Dan Munn – 25 July, 2012
The wine glass is both Culbert's and the archetypal glass, filled with the produce of French vines; a substance ubiquitous in wine stores across the country. In this way the single object and the solitary activity of artistic production opens out into the democratic social space of vin du table and time shared with friends.
May 26th - July 14th 2012
This summer at Laurent Delaye in London Bill Culbert exhibits a selection of photography and sculpture, incorporating a substantial cross-section of the motifs and structures of composition he has used throughout his career. As this presentation covers a lot of ground we will devote our attention mainly to the photographs from the 1980s and early 1990s. Also included are three light box works produced between 1971 and 1981 charting a transition using brand new materials to intervening with existing design objects such a biscuit tin in Sugar Box (1981).
In 1961 Culbert and his wife drove a Citroen 2CV from Paris to Croagnes, where he established a home and studio. These rural surrounds would later become both backdrop and inventory for the artist’s photographic work, including the 2CV series. In a number of the works in this series we see components of the 2CV singled out, reenacting in a way the function of the vehicle itself, establishing new connections across space. In one particular image from this series we see the Croagnes rubbish tip, a local archive of sorts from which Culbert has sourced material over the years. In the image directly above this the artist’s daughter wears a t-shirt with a drawing by the artist. Done in the style of his early constructivist paintings, each panel of a 2CV is articulated as a planar surface. The uniqueness of this particular image comes not only from the rareness of such figural images within Culbert’s work, but also from the way in which it acts as a time capsule. The model’s eyes closed against the light of the Luberon, we peer back across time and the English Channel to the artist’s time as a student at the Royal College of Art in London.
Richard Wentworth, Head of Sculpture at the Royal College, gives a British standpoint on Culbert’s international practice.
“I met Bill at Rene Block’s Sydney Biennale and we spent some nice older brother/son times bumping about in the last days before the world felt globalised. There is a smallholder intelligence in a lot of Bill’s material transactions, something which I pick up from my opera singer friend Keith Lewis’s description of the deep agricultural connection in New Zealand, as much as I recognise it from the independent mindedness of the French paysan [peasant]. For me it was Peter de Francia who alerted me to all this stuff, and how it connects through Levi-Strauss, back to Duchamp using a quincaillerie [hardware store] as a museum. Very occasionally, this becomes an impossible terrain for artists (you see the problem in Man Ray) but Bill is incredibly good at steering round the coy and reminding you of a dusty hobo intelligence.”
The French word ‘paysan,’ which translates to ‘peasant’ or ‘farmer’ in English, doesn’t define an occupation but rather a set of traditional skills passed down which give the individual an ability to shape his or her environment. That an artist working across France, Britain, and New Zealand befits such a comparison is a testament to his long term engagement with and sensitivity to these particular natural, cultural, and social landscapes.
In composing his monograph Making Light Work (2009) writer Ian Wedde carried out much of his research through discussions at the artist’s dining table, “lit by a version of one of Culbert’s best known works, three Total oil containers pierced by a fluorescent tube.” Here we see that the everyday tools which Culbert uses readymade in his assemblages much of the time describe, stem from, or reflect on his own personal way of life. This can be seen in his work with wine and wine receptacles included in the exhibition such as Wine, Perspective I and II (both 1995) and Verre a vin (1992). They transform the dining table alternately into an abstract geometric space, a frame for social occasions, and a conduit of nature. Light is eclipsed, distorted by, and projected through containers of wine, doubling their forms across the space and bringing to it both perspective and atmosphere. The wine glass is both Culbert’s and the archetypal glass, filled with the produce of French vines; a substance ubiquitous in wine stores across the country. In this way the single object and the solitary activity of artistic production opens out into the democratic social space of vin du table and time shared with friends.
The artist evokes travel in a similar way, first reducing it to its mechanism. In Total (1991) raw plastic peeks through under the worn down label of an oil container; an illustration of a family driving off towards the horizon. Here and in stickered Samsonite travel cases or the dissembled components of a 2CV propped against the French countryside we encounter vintage textures that evidence past use and anchor the objects to their point of origin.
In Sunset I-III, 1990-1993 we see a hands-on juxtaposition of the embodiments of light; the written word ‘sunlight’ is lit up, natural light masquerades as manmade light, the action of light is mimicked in its receptacle. To produce these images the artist created assemblages during the day and then documented them in the light of ‘the dying sun’s rays’ (as writer Pennie Hunt acutely pens). In a sense Culbert’s objects are frequently on their last legs, many being literally rescued from the tip. As a natural progression from the artist’s early work and its debt to constructivist design these photographs do stem from the kinds of pictures that any good travel agency should have; sunset, wine and vineyard, vintage car. However at their core they attend to objects at the end of their functional life, reconfiguring these pictures and their collective ambitions. Accepting the ‘lived in,’ Culbert allows for his own personal mark, and in doing so takes on the roles of both guide and subject.
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