complexity of form and space, yet there are moments of clarity and distinctness that emerge. It is my intention that it represent a monument of our times; our dreams and aspirations (and choices) set against reality. It is a monument that equally draws from the past, the present and the future. For me, both sites represent an heterotopia in different ways: Dreamland (renamed this in 1920), the very name points to the place of the ‘other’, a fantasy, a place of escape and play; representing multiple places in one. LIMBO, formally functional and presently as a space for showcasing art, an heterotopic space in and of itself. The latter having historically powered the former. Both sites have a distinct past and a collective consciousness association, where their identity still resides, albeit partially. The physical operational transformers outside LIMBO also mimic this.
Dreamland is considered the oldest-surviving amusement park in Great Britain and dates back to the British railway boom of 1860s with its operator ‘Lord’ George Sanger, the famous circus impresario. The site of Dreamland having been left derelict for years, with its identity and infrastructure dissolving, is currently being transformed into a site of play ‘reimagined’ once more. It’s purpose in the main remains the same but its identity has shifted, and it is this subtle shift that I wanted to link to in the work. I was interested in understanding the history, and identity of both sites; their evolution to present day status. I was intrigued by the idea of a functional, utilitarian space juxtaposed against one of play and imaginative elements. There is both harmonious and disruptive aspects in both spaces.
For my primary research, I spent time looking at visual archives of Dreamland and Margate. Understanding its rich history was further heightened by the local’s recollections of Dreamland. The elements of sound and
lighting were things that kept coming up in conversation and this consolidated my idea of using lights in the work itself, which linked so well to electricity and the substation. It was also important to me to subtly link the relationship between the two sites using materials that pointed to the ideology of Dreamland and the functional element of the substation.
The second thing that came up in research and development was the reference to gaming and arcades in interacting with a game with glass or perspex as a means of separating one from the toy, game, or technology. When we are in these types of spaces, it can be disorientating with the sounds, reflections and re-reflections. Time spent in arcades can make ones’ identity assimilate into the space, there is a sort of ‘psychasthenia’ that occurs (see Callois, 1935) with a loss of self and ‘coordinates’. Our desires are often reflected back at us, at the same time, we see ourselves on the products of our consumption. With the idea of arcade referencing, I also liked the notion of what is real and what is not as an analogy between a site of play (imagination) and one of pure function. Using clear perspex as a material in the work was important as it pointed both to the similarity between both sites and their semi-status, yet something you cannot pass through: the difference between the sites. With the Dreamland site currently in flux, I used coloured perspex segments within the clear perspex sculpture to break up the space and point to both the deconstruction and reconstruction of the site, which also links to the transformative space of the former substation. The transparency film prints, coloured glass neons and perspex segments represent the more playful and transgressive elements of Dreamland. The clear, minimal sculpture is set against the old school transformers with various electrical circuits to the neons. Here, a similarity with both sites is drawn again with the obvious electrical leads bound up in the perspex and neons in an almost haphazard way. This is juxtaposed with the reality of a controlled, rational and functionalist former substation, and in mimicking the actual transformers outside the LIMBO building. I was fortunate in that I had access to the original glass neons from the Dreamland site, this was important as they directly referenced Dreamland on the site of LIMBO. The fact that old school mixed gas neons (for me, they are the analogue of the lighting world!) are slowly being phased out and replaced by LED lights, also represents the historical element of Dreamland (literally fragile, brittle with age yet burn brightly) which when configured with coloured perspex and film of everyday spaces, points to an end of an era in a sense, but simultaneously an optimism for the future. The clear perspex sculpture as a container (former substation) is set against the colourful chaotic neons that bounce and burst reflections and re-reflections off the sculpture. These in turn, are contained and fold back in on each other by the curves of the sculpture and its materiality, in conjunction with the muting of the film prints in subduing the glow of the neons at various junctures. The result is a complex configuration of space, form and light that is created. There is a notable pink glow that emerges from the piece, and for me this conjures a palpable ideology of Dreamland. The shape of the sculpture subtly nods to modernism and Britain as never really embracing modernism; where it was often relegated to the periphery of land mass. At the same time, the sculpture nods to post modernism and ‘post post’ modernism in the celebration of seaside towns once again taking up their former glory.
Without anything contained on it or in it, the clear sculpture is invisible, akin to ‘The Invisible Man’ (1933). Content, surroundings, the individual and the collective make it ‘become’ and in turn, it represents ‘place’ or a series of spaces, or places. To me, it feels a bit like Tarkovsky’s planet in Solaris (1972), as an analogy in reflecting ‘whatever lies in our subconscious’.
Making heterotopia: some explorations through contemporary art
Peter Johnson, 2015
Foucault’s substantial work on disciplinary power, sexuality and the aesthetics of existence has frequently engaged contemporary art criticism. Often on the margins of this critical discourse, the trope ‘heterotopia’ emerges, as well as popping up here and there in titles of exhibitions and art school shows. At the same time, a few artists have incorporated Foucault’s notion of heterotopia within an exploration of Foucault’s wider work, as a sort of tool box of ideas and inspiration, exploring the possibility of making heterotopia, an interpretation through practice. In this paper, I will briefly discuss ‘heterotopian’ installations by Dan Graham, before concentrating on the Norwegian artist and filmmaker Knut Åsdam, who has explicitly explored heterotopia as one key strand in his work. The paper ends by highlighting two emerging artists who have also taken up this tantalising concept.
I will not attempt to introduce, summarise or interpret the multivalent and inchoate notion of heterotopia here. My own work and many others can be found readily via the website Heterotopian Studies. However, it is worth noting that Foucault’s long-term partner, Daniel Defert (1997) concludes his historical review of the concept of heterotopia by evoking the work of Felix Gonzalez-Torres, who produced an ‘experimental heterotopian environment’, showing an unmade, body imprinted bed on Manhattan billboards. Similarly, Genocchio’s (1995) seminal essay on heterotopia clinches his analysis by reference to an environmental installation by Australian artist Denis del Favero. Other contemporary art has been interpreted as heterotopian, perhaps most notably Birringer’s (1998) reflections on Makrolab, a communications, research and living space started by Marko Peljhan and first realised during Documenta X in Kassel in 1997. Makrolab was equipped to accommodate artists, scientists, ‘tactical media workers’ for joint ‘progressive’ work primarily in the fields of telecommunications, weather systems and migrations. Makrolab became a mobile space station, an incongruous site in which, echoing Foucault, ‘all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted’. The subversive lab ‘orbits around the spectrum of public and private data networks and telematic nervous systems, fishing and analysing signals, mapping voices, intercepting transmissions’.
Dan Graham is probably the most famous artist to make work that relates directly to Foucault’s spatio-temporal concept. Although his use of two-way mirrors in various geometric forms is perhaps more directly influenced by his reading of Lacan’s analysis of the child’s mirror stage, Graham also deliberately seeks to turn certain everyday and corporate spaces into more complex and ambiguous forms of ‘heterotopia’. The mirror, as always elsewhere and disruptive, is taken up by Graham’s free-standing, architectural and sculptural ‘pavilions’ which, with different degrees of functionality, explore and disrupt modes of perception and customary expectations of art. Spectators are not allowed to remain passive and ‘lose’ themselves when contemplating this art but, on the contrary, they are made aware of both themselves and other spectators (Graham, 1999: 164). In Graham’s pavilions, the viewer becomes on display, as both subject and object. The space becomes a place of self- encounter, an ‘optical instrument’ or a ‘machine to see’, reflecting in part Graham’s interest in the history of symbolic gardens which functioned as exhibition spaces for instruction, learning and moral guidance.
Foucault suggests that gardens are perhaps one of the ‘oldest’ examples of heterotopia and possess a rich spatial incompatibility, highlighting the sacred Persian gardens which mirror ‘the smallest parcel of the world and the whole world at the same time’. In an essay ‘Garden as Theater as Museum’, Graham (2009) explains how the Italian Renaissance gardens were art forms but also models of the world that could be used for study. Each symbolic or theatrical space in the garden was designed to trigger a memory. In a sense, developing Foucault’s brief remarks about gardens of antiquity, Graham (2009: 239) says that ‘memory was given the coherence and micro-macrocosmic meaning denied to ordinary life’, providing an ‘encyclopaedic memory machine’. In the essay, he traces the development of memorial gardens, museums, winter gardens, garden cities, corporate atriums, amusement parks, theme parks, disneyland and the recent use of parks and gardens to exhibit contemporary art, including his own pavilions.
What links all these spaces? They are living spaces that inform and communicate and through which we interact. Graham’s articulations or emplacements play with spatial dichotomies of public/private, urban/rural, interior/exterior, viewer/viewed and involve political implications - for example, undermining the use of glass and mirrors as tools of surveillance, or the idealised showcasing of desirable consumer items -but they can also be spaces to relax and have fun, with pavilions for children, for skateboarding or to just socialise. The structures are not outright anti-corporate culture; they tease and play with spaces, diverting, disrupting and challenging our perceptions. All the spaces however draw together and disrupt overlapping traditions, producing hybrid ‘other’ spaces that make the observer part of the art process itself, a subject and, at the same time, an object of hybridisation and otherness. With Graham’s work, we have moved from questioning the identity of the spectator position to involving the spectator in the art work itself.
Knut Åsdam (1995) has acknowledged Graham’s engagement with heterotopia and has taken up the concept himself in film, video, photography and architecture that explore the various boundaries of subjectivity and the politics of space. He has a particular interest in the margins of place, with a recent focus on migration and change, varying identities of places, layers of history and the experience of living in and through these margins. His engagement with the work of Foucault is acknowledged through the titles of some of his work (Heterotopia, The Care of Self) and through Åsdam’s writing and published conversations, although he also acknowledges influence from many other theorists of space . The most apparent specific influence is Roger Caillois’ essay ‘Mimicry and Legendary Psychasthenia’. In this teasing and provocative essay, Caillois (1987) argues that the sciences and other disciplines have tended to organise the world, ordered things, through many ‘pertinent classifications’ but this ‘does not exhaust the diverse combinations that are possible’.
These habitual ways of perceiving and categorising the world leave to the side the ‘transversal progresses’ and ‘cuts’ of nature. Anticipating Deleuzian thought perhaps, Caillois proposes what seems at first a baffling radical interdisciplinary procedure. In exploring the process of natural ‘mimicry’, he offers an alternative to the traditional evolutionary explanation regarding the instinct for self- preservation. For example, insects resemble or mimic their surroundings (twigs, leaves) and produce camouflage, but Caillois teases out other stimuli related to an instinct to become like their surroundings, to merge and assimilate. Not only that, Caillois wants to suggest that such a process has parallels in the traditional associations of magic and in the workings of the psychologist Pierre Janet), a tendency to lose oneself in one’s surroundings or milieu, a ‘temptation of space’ and a ‘generalization of space at the expense of the individual’.
The concept of psychasthenia, which Caillois interests Åsdam in its disruption of borders between self and the environment, particularly contemporary experiences that loosen borders of subjectivity as for instance in the use of recreational drugs and the shifting group identity in dance culture and protest movements. But this is perceived as a two-way process and, as well as exploring the play and loosening of subjectivities, his work also warns of the perils of new forms of subjectivication. In an essay (1995), Åsdam argues that space is never something neutral, but a ‘linguistic and historic dimension, which simultaneously privileges and impedes various subject-formations’. His work questions established, stable forms of subjectivity, a queering of space, concentrating particularly on narrations of heterotopian ‘crisis’ and ‘deviation’. He concentrates on how spaces are saturated with specific ‘histories, narratives, subjectivities, myths, imaginations’ but also how these spaces are transitory and reveal cracks and margins and opportunities for interruption and disruption. Following Foucault’s precepts, Åsdam’s work presents no reservoir of freedom; he presents struggles of power without any sense of an ‘outside’ of power structures and relations.
Åsdam’s early work, at least, conceives a close link between heterotopia and his dominant concerns: ‘it is possible to draw on the notion of heterotopia in relation to contemporary art, contemporary culture and the migratory society’ (1995). He has no naïve sense of the human unconscious. He identifies the ‘psychology of psychasthenia’ (a term coined by the liberatory value of heterotopias, noting that they can be both constraining and suppressive as well spaces of pleasure and fantasy:
‘Throughout history, heterotopias lie there like fine networks and folds, revealing the structures of every-day politics in the societies from which they arose. Often, but not always, their main purpose was to exclude and make sure that society was safeguarded from symbolically threatening quantities like puberty, menstruation or senility. But precisely from having different investments in terms of identity and politics, these places also came to acquire an intensely subversive potential’ (1995). One could think here of Genet’s queering the space of prison life or the conclusion of Lindsay Anderson’s subversive film If , in which a traditional English boarding school is depicted as space of authority, pain, pleasure, fantasy and eventually utter subversion. Åsdam provides his own examples of art works that embrace the dynamics of heterotopia, offering Alessandro Codagnone’s installation, Mean-Room (1994) as a ‘heterotopia par excellence’, but in the late 1990s, Åsdam created his own installations that explicitly evoked a type of heterotopian site, spaces of both ‘deviation’ and ‘illusion’ (see Eng, 2004).
Heterotopia (1996) is an enclosure underneath a platform with milked-glass walls on two sides and a back wall on the third side, with one side open for people to enter and black vinyl cushions for viewing the film Untitled Pissing (1995) – see Baker, 2001. The steps down and the low ceiling, as well as the low level seating, demands a certain physical engagement to enter the space in order to watch the film. This need for a commitment by the viewer is taken much further In Psychasthenia 5 (1998), a construction including twelve videos placed inside a dark cavernous area similar to a sex club. You enter this enticing assembly through a dimly lit 17m long octagonal corridor at the end of which you have the chance to explore various small rooms which are interconnected by darkened windows. A couple of the intimate rooms have monitors showing videos and participants are able to observe other people watching videos. The main space is a full screening area with black vinyl seating. The dark lighting, the long entrance, the small connecting booths and the inner screening room create an ambiguous space that is both intimate and public. The dispositif mimics what Aragon might call a ‘laboratory of pleasures’, a controlled invention that, as with Graham’s pavilions, plays with notions of inner and outer, observer and observed, private and public, virtual and real. It is a space about space.
Probably Åsdam’s most self-consciously heterotopian work can be found in a series of installations The Care of the Self (1999-2007) which was initially made for the Venice Biennale in 1999 (see Leung, 2004) An enclosure made of filtered glass walls encompasses a night-time park created by trees, plants and grass actually growing in soil. The filtered glass produces the effect of night-time within the enclosure. Outside observers see themselves and each other as well as the park as reflections in the muted glass. Inside the installation, viewers can see through the glass and observe what is going on outside without being seen themselves. The entry is again emphasised by a long octagonal, darkening corridor. The artificial park has paths that lead to different layers and areas, some intimate and sheltered and others more open. The installation explores the place of the park within an urban setting. The social historian, Patrick Joyce (2003:223), suggests that the park can be understood as ‘complementing and subverting, and enchanting and challenging the city’. It is the ‘other’ space of the city and involves different uses and experiences in the light of day and the semi- shelter of night-time. Louis Aragon (1994), who was fascinated by parks, says that ‘night gives these absurd places a sense of not knowing their own identity’. The social geographer, Matthew Gandy (2012) describes how Abney Park in London, originally a nineteenth century cemetery, serves many functions and has a diverse variety of visitors including dog walkers, ecologists, teenage drinkers, sexual cruisers and mourners. Combining the notion of heterotopia with queer theory, he uses the notion of heterotopia as a starting point in a process of contestation, a queering of approaches to space that ‘challenges categorizations and “mappings” in their broadest sense so that we encounter a challenge to “neatness” in relation to human subjectivities and material landscapes alike’. As you move through Åsdam’s installation, the viewer becomes part of this ambiguous nature of a night-time park, sharing at least the narratives of the potentially thrilling and dangerous encounter with different bodies. Indeed, the viewer becomes a participant in the narrative, engaging, and becoming part of the space with its hidden transgressions and intimate surveillances (more widely see essays in Sheikh et al, 2004).
Åsdam’s more recent work has increasingly concentrated on experimentation in film narrative in relation to the insecurity and instability produced by contemporary society (see Åsdam et al, 2011). Often characters are followed about as they travel through urban landscapes- on foot and in trains and cars, for example – negotiating their relationships with each other and their surroundings. There is often in the fragments of discourse a sense of alienation, disconnection and struggle. For example, the film Finally (2006) is set in the historic city of Saltsburg. The history of the place is highlighted as three young characters try to make sense of what the city might offer and what their place is within it. The three characters are shown fighting at various points without any particular cause. They struggle viciously, mirroring somewhat the baroque statues in Saltsburg which are dotted around the historic squares. But there are also moments of calm transactions and reflection. Shown in fragments, the three of them do not seem to know how to occupy or react to the space. A telling moment occurs in a café where the three young people are busily scribbling down notes and symbols. One of the characters shows another his drawings that symbolise himself and other people, a form of reflective mise en abyme. He tries to make sense of it all and says of the drawings:
“We are not anywhere particular here, but in any of these spaces – all the same to us - particular only to themselves, but the entry ticket is too much and the only thing to do is to find ways to loot it, use it, or enjoy it…”
It is as if in the midst of all the passages of migration and layers of culture that are stamped upon the city, they are not sure which codes to follow, what to do with it all; the whole environment has become a placeless place. In contrast, the film Tripoli (2010) is set in an unfinished, derelict site of a massive conference, exhibition and fairground centre designed by the famous Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer and situate on the outskirts of Tripoli in Northern Lebanon. Niemeyer is mainly known as architect for Brasilia and his inventive, organic and curvy forms that reinterpret the severity of European Modernism. A symbol of Lebanon’s stability and prosperity of the 1960s, the site is now a stranded, abandoned concrete monument. The film is partly an architectural documentary, depicting wide empty stadia, majestic arches and monumental sculptures against a backdrop of the city’s dense modern apartment blocks, interspersed with minarets. But the film is also an exploration of a deeply ambiguous space, both a derelict utopia and a heterotopian shell. As one of the two main characters states, the site is ‘caught between the meaningful and meaningless, half-empty and half-full kind of place’. As with Finally, there is the quality of a cemetery here: monuments of permanence that symbolise the transitory.
As with Finally, the film is shot through with moments of viciousness and menace. The dark enclosures of the site are full of debris with exposed twisting metal wires and, underneath a giant flyover, a corpse swaddled in cellophane lies in the undergrowth. All of this, together with the finding of a loaded gun in the final scene, recalls the intervening violence of the Civil War and contrasts with original vision and deterioration of Niemeyer’s design and Lebanon’s hopes. Dialogue in the film is as fragmentary and ambiguous as the moribund site as the characters explore the psychology of the space and again their sense of placelessness. Overall, the film posits a political question of how to negotiate the contradictions of such a heterotopian place, a concrete local utopia that embraces economic growth and monstrous collapse.
Knut Åsdam has become an internationally recognised artist, using heterotopia as one productive tool among many others to interrogate and explore disruptive spaces through his work (see Åsdam et al, 2011). Other emerging artists are also engaging with Foucault’s spatio-temporal notion. Two striking examples must suffice here. In the series ‘Heterotopia: the tragic downfall’, the French photographer Vincent Stoker depicts the inside of buildings that are abandoned and at different stages of neglect and decay, including ice rinks, ballrooms, cinemas, theatres, churches, panopticon institutions and factories. The images capture the grandeur and ambition of utopian designs that have been constructed, utilised and then left desolate and idle, resembling in some ways Åsdam’s film Tripoli. Stoker reveals ‘really existing utopias’ that are now moribund and fading to non-existence. The original meanings and functions of these ‘special’ places, whether for pleasure, control, punishment, production, exploitation, are therefore exposed but at the same time negated. From a position of deterioration, they emphasise features of ‘heterochronia’ as Foucault describes in his accounts of such places as fairs, museums and cemeteries, a play of permanence, accretion and transience. We usually think of ruins and monuments in historical terms but these structures are ruins of the present, our ruins.
One striking photograph (heterotopia # IEGDII) portrays the dilapidated interior of a storage building in a mining complex in the Ruhr. The huge cavernous space contains an intricate system that allowed the miners’ possessions to be stored economically through an elevated storage mechanism of wire baskets that hung from the ceiling. Miners could hang their clothes and store their shoes and other items before descending into the mines. The space typifies nineteenth century industrial rationalism as, unlike the miners below the ground, here the suspended compartments were individualised, clean, safe, visible and easily identified. As with the other images in the series, Stoker exposes and amplifies a rational ideal space that is now in splendid decay.
Whereas Graham and Åsdam make heterotopian spaces and Stoker explores decaying heterotopias, the British artist Rachel Wilberforce reveals the other side of seemingly quotidian spaces, or makes heterotopia in the most unexpected places. In photographs, film, collages and installations, Wilberforce discovers places with uncertain borders, sites on the edge, cut off and precarious, hovering between different histories, uses and meanings. For example, in The Resort series (2013/2014), Wilberforce explores an East Anglian coastal village, an isolated but exposed community, with a mix of residential and holiday homes that have sprung up on the site of a medieval village. The site bears traces of a 1930s utopian holiday development as well as appropriation as barracks during the Second World War – intertwining layers of history and significance.
The location is hard to place, fleeting, impermanent, vulnerable, with overlapping narratives and functions. The work seems to demonstrate the everyday as other, how everyday spaces can intimate, secrete, or enfold heterotopian features. Distinctions of time and place are blurred, offering communities for refuge, retreat or heterotopian remnants. In The Resort Installation View (2014), the photographic material is incorporated into three-dimensional emplacements, playfully and intimately breaking and disrupting the spaces, deconstructing and then reconstructing imaginative collages, sculptures and installations. Found objects – doors, panels, window frames – are juxtaposed with close-up interior patterned images - curtains, bed covers, carpets – forming a process of abstraction, but at the same time evoking intimate histories and narratives. Such techniques are explored further in current projects including Pathways (2014) and Ivory Lace (2014), both drawing from heterotopian emplacements of the garden and hospital, and reimagining passages and thresholds between private and public, interior and exterior, the everyday and other.
This brief survey hopefully opens up further possibilities for heterotopian-inspired art. The artists’ websites (see below) offer many more avenues of exploration. And despite, or perhaps because of, the puzzling undeveloped ideas that Foucault briefly sketched, each year attracts new artists to the notion as a spring-board for the imagination. One indicative example of the somewhat casual, pervasive and yet global association between contemporary art and heterotopia must suffice here. After a fifty years absence, the Philippines have been invited to participate in the Venice Biennial in 2015. The Pavilion will revolve around the concept of the Philippines as a’ tropical heterotopia’ (Ardia, 2014).
Websites for images, essays, resources:
References Heterotopian Studies
Aragon, L. (1994)  Paris Peasant, translated by S.Watson Taylor, Boston: Exact Change.
Ardia, M. (2014) ‘Philippines to attend Venice Biennale 2015 after 50 year hiatus’, Art Radar published 14 March 2014 [available at http://artradarjournal.com/2014/03/14/philippines-to-attend-venice-biennale-2015- after-50-year-hiatus - accessed 8 October 2014]
Åsdam, K., Øvstebø, S. and Sekkingstad, S. (eds.) (2011) The Long Gaze, Bergen Kunsthall and Sternberg Press.
Baker, G. (2001) ‘The Space of the Stain’. Grey Room. 5, 5-37
Baker G. (2004) ‘pulsatile, dazzling, and spread out: Psychasthenia 2+2 1997-1998’ in Sheikh, S. and Åsdam, K. (eds) (2004) Knut Åsdam; Speech, Living, Sexualities, Struggle, Fine Arts Unternehmen Books pp 22-27.
Caillois, R. (1987) ‘Mimicry and Legendary Psychasthenia’, translated by John Shepley in October: The First Decade, 1976-1986, edited by Annette Michelson, Rosalind Krauss, Douglas Crimp, and Joan Copjec. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
Aragon, L. (1994)  Paris Peasant, translated by S.Watson Taylor, Boston: Exact Change.
Åsdam, K. (1995) ‘Heterotopia- Art, pornography and cemeteries’. [available at http://knutasdam.net/images/uploads/text/heterotopia_k_asdam.pdf – accessed 22 October 2014]
Birringer, J. (1998) ‘Makrolab: A Heterotopia’ Journal of Performance and Art, 20 (3) 66-75.
Defert, D. (1997) ‘Foucault, Space, and the Architects’ in Politics/Poetics: Documenta X – The Book, Ostfildern-Ruit: Cantz Verlag, 274-283.
Eng, L. (2004) ‘Ananthropology, or the Problem of Other Bodies: Heterotopia, 1996’ in Sheikh, S. and Åsdam, K. (eds) (2004) Knut Åsdam; Speech, Living, Sexualities, Struggle, Fine Arts Unternehmen Books pp 132-137.
Graham, D. (1999) Two-Way Mirror Power. Cambridge, MA : The MIT Press
Graham, D. (2009) Beyond Editors Bennett Simpson and Chrissie Iles, Cambridge,
MA : The MIT Press ; Los Angeles : Museum of Contemporary Art.
Gandy, M. (2012) ‘Queer ecology: nature, sexuality, and heterotopic alliances’ Environment and Planning D, Society and Space. 30: 4 727-747.
Genocchio, B. (1995) ‘Discourse, Discontinuity, Difference: the Question of Other Spaces’ in S. Watson and K. Gibson (eds.), Postmodern Cities and Spaces, Oxford: Blackwell, 35-46.
Joyce, P (2003) The Rule of Freedom, London: Verso.
Leung, S. (2004) ‘Psychasthenia: the care of self, 1999 (For Knut)’ in Sheikh, S. and Åsdam, K. (eds) Knut Åsdam; Speech, Living, Sexualities, Struggle, Fine Arts Unternehmen Books pp 108-112.
Sheikh, S. and Åsdam, K. (eds) (2004) Knut Åsdam; Speech, Living, Sexualities, Struggle, Fine Arts Unternehmen Books.
To reference this paper:
Johnson, P. (2014) ‘Making heterotopia: some explorations through contemporary art’
Heterotopian Studies [http://www.heterotopiastudies.com]
Peter Johnson, 2014
// The Path That Runs Across, Bond House Gallery, London //
2-9 May 2014
In Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophical project, A Thousand Plateaus, the spatial theorists tease out the subtle relationship between striated and smooth space:
.... the striated is that which intertwines fixed and variable elements, produces an order and succession of distinct forms, and organises horizontal melodic lines and vertical harmonic planes. The smooth is continuous variation, continuous development of form.... the pure act of the drawing of a diagonal across the vertical and the horizontal (2004: 528).
The philosophers are making more than the traditional distinction between nature and artifice. Using examples from music, literature and art, the navigation of the seas, the fine distinctions between felt, fabric, crochet and embroidery, they attempt to defeat binary thought and open up the conception of smooth space that is more about affect than optical, a space filled with intensive events. Importantly too, both types of space confront each other, and in a sense rely on each other, filling the world with an infinite variety of mixed formations, running in all directions.
Such a tiny glimpse gives no justice to a set of multifaceted ideas that disrupt familiar patterns of Western thought, but the spatial distinction that Deleuze and Guattari make came immediately to mind when reflecting on the diverse work that forms ‘The path that runs across’ (2014). The works, as a whole and individually, play with the relationship between these two types of space, starting with the production of what might be called ‘gridding’ places and experimenting with
the pleasure of variation and smoothing out. What could be more striated than a close-up of the base of solid tree trunk, set in an urban environment, imprisoned by a square iron grate (Fixed framework, 2014)? The projected film negative amplifies
the hexagonal pattern of the grate, repeated in other works through a rhythmic family network – grids, grilles, window frames, fences, screens, paving slabs – but also competing vectors – fissures, cracks, crevices, intervals and splits. To return
to the book: ‘passages between the striated and the smooth are at once necessary and uncertain, and all the more disruptive’ (544). Some of the collages (Smithfield
I and II, 2013 and Pathways, 2014) take up the rhythmic hexagonal pattern of the
tree grate in movements that juxtapose and cut through windows, walls and paths, producing architectural abstractions. In these works, the straight lines, the dominant quadrilaterals, form gaps and passages, creating ‘closures that are openings’ to echo the epigraph to the exhibition.
Mirroring the Other in the Everyday
Peter Johnson, 2014
In 1967, Michel Foucault, the celebrated French philosopher and historian, gave a lecture to a group of architects on the subject of ‘heterotopia’. The lecture (Foucault, 1998) explores various diverse cultural spaces that seem to reflect the wider world but at the same time upset, invert or transform it . These ‘other spaces’ have different functions and may be sites of pleasure, pain, memory, forgetfulness, refuge, imagination or containment but they are all in some way incongruous, often unsettling places that offer a glimpse of ‘another’ world. In a previous version of the talk, Foucault had referred to a quotation by Louis Aragon, the champion of surrealism, to illustrate the strange allure of some of these spaces. Aragon (1994) describes the experience of entering a brothel ‘serious and alone’, finding a refuge, a mirror into a different space that is for him both dark and yet enchantingly bright. As Aragon says, you enter these enigmatic places as one might ‘another country’. It may not be a coincidence that both Aragon and Foucault mention brothels, public baths and gardens as ‘other places’, but Foucault also goes on to include cemeteries, asylums, prisons, fairs, magic carpets, museums, utopian colonies, ships in his description of what has become a contested but frequently explored concept by writers and academics.
Rachel Wilberforce is one of a small but growing number of artists who has started to explore the curious spaces of heterotopia in her own work. She engages with the concept subtly and obliquely, revealing the ‘other’ side of seemingly quotidian spaces, or to put it in another way, her work finds heterotopia in the most unexpected places. In photographs, film, collages and installations, Wilberforce discovers places with uncertain borders, sites on the edge, cut off and precarious, hovering between different histories, uses and meanings. Missing (2007/2008) captures eclectic modernist housing estates and apartment blocks in urban and suburban areas across the UK, a landscape of concrete paving and enclosures with stark railings. The scene is ordinary, austere and somewhat neglected, but Wilberforce takes us inside the buildings often repurposed as unassuming brothels.
Other work takes up the hexagonal gridding motif in sculptures from found objects. A carved tree branch bends to form something that might be between a warped giant cheese grater and an African musical string instrument, except the sculpture forms a balance rather than representing anything, turning a heavily striated object, through
The addition of delicate diagonal lines, into something permeable and light (Imperfect Equilibrium, 2014). The process is found throughout the series: striated spaces providing possibilities of flight and smooth spaces endlessly organised. Grates in two dimensions hang against the wall offering associations with security and prison grids, constraint, enclosure as well as possible escape.
Each piece also provides dizzying connections with others in the exhibition. The sculptures throw out contrasts with the close-up of the grated tree trunk, forming what Deleuze and Guattari call rhizomes which, unlike trees and their roots, set ‘directions in motion’, generating an assemblage of endless connections that in their diversity and relationships engage and affect the viewer in the play of space, of spaces. The balance, the poise of a neutral space, is perhaps most simply expressed in photographs of leafy tree branches set against a rectangular frame and the open sky (Fixed framework, 2014), or the literal smoothing out, or rolling out, of a patchwork path across the floor before ascending a wall (Pathways installation, 2014).
Other works play with different biometric forms, including hexagonal honeycomb structures, to produce often abstracted architecture. Paper collages and sequential photo-studies combine rather drab formal modernist housing structures with slabs of textured greenery (Pathways, 2014). Perhaps here, and elsewhere in the exhibition, there is something of the Japanese aesthetic composition known as shin-gyõ-sõ, which refers to three forms of calligraphy: formal block, informal rounded and cursive characters respectively. Reworking striated and smooth space, Shin refers to what
is ‘correct’ and includes austere crafted or structured objects (e.g. cut granite paths, planed wood gates or plastered walls); Sõ refers to grass materials used in their natural state (e.g. stepping stones made from river rocks or lattice gates of woven bamboo); and Gyõ is the playful mixture of the two (see Keane, 2004 and Pilgrim, 1986).
Untitled #1 and Untitled #2 is saturated with the colour red that permeates from tarmac covered surfaces and structures of the site, originally conceived as a utopian housing development in 1961 and inspired partly by Le Corbusier, is contrasted with the fragile interiors of bedrooms.1 Some of the housing is on the verge of redevelopment and the precariousness of the site is juxtaposed with rooms depicting their own transitory existences and transactions: functional almost institutional spaces, with just a few warm personal items punctuating the emptiness. The melancholy photographs are themselves understated; they do not depict the grand spaces of the nineteenth century French brothels that Foucault speaks of, but there is a sense of withdrawal to a quietly ritualistic, guarded microcosmic world at the margins of the everyday.2
In The Resort series (2013/2014), Wilberforce explores an East Anglian coastal village, an isolated but exposed community, with a mix of residential and holiday homes that have sprung up on the site of a once medieval village, destroyed by a storm in 1604. The site bears traces of a 1930s utopian holiday development as well as appropriation as barracks during the Second World War – intertwining layers of history and significance. The location is hard to place, fleeting, impermanent, vulnerable, with overlapping narratives and functions. The work seems to demonstrate the everyday as other, how everyday spaces can intimate, secrete, or enfold heterotopian features. Distinctions of time and place are blurred. The original series of photographs (2013) are themselves understated; they do not depict the ordered utopian communities envisaged by the Jesuits, which are specifically mentioned by Foucault, but they are communities for refuge, retreat, and a different way of life: heterotopian remnants. In The Resort Installation View (2014), exhibited at Chelsea College of Arts, the photographic material is incorporated into three-dimensional emplacements, playfully and intimately breaking and disrupting the spaces, deconstructing and then reconstructing imaginative collages, sculptures and installations. Found objects – doors, panels, window frames – are juxtaposed with close-up interior patterned images - curtains, bed covers, carpets – forming a process of abstraction, but at the same time evoking intimate histories and narratives. Such techniques are explored further in current projects including Pathways (2014) and Ivory Lace (2014), from heterotopian emplacements of the garden and hospital, and reimagining passages and thresholds between private and public, interior and exterior, the everyday and other.
And then we encounter the utterly different pink sea buoy (Lisière, 2014). The smooth, round ball, which is heavy but seems to radiate light, is placed on a square of astroturf. Where did the buoy come from? Why is it there? A series of small mirrors surround a corner of the lawn, reflecting the buoy and each other endlessly. For Deleuze and Guattari, the sea is the archetype of all smooth space, but the
first to be organised. Apparently originating from East Anglican sea waters before traversing along a dry moat in Kent, this buoy is here arranged within another intimate landscape and then repeated, displaced, refracted and reflected openly: caught, abandoned and set free simultaneously in a journey across.
Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (2004). A Thousand Plateaus. London: Continuum
Keane, M. (2004). Japanese Garden Design. Boston: Tuttle Publishing
Pilgrim, R. (1986). ‘Intervals (“Ma”) in Space and Time: Foundations for a Religio-Aesthetic Paradigm in Japan’. History of Religion, 25 (3). 255-277
All the work takes as a starting point everyday places that are often ignored or forgotten and then opens them up to reveal fragile flights of history and multiple layers of meaning. The result has something of the network of connotations that Louis Marin (1993: 411) finds in the French word lisière, a word that combines aspects of the term selvage (relating to textiles) and edge (relating to a wood or village). The term overall refers to a pathless space, a fringe of an edge, a no-man’s –land, ‘the space of a gap, but uncertain of its limits …. an undetermined space’. These meditative, evocative works disclose and explore enclosures that have a fringe structure, a defined yet fraying edge.
Aragon, L. (1994)  Paris Peasant, translated by S. Watson Taylor, Boston: Exact Change.
Foucault, M. (1998)  ‘Different Spaces’, in J. D. Faubion (ed.), Aesthetics, Method, and Epistemology: Essential Works of Foucault Volume 2, London: Penguin, 175-185.
Marin, L. (1993) ‘Frontiers of Utopia: Past and Present’, Critical Inquiry, (19): 397-420.
1. Sheffield’s Park Hill, a brutalist post-war estate by architects Ivor Smith and Jack Lynn was built on the site of 1930s dense housing with high levels of violent crime, and previously, on the worst 19th century slums in Sheffield. When the new site was completed in 1961, it was deemed the most ambitious and successful inner-city development of its time.
2. Foucault formally summarises six principles of heterotopia. They: (a) become established in all cultures but in diverse forms (especially as sites of ‘crisis’ or later ‘deviation’); (b) mutate and have specific operations at different points in history; (c) juxtapose in a single space several incompatible spatial elements; (d) encapsulate spatio-temporal discontinuities or intensities; (e) presuppose an ambivalent system of opening/closing, entry/ exit, distance/penetration; and (f) have a specific operation in relation to other spaces as, for example, illusion or compensation.
The Path That Runs Across
Bond House Project Space
You who build gardens, don’t make parks or green spaces, make margins. Don’t make leisure and game parks, make places of jouissance, make closures that are openings. Don’t make imaginary objects, make fictions. Don’t make representations, make empty spaces, gaps, make neutrality. (Marin, 1992)
‘The path that runs across’ brings together work by three artists whose practices explore the binaries of nature/artifice; expression/control; and imagination/matter. For three months Cheeseman, Nettell and Wilberforce have engaged in a reciprocal creative process, responding to each other’s research and practice in a three-way
dialogue focusing on the manipulation of nature within the urban environment. This has, in turn, informed the development of new works and the configuration of the gallery as a test bed, a controlled environment in which to identify common themes, structures and forms.
Sequential photo-studies of concrete grids in a Modernist garden; a stop-motion animation of a sea buoy run aground; a projected film negative revealing the hexagonal tessellations of a city tree grate; and sculptures combining carved tree stumps with found plastic objects are arranged to create a new and playful landscape typified by the rhythmic patterns of grids and
frames, intervals, fissures and spaces between. The project’s title adapts Louis Marin’s analogy of the Rue Traversière (the road that runs across) in his discussion of gardens’ unexpected, contradictory designs1, while reflecting the pathways that have opened up between and through the artists’ conversations:
1 Marin, L. (1992) Lectures traversières. Paris: Albin Michel
The Other Art Fair, Spoonfed Review
How many art fairs does London need?" So wondered Spoonfed's Music Editor this morning on reading of the launch of The Other Art Fair that took place at the Bargehouse last night. It's the third major art fair to have launched in London this year alone (following Sluice and Moving Image) and on top of SUNDAY and Moniker (launched in 2010) and of course Frieze, London Art Fair, the Affordable Art Fair (now fairs plural), 20/21, Multiplied, Art London and The Future Can Wait, makes, according to our tenuous grasp of mathematics, a whopping 13 art fairs.
But judging by the crowds who were there for the The Other Art Fair's opening, there's still no sign of overkill. One thing in its favour is that it's new (and everyone in the art world loves
novelty) while the other is that the model is quite different from the art fair norm â€“ hence the name. Instead of each stand being given over to a gallery, each of the 80-odd artists at The Other Art Fair are there representing themselves, which means that they receive 100% from the sale of their works... There is work by artists with promise. In particular I like elements of Edward Coyle's architectural architectural muddles; Tom Hodgson's playful darkroom trickery; the less brash of Islamiya Scarr's collages; Kiwa Lam's mathematical paper shapes; Rachel Wilberforce's housing estate photographs [above]; the idea behind EA Byrne's art criticism graphs; and the less obvious of Dan Hillier's menagerie of Victoriana (which seem to be amongst the most popular works at the fair).
There are two genuine highlights though: the darkly absorbing photography of Matthew Booth, whose work recalls, visually at least, that of painter Kerry Brewer. Created by capturing the reflection of an image in a black photograph, these are complex ponderings on the nature of looking and seeing, but slickly finished, with none of the sub-theoretical bilge spewed out elsewhere. The more you look into them, the more you seem to see, or think you see...
[Image: Rachel Wilberforce, Untitled #1, Missing, 2008, Archival Fine Art Giclee Print, Black Stained Lime Wood Frame, 136.3 x 111.8cm]
Untitled #31, Missing, Extract from Missing
Self Published Artist Book
Gary Stevens, 2010
There has been an effort to clean up but the unnatural light reveals the traces that infuse the scene, like a forensic lamp. The pulled curtain during daylight suggests concealment. A murky, sinister spotlight reveals and isolates an element of the scene. All the objects: the soap, towel, air freshener, and bin conceal, cover up and clean. Only the taps seem relatively innocent. We are drawn to the prominent crack in the mirror. Is it evidence of a struggle, a hint of violence? It is a squalid, unloved functional room. The walls, steeped in red, have a symbolic resonance with the paintings of Munch. Any attempt to put a rose-tinted positive spin on the image seems hysterical and smacks of denial.
The warm, cosy, red velvet curtain general effect is undermined by the details. The only solace is that the old-print quality places it in the past. The horror scenario is in balance with a mundane domestic interior. The towel looks clean and the red is a photographic tint. It is sparse but without an extraordinary history and we are merely invited to notice what has been generally neglected. It is a stage where an unconscious ritual is enacted. We only have the intense red that permeates the image and the deliberate framing that suggests that there is something special here.
Strange Places: Sub/Urban Photography as Alternative Urbanism, Stanley Picker Gallery
30 September - 21 November 2009
This show brings together eleven international contemporary artists who propose an alternative mapping of the globalized urban condition and its margins. Whether gazing at ambiguous thresholds on the edges of the urban, or tracing liminal spaces in the city, these photographs explore themes of place, identity, boundaries and the uneasy encounter between land and built environment. Shared across the exhibited work is the near absence of people, as the images do not capture action, but meditate on the spaces where human life unfolds. What emerges from this observation of traces and aftermath is a pervasive poetic quality hinting at the potential beauty of the most unlikely places.
The ideas behind the Strange Places are drawn from both photographic discourses and emerging ideas of alternative urbanism. The broader aim of the show is to argue the increasing relevance of artistic practices such as photography for the exploration and interpretation of complex cultural phenomena like the city and its expansion. Whilst the Bechers and the Dusseldorf School can be seen as an origin for the type of photography gathered in the exhibition, its references are much broader. In the past two decades a growing body of photographic land and cityscapes has challenged established definitions and categories, in an attempt to represent the richness, ambiguity and often conflict of our late modern notion of place.
The artists represented in this show have been increasingly attracted to the blurred boundaries and surprising intersections of culture and nature, fact and fiction, private and public, to produce work that reveals complex modes of inhabitation, appropriation, alienation and destruction. Simultaneously, in the realm of cultural and urban theory, scholars like Andre Corboz, Sebastien Marot and Richard Sennett have consistently argued for a broadening of our intellectual stance and range of media for engaging with the modern urban phenomenon.
The exhibition space will be designed by drdh architects, creating an environment that will provide a further layer to the reading of the exhibition's key themes.
The artists selected for the exhibition are: Hannah Collins (b. 1956, UK), Ori Gersht (b. 1967, Israel/UK), Naoya Hatakeyama (b. 1958, Japan), Stefi Klenz (b. 1979, Germany/UK), Sze Tsung Leong (b.1970 Mexico/USA), Rut Blees Luxemburg (b. 1967, Germany/UK), Simone Nieweg (b. 1962, Germany), Xavier Ribas (b. 1960, Spain), Thomas Weinberger (b. 1964, Germany), Rachel Wilberforce (b. 1975, UK), Bitter/Weber (b. 1960/1957 Austria)
PARANOIA, Arts Monthly
February issue 2007
Being singled out to review an exhibition called ‘Paranoia” at the Freud Museum might make you feel a little anxious. It is almost like being asked to get some therapy by visiting the local shrink. As it turned out it was the exhibition that showed signs of having a split personality. With the opening night’s accent on performance, the museum was used as an event space, and by contrast, viewing the exhibition early the next day let to a far less frantic encounter – yet the inclusion of over 40 artists meant that the exhibition did not necessarily show signs of wanting to be read in a quiet way either.
On the night of the preview, Daniel Baker’s foreboding, roughly hewn wooden signs were stationed on the path to the front door. Collectively titled Wish You Were Here, 2006, they announced warnings like ‘Keep Out’ and No Trespassing’ and provided a house-of-horrors aura to the proceedings. Oreet Ashery, Doug Fishbone and Emilia Telese all staged performances, and it soon became clear that current global tensions set the primary theme. Ashery’s action Left, Right, 2007, for example, involved two male figures fitted out in traditional Muslim and Jewish dress. While the performers sat and massaged the centre of visitor’s hands, the work dealt with the psychological pressure that an individual might experience while simultaneously trying to make sense of each religion’s perspective. In turn, Telese’s The Enemy, 2007, played with Freud’s conception of religion as ‘The Enemy’, and consisted of a performance and installation questioning Catholicism, while Fishbone’s Untitled, 2007, positioned a Muslim character in a small pen and pointed to the idea of religion and the global political situation as mass delusion or paranoid wish fulfilment.
On a more extreme level, Jackie Salloum’s Planet of the Arabs, 2003 - a spectacular collage of clips from mainstream action films depicting Muslims as terrorists and psychotic criminals – was projected in the entrance hall during the opening, while in the exhibition it was shown on a small plasma screen upstairs. The film’s closing credits point out that, out of around 1,000 films watched in the making of the piece, approximately 900 contained negative representations of Muslims. Somehow this did not really come as a surprise, but curatorial canniness had situated this work close to Rachel Wilberforce’s A Time in Place: Halima and Amina, 2007, a work which contained portraits of and notes written by two young British Muslim women. Both speak about how positive they still feel towards showing outward signs of their faith in London after the bombing on July 7 2005. This standpoint emphasised Salloum’s point about the discrepancy in mainstream entertainment and the media about ‘true’ depictions of Muslims in the West, and connected extremely well with Helmut Loehr’s work across the staircase. Loehr’s Picking the Wave of Time, Transmuting PARANOIA, Dedication to Sigmund Freud, 2006/07, consisted of dozens of quotations from Freud written on scraps of paper and pinned to the wall. ‘Our triumph is courage over fear and truth over deceit’ rang true with Wilberforce’s portrait, but also, more uncomfortably, so did the scrap of paper that read ‘remember, nothing is as it appears to be’, which, despite commenting on noble pride in one’s faith, also pointed to the destructive nature of fundamentalist belief. Nearby, Jeremy Deller’s Untitled, 2002, and Franko B’s They Shoot Children, Don’t They?, 2006, sat a little too comfortably together. Deller’s small framed photographs, which present American children sitting on floats in a carnival procession with flags and large crosses, were positioned cleverly on a table next to the Freud family pictures, and although Franko B’s work looked predictable in relation to Deller’s work – bunting of British and American flags splattered with blood hung over the banister of the staircase – it still held a certain power in its attempt to push home the reality of the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Aside from the concern for contemporary art with an accent on crises, religion, war and Middle Eastern art, the exhibition also focused on Balkan work during and after the demise of Yugoslavia, which is a major concern for the exhibition’s curator, Predrag Pajdic. Of this, perhaps Maja Bajevic’s Merry Christmas and Happy New Year, 2005 – which showed wrecks of buildings in Bosnia adorned with elaborately lit Christmas decorations – or Vesna Milicevic’s Cage, 2006 – photos of a Serbian apartment block whose windows face in on each other – were the most successfully ‘paranoid’. There’s an obvious tension between Christianity, war and the aforementioned triumph of courage over fear in the first work, while the latter shares similarities with Mircea Cantor’s well-known Deeparture, 2005, a film projection which captures a deer and wolf imprisoned in a white cube gallery. Each animal in the film keeps its distance and appears confused and dejected, but these could simply speak of emotions that we project onto them, rather than any real tension in the room. If there was a film that really caused confusion in the exhibition, it was Tim Blake’s Big Secret, 2005. Famously ridiculed for his paranoid theories David Icke is shown giving a long monologue to the camera, speaking about ideas oh ‘shape-shifting’. Quoting Morphius from The Matrix, he states emphatically that we are being controlled by a network of secret societies, and that our bodies are ‘prison cells of possibility that are there to delude us’. In a strange way, Blake’s work puts a finger on the sore spot of ambiguity in ‘Paranoia’ that is only hinted at in the more programmatic style of the other work in the exhibition. If Freud said that paranoid delusions are like philosophical systems, or scientific theories, because they try to make sense of the world an our place in it, than Icke’s theories are a classic example of this, and somehow, in the exhibition, the work becomes a metaphor for the possibility of radical political change and its possibility through contemporary art.
If ‘Paranoia’ was successful in any way, it was because it provided a view of the world through political and religious belief in a way that mixed reality and fantasy in equal measure. And, if there is an element of truth on the possibility of a world super state, or the total control of our collective reality through the media, then it might be worth listening to some of the voices in this exhibition. As Icke says ominously about his view that a global elite controls us because our bodies are simply ‘holographic illusions’: ‘If you don’t know that, and the manipulators do, they can simply play you like a violin – and they do.’
PARANOIA, a-n Magazine
September issue, 2007
Paranoia can take on so many guises: is it our own or are we subjected to other people’s feelings of paranoia? Curated by Predrag Pajdic, ‘Paranoia’ includes work by Rachel Wilberforce, Santiago Sierra and Doug Fishbone, among others. The exhibition presents multiple layers of fear, suspicion, delusion and mistrust in the gallery space. Sculpture, painting, drawing and performance are all represented, but film and photography are the dominant media. An audio and visual cacophony greet me as I enter the gallery: I can pick out the warning advice playing from a speaker: “Warning, you are advised to keep all belongings with you at all times...” Am I being watched on the security cameras? This is not a new experience; I am in a public space, but now my guard is up.
The galleries are packed full of works; there are too many for me to write about. Indeed, the show commands repeated viewings as the layers of paranoia take a while to become apparent: themes such as race and human rights issues, gender, sex and religion are consistently interrogated by the artists. Stories are told in the exhibition and it takes some time to read and digest them; there is plenty of material to challenge my established perceptions and understanding of the present socio-political climate. Christel Vesters writes in the exhibition catalogue: “We must contemplate our fears and carefully examine our attitudes. We must speak out.”
Reading Katarina Zdjelav’s text in Round Trip (2005/06), I was astounded at how a person’s life could be so dramatically changed by getting lost on the way to the city train station: to end up at the country’s border and not be allowed back into one’s homeland seems absurd. But it happens. The simple narration in English with grammatical corrections spoke to me in volumes, more so than many of the films in the ground floor gallery.
An ‘Artists’ Immigration Map’ is on the wall as you enter the first gallery and I found it to be a vital tool to help my understanding of the complex geography of where these paranoid artists are from. Did I feel a greater sense of paranoia after visiting the exhibition? No, I didn’t. Perhaps this is because many of the works are film and photography, media that are open to being constructed and manipulated to emphasise, or distort, the truth. These works present a voice for people that our daily news coverage does not include. I say I don’t feel paranoid, but the exhibition has certainly made an impact on me.
The exhibition will tour to Focal Point Gallery, Southend (Oct/Nov 2006) and the Freud Museum, London (Jan/Feb 2007)
PP: Your latest work 'Mirage' is a series of photographs depicting a desert? What is 'Mirage' about?
RW: As the title suggests, the work represents a naturally-occurring visual phenomenon which is not what it seems or appears and is left to Western interpretation and fantasy of the human mind. The somewhat oppressive vast landscapes could allude to either the Middle East or United States of America and, like a mirage, show images of things which are elsewhere.
Anglo-Saxon and Arab worlds are often seen as extreme opposites. Mirage draws parallels between the Middle East and USA and uses landscape as a metaphor for similarities. Although aspects point to both places as oil based cultures and to having polarised political and religious views they also represent an everyday normalcy and routine. Despite the conflicts and the global media's depictions of horror, life goes on with people facing the same concerns, joys and struggles of everyday life.
PP: The Middle East is usually depicted here in the West as an exotic oriental place or as an absolute opposite, the epicentre of conflict and terror. Nothing between. Why do you think that is?
Yes, it is represented as absolute opposites, although, the romanticized oriental depictions of the Middle East are readily being replaced with darker connotations of images of war, death and destruction that dominate the western media and mindset. The in-between represents the normality of everyday human existence and people aren't interested in something that is similar to their everyday lives but rather the remarkable or newsworthy. People feel the need to project their own hopes and fears on others and that takes them away and outside of themselves.
Our perception of time is marked by events that are not part of our habitual existence. Only those things that are remarkable (either good or bad) are remembered and absorbed. The media has to go to extreme lengths in our current society to be noticed and therefore events get polarised. Politicians want to strike fear into the hearts of citizens in order to keep them subdued and more easily led. Perhaps it's also because some people need bogey-men or saviours. The reality is much more subtle and nuanced, which requires much more explanation and thought and is often lost in the drama of events.
PP: Mirage could also be seen as a fabulous dreamlike fantasy caused after a long exhausting journey. Do you think that there will be a time in a near future when people will not take any more of these artificial villainised representations of the Middle East and their people, as an answer? Or is that already happening? These days you don't depend only on your local media, there is the Internet and a possibility to find out many different points of view. What do you think?
RW: I think this is already starting to happen. Both in the USA and the UK there is pressure on Bush and Blair, who are now more widely seen as having taken our countries into an ill advised and badly planned war in Iraq. The excuse was partly based on the supposed 'war on terror', which has been waged for a long time but has largely made the situation worse. Westerners have seen the horrifying effect on ordinary peoples lives living in certain areas of the Middle East coupled with the death and psychological effects on the soldiers there. Additionally it's been a dominant issue for so long that there has been more coverage of different sides so people get a richer view and understanding and are much more sophisticated at gauging emerging news stories. So now people are moving away from black and white views with more sympathy for other positions and seeing the adverse effects of this campaign. There is also recognition of the Middle East's role as a cradle of civilisation and invention and concern over the damage to our collective heritage, highlighting the fact that there are as many similarities as differences between cultures.
You also picked up on another aspect of 'Mirage', which is that parts of the Middle East such as Dubai are seen as luxury holiday destinations for many westerners with an almost theme park like unreality that rivals and is paralleled by places such as Palm Springs, Las Vegas and Disneyland.
PP: Perhaps the idea to look at the Middle East as one is an absolute and the biggest mirage of all. How can one look at such complex and versatile region as one? Don't we finally need to concentrate on individual rather than grouping the ungroupable?
RW: Yes, absolutely. It's only through going deeper and attempting to break apart and understand what seems to be a single unity that different points of view, religions, ethnicity, politics and culture emerge. This process continues all the way down to the individual. Again, I'd like to highlight that the Middle East and the United States are similarly diverse at a regional, cultural, religious and political level and it is very easy to generalise about both regions in a way that isn't helpful when trying to move forward and discover that we are all human beings after all with the same follies, idealism, dreams, nightmares and preconceptions.