Thursday, September 28

Minimal Effort and Repetitive Stress

Since seeing work by B. Wurtz last month and Matthew Higgs last spring, I’ve been thinking lately about minimal effort put into works of art. One work I saw in a group show at Tanya Bonakdar Gallery in the second-floor space strikes me in particular. The exhibition is called Satellites and is organized by Erin Manns and Francesco Manacorda. The show has four British artists—Ryan Gander, Ian Kiaer, Simon Popper, and Sue Tompkins—and one collective, i-cabin.

I like Gander’s work best, especially Association Photograph: And the advice to friends, a color photograph and plaque from 2004, and The Mechanics of Form 1 (a, b, c) from 2002/6, which is pictured here. I have typed up a description of the latter work from the gallery handout, which contains a statement by the artist:
The three blank poster sheets are representative of formal hierarchies attached to the distribution of images. In the artist’s words, “the one that’s rolled up to be transported in a tube sits at the top of a hierarchy of artistic/commercial value. It’s the one that the owner would probably take the most care in transporting. It could be considered the most precious, valuable, and unique, due to the fact that, out of the three, it probably has the lowest print run. It’s also the one that is likely to be seen by the least number of people, as it is generally the sort of poster sold at, or sent to individuals from, museums or galleries. The next one in the series is folded three times, and thus appears divided into eight segments, like a common flyer or hand-out leaflet. This one sits at the bottom of the value hierarchy, because it is less unique, printed in the largest edition; it is also small and therefore easily portable. When I made the one that’s folded twice with visible staple holes I was thinking about the type of pullout poster I used to find in magazines like the British teen pop music weeklies Smash Hits or Look-In during the eighties. I recall having a poster on my bedroom wall of Kylie Minogue and Jason Donovan around the time their duet Especially for You was out. The poster came free with the magazine, which I was obviously pleased about, but due to the conditions of production and distribution of this, Jason had a crease across his forehead around his eyebrows, and Kylie sported staple holes and a tiny tear on the right of her nose.”
I like this proposition about dematerializing methods of distribution to foreground the value attributed to objects (and those that are not necessarily art objects). It’s especially amusing when Gander talks about print runs because there’s nothing on his works at all. These three sheets of paper are untouched by the artist, except for folds in two of them, requiring minimal effort on the artist’s behalf to produce. Even more so than Wurtz, whose pedestal sculptures are surprisingly well built (especially the wooden bases) and wall-hung works carefully crafted. The conceptual implications of Gander’s gesture run deep, despite the minimum effort.

Gander’s work has made me expand a curatorial project that I am working on now. The exhibition was to be about repetitive stress, that is, artwork that emphasizes duration to the point of exhaustion. This would involve both performance-based stuff (Jamie Isenstein, for example) and art that emphasizes strain and duress in their creation (the drawings of Daniel Zeller). It would be an interesting juxtaposition to pair this kind of work with that created by Gander and others, who barely touch the objects they make, if they make anything at all. The meeting point of the two tendencies, I think, is Tom Friedman’s 1,000 Hours of Staring (1992–97). His presentation is a blank sheet of 8.5 x 11 inch paper, but the actual work is of a tedious, mind-numbing (or mind-expanding) nature. When I saw the Friedman show at the New Museum of Contemporary Art a few years ago, I felt guilty for spending about thirty seconds contemplating the piece of paper.

Related thought: I wish that I had seen an exhibition at the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts in San Francisco earlier this year, called The History of Invisible Art. I had lunch with the college’s director of public relations last week, who promised that she would send the catalogue to me. Must e-mail her tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

Ryan Gander is an exceedingly smart artist for whom I have great respect, especially in light of this -- -- a new project that began tonight.


Christopher Howard said...

I really haven't been able to shake these three sheets of paper since I saw them Saturday. The Associates Gallery is a great project (100 percent of sales go to the artist?). I've dreamed of winning the lottery, opening a kunsthalle called the Lottery, and doing a similar kind of project. But I don't play the lottery so this will of course never happen.