Invasion and contagion

29 Jul 2010

“We're gonna build a whole new world for ourselves... not poems and rubbish, but science, so we can get everything working”

Following on from my last post-conference post, on interpreting works of art, I wanted to reference some comments made by one of the event's respondents (to Donald Preziosi) Andrea Phillips, a reader in the fine art department of Goldsmiths. Phillips, on the issue of how artists deal with the everyday signs, symbols and politics of the museum (or other sites), brought our attention to those that make use of the bleed between the two and those that, if not avoid it, assert some control over the viewing experience, creating total environments that distinguish their internal concerns from the wider context.

Phillips spoke of current assemblage practices (based on the notion that everything is connected) which use art sites as sets for works that might be seen “props for debate”. Think Rachel Harrison or Tatton Park Biennial's David Burrows and Simon O'Sullivan. On the flip side, Phillips acknowledged, there are artists such as Liam Gillick, who uses objects to “stage discourse”, Mike Nelson and Olafur Eliasson whose “encounter machines [are] constructed to disable curatorial mechanisms”.

One might argue that the artists of this biennial are more concerned with the mechanisms surrounding the site itself than those imposed by any curatorial directive. The inherent theatricality of encountering a work of art in the grounds of a stately home automatically engages one with the notion of a prop, regardless of the artist's intention, for the scene is, to a large extent, set. All works here, whether imposing and sculptural or slight and ephemeral, in some way communicate the challenge of activating spaces already charged to the sensory hilt with signifiers of the past.

Where Helen Marten and Marcia Farquhar have chosen to play with the prop-factor of monumental sculptural traditions associated with the historically significant site, others have opted to assert their right to temporary occupancy by sequestering portions of it. These worlds within worlds, however, like parts of this national treasure, are not always open for public access. Both Jamie Shovlin's and Jem Finer's sheds allude to Tatton's past, amusements cultivated (mind-altering substances and fear-inducing after-dinner games), yet appear of possible functional use to the present.

Shovlin has worked with the drama of the woodland setting, creating a narrative space for mental projection as opposed to physical entry -- the unsettling effect of the object in situ is as powerful as the compulsion to follow an arrow on any visitor trail. Finer's steel-bauble, meanwhile, is every bit the “encounter machine” within which he distracts one from the oddity of being in Tatton (and looking at art) with that of being held to the earth by gravity. The 360-degree view of the surroundings Finer appears to have conjured reminds that however seemingly fixed one's position, the perspective is always relative.

Posted by Rebecca Geldard at 7:27 AM