Joseph Grigely: The Gregory Battcock Archive

Marian Goodman Gallery, London, 21 June – 29 July 2016

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Joseph Grigely, The Gregory Battcock Archive (detail), 2009 – 16. Image courtesy the artist and Marian Goodman Gallery.

In any visit to an exhibition there’s always something of the shifty air of dumpster-diving: sifting through someone else’s stuff, trying to piece together what kind of person, or persona, has moved on from the things that have been left behind. We’re only temporary trespassers, haunted by the absent spectres we conjure from the remains. The Gregory Battcock Archive is doubly haunted, a small room of seven elegant vitrines filled with photographs, letters, scripts, zines, postcards and other ephemera, accompanied by several posters and one small, moody painting on the wall; the ghosts in this room are not only Battcock, a writer and critic who was active in the heyday of 1960s and 70s New York City and was found murdered in 1980, but also Joseph Grigely, the artist who accidentally stumbled upon Battcock’s papers during the 1990s after a storage company closed, and left its clients’ possession strewn across a floor of Grigely’s studio building. Grigely’s resulting artwork, The Gregory Battcock Archive (2009–16) isn’t so much an archive as a subjective selection from Battcock’s papers – or, more specifically, some stuff that Grigely held on to before the rest was donated to the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art – that has been shown in various places over the past seven years, including the 2014 Whitney Biennial, and now here in the UK for the first time. Continue reading

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David Lamelas: Publication

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David Lamelas’s September 1970 exhibition at London gallery Nigel Greenwood Inc Ltd consisted of a table with a 48-page book on it. The eponymous Publication, just reprinted by not-for-profit publishers Primary Information, consists of 13 written responses to the statements: ‘1) Use of oral and written language as an Artform; 2) Language can be considered as an Artform; 3) Language cannot be considered as an Artform.’ Most the replies are on the same bland register. ‘I think artists will be using language to make their art for a long time,’ Robert Barry states flatly. Yep. Continue reading

The Mutants We Will Become

Rolf Nowotny, 'Sur Pollen' installation view, Tranen Contemporary Art Centre, 2015. Image courtesy the artist.

Rolf Nowotny, ‘Sur Pollen’ installation view, Tranen Contemporary Art Centre, 2015. Image courtesy the artist.

A man contracts an unknown illness: rainbow-coloured, rotting boils begin to cover his face and body. Afraid of being infected, his neighbours cast him out of the village, to live alone in a hut in the nearby forest. There,  he swells and mutates into a reeking, globular mass, his distended form almost seeming to merge with the mushrooms and moulds that have grown in his fetid dwelling, as he spends his days painting flowers and animals. Hideshi Hino’s manga fable Zoroko no Kibyou (Zoroku’s Strange Disease, 1969) culminates in the villagers marching into the woods to kill the deformed man. What they find in his stead is a giant turtle with a magnificently bright shell – the colours of which match Zoroku’s psychedelic pustules – who then disappears. All that remains is a series of luminous landscape paintings made with blood and pus. Continue reading

Colin Guillemet: Smoothed Operators

Colin Guillemet, XXL. Mutt, 2013. Image courtesy the artist.

Colin Guillemet, XXL. Mutt, 2013. Image courtesy the artist.

Transcription of a lecture recorded on April 23, 2015:

 

Let us begin with a look at that most emblematic of Romantic poets:

For oft when on my couch I lie

In vacant or pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude,

And then my heart with pleasure fills

And dances with the daffodils.

Consider, for a moment, where the poem places us, the reader. The titular opening line of Wordsworth’s oft-cited poem ‘I wandered lonely as a cloud’ (1807) gives us a simile that presents the image of an anthropomorphised, forlorn cloud. As if we are outdoors watching the poet on a pleasant outdoor stroll, it puts us firmly in the role of a standby spectator, or maybe a fellow rambler. But as we approach the closing lines above, it turns out instead that we have the whole time been indoors, as he lounges dejectedly on his sofa. More specifically, inside his head: the vision we’ve been subject to is that of his ‘inward eye’. We finish the poem trapped in this space, standing next to a dancing, stuffed heart, as if we’re at some sort of internal organ-vegetation wedding party. Continue reading

Keep Talking

The Death of the Unreliable Narrator

Ed Atkins, Ribbons, 2014. Image courtesy of the artist and Cabinet, London

Ed Atkins, Ribbons, 2014. Image courtesy of the artist and Cabinet, London

‘Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain!’ So the flustered old man shouts while fidgeting with the partition that kept him, and the controls for his distracting light and sound displays, hidden. The old man is, of course, the supposed Wizard of Oz, the scene from the 1939 film providing the starting point for countless books and essays on the qualities of sound and narration in film (yes, including this one). The authority of the wizard, an apparent god-like power, who is revealed to be merely a nervous man tinkering with an amplifier and a smoke machine, gives a concise and classic example of the trope of the unreliable narrator: when what we are being told is bending things a bit, misleading us, or just plain untrue. The unreliable narrator is a concept with which we are all familiar – whether in the form of boastful exploits in the Life and Exploits of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, 1759-67, or in Kevin Spacey’s voiceover from the grave in American Beauty, 1999. The dissonance between what we are being told and what is being made revealed has long been used as a tool in fiction and art; but what happens when the unreliable narrator becomes ubiquitous and all narration is untrustworthy? What happens when the unreliable narrator becomes the only narrator in town? Continue reading

John Latham: Spray Paintings

Lisson Gallery, 1 April – 7 May 2016

John Latham, Two Noit. One Second Drawing, 1970-71. Image courtesy the John Latham Foundation and Lisson Gallery, photo by Ken Adlard.

John Latham, Two Noit. One Second Drawing, 1970-71. Image courtesy the John Latham Foundation and Lisson Gallery, photo by Ken Adlard.

Halloween, 1954: an astronomer and animal ethnologist couple, with an interest in the paranormal, invite artist John Latham to create a mural for a party in their Hampshire home. In response, Latham gets a spray gun from an ironmonger and spurts their white wall (or, in some accounts, their ceiling) with black paint. The resulting burst of dots sets off a series of associations for the artist: a sculpture, performance, drawing and painting all at once, that looks like an inverse night sky. The spray gun becomes a regular feature in his work, but also a tool to think through his growing theory that physics has got it all wrong: the basic unit of the universe isn’t the particle, but a minimal, time-based something, anything, happening – what he later called a ‘least event’. Latham’s widespread influence hasn’t been so much the result of his early splotchy part-figurative paintings, or his later muddy, messy assemblages and destructive performances, but is more due to his persistent promotion of the artist as a sort of eccentric natural philosopher. Continue reading