A short way into the History is Now Exhibition at the Hayward Gallery there is some work by Lucia Nogueira which the labelling describes as having a “preternatural potency”. I like this. But due to the context and positioning (stuck in a corner) the chances of you feeling this effect in the gallery are pretty slim. But hey it says it on the label so that’s ok. This is not to say that the original work does not have this preternatural potency but in this context it is there as a signifier of the actual work. Which is a pretty amazing stunt to pull off, you know having the original thing as a symbol of itself. Nogueira’s work is not about metaphor because it is metaphor and both inhabits and creates a realm free of the “mind forged manacles” of the Newtonian occident. In case you were wondering (and I certainly was) preternatural is like supernatural but having an earthly although extremely unlikely explanation – freak of nature. So this work serves as a reminder of what we are missing which is the language to either explain our problems or find a solution to them. Amresh Sinha wrote a fantastic essay about Adorno’s Aesthetic theory, which clarifies this whole thing about how art is “of itself” – it is not an equivalent of another form of expression.
This is what he says,
“Art as a medium of language is no longer an expression of itself, but loses its character and is subordinated to meaning which poses a threat to its identity”.
So ironically the show at the Hayward is a manifestation of this endangered state that art is currently in. It’s all about the absence of what art really can be i.e. a way of looking at and talking about that which cannot be expressed in any other way. The show really is like that part of a science fiction film where they gain a skewed insight to an arcane civilisation by what the artefacts infer.
This uncanny aura of “the combine” that permeates the show is, in my opinion, not wholly intentional but does demonstrate that art is a powerful force and will ultimately find a way of expressing itself. Someone at the Hayward has noted this atmosphere of dystopian data overload and in the gift shop there are copies of Richard Littler’s disturbing book Discovering Scarfolk which can only be taken as a nod and a wink to the overblown sense of doom in Roger Hiorns’ BSE installation which offers no lateral insight to the material beyond making you feel you’ve travelled in time to a soviet era science museum. But perhaps that is the point – that we have become a culture obsessed by data analysis and an early modernist FAITH in technology to save us.
Did I say? This exhibition is all about the absence of what art can be? Of the absence of metaphor in out culture? We brits were the most zealous adopters of sms and it feels like, more than any other western culture we have allowed this virtual binary experience to shape us. The first space you come to in the show sums this up fantastically well. Simon Fujiwara has a digital David Hockney drawing at the apex of his installation of artefacts. These drawings were at the point in Hockney’s own Royal Academy show when you thought OMG I liked the paintings but please no these are just the intangible skid marks of your love affair with technology whilst you then skip screaming back to the painting of The Sermon on The Mount to regain your love of humanity. My point being that this digital image, as I think Fugiwara was intending to point out, is equivalence. We have somehow allowed exchange language to replace experience. He also includes some brooms from the clear up after the riots in 2011 when the tweeting of the photo of said sweeping devises being held aloft was an act of exhilarating optimism. I like sweeping because it’s an action that really feels like doing something. Not to be confused with tweeting.
Now this absence thing is more interesting than I initially thought because it feels like Derrida’s ghost has come back with a vengeance. How ironic is that hauntology fans!? Jacques Derrida was very interested in the “trace” which imbues every element of communication, which let’s be honest is everything we can see these days such is our level of choreographed awareness.
"mark of the absence of a presence, an always-already absent present" .
It takes Richard Wentworth to rekindle a flicker of spirit from the ashes of the previous post-promethean take on British culture. He reminds us of the nobility of our creative aspirations after the war. Henry Moore and Paul Nash who he has chosen to feature both fused life and art. They made culture that was of the landscape from which it emerged. The paradigm that has caused the catastrophic tip away from metaphor is obvious really. It has its roots in Clement Greenberg’s hope that we artists should develop a system of critical analysis and this is now soundly fused to the system of funding application that has seeped through the art world making it almost impossible for an artist to think via the work itself. They must know what they are going to do before and then make an equivalent of those ideas. This means that we end up with only the least metaphorical kind of art where clarity of intention is the remaining vestige of the sacred act of creating. Wentworths contribution is not like a dystopian science-fiction narrative rather it is like opening a tomb and weeping at the discovery of the profound and sadly unassailable poetry of a lost culture. Go see.