John Hurrell – 22 November, 2011
One of the works Intractable is a linguistic diagram that mocks the attempts of galleries and libraries to control bodily behaviour of visitors in their spaces. It mischievously conflates the two institutions in its fake analysis of their 'rules.' Normally you can fingerlick as much as you want to in a gallery as long as you don't touch, and usually in a library you can touch as much as you wish, and if you are going to fingerlick - in most libraries who is going to notice?
Furniture, Plan, Rival Brain
9 November - 3 December 2011
Ruth Buchanan has been briefly written about by both Mark Amery and myself in various group shows, and though she has been living (studying and exhibiting) for some time now in Europe and occasionally appeared in Frieze magazine, she is pretty well unknown in Aotearoa. Perhaps exposure in Kate Montgomery’s imminent Prospect show in Wellington will change all that.
Though she as an artist is preoccupied (in my view) with the nuances of language as a sort of substance (beyond sound or sight, though she exploits both) and how we use it to mediate our place in the world - Buchanan has a sensibility with material and sensuality that goes with it. It is not arid, though at times her content can seem arch and hyper-rarefied. Steeped in the spatial metaphors of literary giants like Woolf, Frame and Dickinson she clearly loves riffing on the syntactical structure of texts, paralleling say the piano playing of Cecil Taylor or the painting of Jonathan Lasker with her Steinlike use of rhythmical sequences and varied repetition.
There are certain images Buchanan likes to use as tropes, sensual objects like rectangular mirrors (showcasing language’s indeterminate attempts at correlation with the world), translucent curtains (symbolic screens for public/private, hidden/exposed or the expressible/undescribable), and projected slides of vertically revolving tables (viewpoints of truth, existential instability).
The various displayed items take on syntactical functions as if rearrangable components in a sentence. It is also as if the exhibition were that sentence flaunting its punctuation, the curtains a wavy line in word processor formatting, the headphones a set of round brackets (as if in a Lawrence Weiner text), the turning table square brackets, the mirror propped up off the floor a leaning slash, and a film of shining torches that alludes to Flora Scale’s painted oranges an ellipsis (punning about art historical omissions) - or when vertical, a colon.
With Sculptor, Buchanan’s headphones/audio work, the process of communication while describing a space is compared to the behaviour of weather. The text is self reflexive, subtly making meteorological and psychological comparisons in terms of its own processes, but also rich in variations of vocal inflection and mood temperature, depending on when the artist has stopped reading and restarted - plus exploiting varied mannerisms of accent and enunciation.
One digital print, Intractable, is a linguistic diagram that mocks the attempts of galleries and libraries to control bodily behaviour of visitors in their spaces. It mischievously conflates the two institutions in its fake analysis of their ‘rules’. Normally you can fingerlick as much as you want to in a gallery as long as you don’t touch, and usually in a library you can touch as much as you wish - so if you unwisely fingerlick, who is going to notice? As you work your way down reading, the language gets confusing by introducing double negatives that make positives. It eventually insists on touching and fingerlicking, actually ordering it and encouraging it ‘as much as possible’, and even saying ‘as much as’ the visitor ‘possibly can’ - as if they can do more than the possible.
A similar work is a chair on which lies a roughly folded yellow t-shirt on which is printed the word Improvisation. The fact that you can decipher it (without touching the garment) raises doubts that extemporisation has occurred.
Another sculpture, the title work Furniture, Plan, Rival Brain, consists of a vitrine (a table with a Perspex top) and enclosed items. The same table can be seen in the carousel of slides, constantly rotating. Under the clear cover (itself part of the Furniture), we see a handmade rug which is a woven graph with X and Y co-ordinates (the Plan: a mechanistic conceptual strategy?), two collages (one gridded and ‘rational’, the other organic and ‘improvised’) and a lumpy, green, papier maché broccoli (the Rival Brain?). It is a clever joke about seemingly rival approaches to art practice.
Two other items, a set of matching orange gouache drawings, show an imagined room with a curtain, window, chair (it’s toppling over) and three big screens. On top are fastened in each, a set of three typed cards. You can read those cards in the images with this review.
One says this: Speaking in space is like moving furniture around a room. (The words are typed to make a drawing, a rectangular cross-section of a room.) Another states My body is a sentence. (It is written so as to resemble a standing body with an outstretched arm.) And in fact the gallery handout, Buchanan’s catalogue sheet, elaborates with a statement that For many of us the brain does indeed resemble a room, around which we move, navigating, attempting to enter or order or expose…
We have then an overlapping of brain, syntax, body, vitrine, self and room - a mingling of figurative elements that interconnect and loop back across the space, waiting for (because - after all - it is Art) your visit.
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