Letters home -- biennial art works on the move

22 Oct 2010

As the biennial blogger I am never far away from the project but was quite surprised to receive two such specific reminders of Tatton 2010 during London's biggest annual art week: Frieze. Biennial artworks do travel, but should they and where else might they be welcome?

The fringe was predictably packed with big-name shows at the major spaces, such as Louise Bourgeois, James Turrell, Isaac Julien and the 2010 biennial's own Jimmie Durham with a small but conceptually rich cluster of objects at Sprovieri. It was not a big shock to discover oil drums in residence given that they have featured within recent projects exploring his Cherokee heritage. I could imagine, 'Spring Fever', Durham's outdoor work for Tatton, recreated in some fashion for another context. But, given the temporary feel of the construction and the very basic nature of the parts, had presumed it, naively perhaps, to be more of a recyclable gesture than a gallery commodity.

Experiencing the work again, in London, was like meeting someone of personal significance who had been through something since last you met. You want to examine them for physical signs of the past to make sure it was as you remembered. And sure enough, crouching down over the pools of dried paint, now more nail-varnish enamel than pollutant on the wooden floor, I found the tell-tale blades of dead grass and wondered about the corresponding footprint it had left back in Cheshire. Who else would even care or notice? In some small way, though, I wished I had not been allowed to breach the orange building site fence that once contained it.

While Frieze certainly wasn't a sombre, or purposely low-key af(fair) this year, adjectives like 'serious' and 'considered' sprung to mind while pacing the grid. The mood was somewhere between the make-do-and-mend sculptural sensibility of many shows last year and the flashy, high-production, often large-in-scale works associated with the rise of the art fair and the biennial alike. Spartacus Chetwynd's outlandish floppy performance props certainly took up a lot space at the younger (scruffier) end of the tent in 'Frame', but the monumental remained for the large part a point of reference than a physical reality, as exemplified by Thomas Houseago's troubled, half-made figures and a fine Kutlug Ataman anthill of video monitors.

There is no denying that the big, boom-time commercio-savvy or -critical works suit the art-fair environment. But what of the comparatively complex, quieter, or (externally) site-specific works that galleries bring to represent their business? Lisson gallery always have a prime spot at Frieze – one of the first booths you see upon entry through the turnstiles. And like most of the bigger commercial galleries they had safely opted for a cornucopic mix of works by artists on the roster: from the shiny minimal sculptures of Anish Kapoor to the ingenious object-trouve tech experiments of the recently signed Haroon Mirza.

And there it was, nestling amongst the other works (art-world players and celebrities passing through), Ryan Gander's bat-winged bird of paradise, displaced: a non-resident with a new temporary identity. Gander's fake relic is a curious object, regardless of where one might find it and the shoddy historical associations it fostered in the white box brought cargo cultism to mind. For this fiction made object, in a new home, acquired yet more shady provenantial layers: “B is for Bird of Paradise, Ryan Gander’s mythological creature discovered by the fictional Fourth Baron Egerton (B7)”, wrote one blogger in his fair roundup. Whether perceived as a Museum of Everything-type curio from Gander's studio or a work of art, this biennial commission seemed just as relelvant to a barmy market place – all that's stuffed ain't necessarily antique.

Posted by Rebecca Geldard at 10:53 PM