August 04, 2012

Icy Resolution

I received an interesting comment left by “anonymous” in response to my blog post about Ben Gwilliam's  molto semplice e cantabile 

“A number of artists have made records out of ice. A more interesting and 
resolved conceptual idea being Katie Paterson”.

Until this I was unfamiliar with Katie Paterson and I am grateful to the commenter for drawing my attention to her; she has some really interesting work including a piece called Langjökull, Snæfellsjökull, Solheimajökull which according to her website is made up of sound recordings from three glaciers in Iceland, pressed into three records, cast, and frozen with the meltwater from each of these glaciers, and played on three turntables until they completely melt. The records were played once and now exist as three digital films. The turntables begin playing together, and for the first ten minutes as the needles trace their way around, the sounds from each glacier merge in and out with the sounds the ice itself creates. The needle catches on the last loop, and the records play for nearly two hours, until completely melted.

Paterson’s ice work is indeed interesting but is it more interesting or more resolved that Gwilliam’s? I find both of them interesting conceptually (I haven’t heard Paterson’s ice melting); but the word ‘resolved’ fascinates me. Unresolved can be a faint but damning artistic criticism and to me resolution in a work relates to the degree to which its conceptual arch completes the idea of the work itself. Can one work be more conceptually complete than another? Of course. 

A comparison between Gwilliam and Paterson feels very much like some of the comparisons in the Text Festival  between the work of one language artist and another, who seem to be engaged in very similar enquiries but coming from very different traditions/artforms. Gwilliam’s work is located in a sound art tradition while Paterson is a conceptual artist engaged primarily in questions of knowledge and science. I see these artists as doing something different and valid with ice.

Although I wouldn’t make this point with any serious intent, but one could argue that Gwilliam’s is more resolved than Paterson’s because the latter’s final resolution is in digital films of the discs melting, whereas the former’s return to the vinyl form from which the sound originated.

However that is spurious because the works are doing something different. Paterson’s is a pure commentary on glacial melting and climate change so its resolution in terms of water resides in the one-way process of its melting, completed in digital documentation –  I appreciate it but I find its resolution linear. Gwilliam includes the process and the performative: molto semplice e cantabile was performed twice which immediately places it in a different (music) space; water is added in the form of spray onto the discs, the 'music' was edited, the artist was hands on, active in the creation of sound and melting. I find Gwilliam’s more interesting and more complex - paradoxical since its title translates as:  “very simple and lyrical” - precisely because it is circular, replicating in its structure the physics of the anomalous expansion of water which creates, destroys and metaphorically creates it. 

August 02, 2012

Beauty Outside the Object

In a meeting earlier in the week, a curator suggested setting up a reciprocal peer review system where curators from nearby galleries could visit each others spaces and offer suggestions for improvement. The example offered was new eyes would be able to spot interpretation labels that might not work very well. Though I didn’t say anything at the time, as you might guess, I thought to myself that I would hope that such a visitor wouldn’t fine a label to review.

Because I have been working on the international touring project for most of the year, I have not curated anything in Bury pretty much since the Text Festival; so imagine the near paternal pride I felt when I popped into the Gallery to see the latest show Beauty in Utility curated by our museum curator Susan Lord: not a single label in sight. In discussion with Susan, she used phrases like “what’s wrong with people experiencing the mystery of not-knowing?” I almost feel my mission is complete! The obsession with museums as education has made the visitor experience didactically one-dimensional and devoid of creative space or invitation for imagination. 

As it is a Bury show that I have had nothing to do with, I can say with a certain impartiality and keenness that Susan has created an exhibition of tranquil beauty, demonstrating that curating is more than simply locating objects and images in a space. Informed by and offering up ideas of beauty in utility (the title tells says exactly what it contains in the tin), the exhibition displays tools from the museum social history collection in a central display + a corner of element, in dialogue with a handful of very cleverly curated wall based artworks by Liz Collini and Ian Hamilton Finlay plus a couple of Victorian industrial drawings. The show functions on so many levels and is all the more powerful for them being present unverbalised. At its simplest the show articulates the osmosis of function with formal beauty and the only issue I would take with it is that rather than the beauty residing in the objects or in the juxtaposition between them, it lays in Susan’s brilliant curation.