Thursday, 14 June 2012

Invisible - Hayward Gallery

Invisible. Art about the unseen. This show at the Hayward is sublime. It is also by turns maddening and hilarious. It’s like your very own immersion in the joke about trees in the woods making a sound when no ones there to give a shit. Or like you stepped into a film delighting in the extended agony of art pretentiousness. Wear a polar-neck. It’s that good. It's also very like being in a sci-fi lunatic asylum. Right now that’s out of my system I can admit that I did come away thinking I will never make any art again. It’s like the world is too cluttered with culture already. I thought about the words of Salvator Rosa in his stoic self portrait, "Be quiet, unless your speech be better than silence". Despite the fact that this show is literally nothing except explanations on walls about nothing (spoiler alert) the same life/art dialectics resurface again and again. Teresa Margolles is a fully qualified forensic scientist who specialised in autopsies of victims of violent crime. When she became an artist she made an air-conditioned room in which the devises were cooled by the water used to clean the bodies before autopsy. The explanatory note reassures us that the water vapour is harmless. The point being that living in Mexico City often isn’t. Faced with this any art pursuing joy seems trivial. Perhaps this is why Yoko Ono’s typed painting pieces in the show work so well. They are deliberately trivial and yet sublime. Her more recent, less subtle, work on twitter fades into oblivion for a fleeting moment. Some of my friends in David Devant and his Spirit Wife were taught by someone from Art and Language who also created an air-conditioned room n the invisible show. Theirs was much more fun and almost didn’t make me want to stop making art. Their idea was that all art objects are only experienced through a mediated framework of language. It was very funny to walk around this show, which was mainly white trying to find something for your eye/mind/soul to cling onto and find only the almost invisible explanatory notes. It induced a certain giddiness. Any road up A and L posited the written framework outside the air-conditioned room and some of it seemed to talk about how ordinarily we screen out such things as the temperature of the room because it is not relevant – except that it is. They condition the room to give it a neutral normalness. When we view art there is an awful lot of screening and filtering that goes on. Were Art and Language warning us? I certainly don’t think they were trying to establish a template but that is what seems to have happened. This reminds me of a line from Aldus Huxley who was an undeniably literary chap yet still insisted that “In a world where education is predominantly verbal, highly educated people find it all but impossible to pay serious attention to anything but words and notions.” As you leave the exhibition there is an invisible maze which marks a reassuring return to art as amusement with a sprinkling of metaphysics. I found my way out via the vibrating head set and the invigilator had a contented pride in helping visitors to engage with the piece. Jolly good. As I left I began to think about Utopian whiteness and the accompanying feeling of contentment that denies “joy and woe” to quote Blake. It is this that we see in Huxley’s “Brave New World” and also I realised in a painting of nothing I made early this century. I had made a door shaped canvas using joints and chisel techniques my father had recently shown me. For this reason the object itself was a source of no small amount of satisfaction. I found myself thinking that anything I paint on it would ruin it. Miro suggested that the origins of art are within the urge to soil or degrade but I tentatively tried not to change the canvas whilst painting upon it. What emerged was a terrifying view of a Utopian asinine heaven where the vague outline of a man on a beach holding a brick like mobile is visible. In this version of heaven technology is the drug of contentment. No joy or woe. The “painting” has disappeared into the now defunct vaults of a gallery that used to be in Notting Hill and I am left with only the two photos recovered folder of iPhoto to ponder.

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