Michael Phillipson’s playful rumination on the spirit of The London Group Annual and the potential of its collective project.
the tattered remnants of an overheard conversation exhumed, retitled, re-redacted by Michael Phillipson LG
Two conversational snippets captured by ‘…Only Connect…’ (a branch of the LiggHaire TLC Art-Consumer Response Unit (see the photo courtesy of ‘..Only Connect…’) of the earth rod site of their locally secreted remote-control-recorder approximately hard by the corners of Worncall Road and Deeth Street). Snippets faithlessly transcribed on behalf of the organisation by an MP.
Snippet 1 at 1 pm:
A: Aaaah, at last! Here’s the gallery I told you about – the ‘Chillo Fict Tree’. We should just catch Thurlund Ongröope’s installation before it closes.
Z: Thurlund Ongröope? That’s not an artist I’m familiar with. Daynish? Suedish? Finish? Eyerish? Spinish? Phlegmish?
A: No, Londonish actually, though London is of course unboundaryable now; it can be virtually anywhere and everywhere in these so late digi-daze-days. Let’s go in, I’d like to know your response to the show.
Z: Good! But installation’s not exactly my bag you know…water colours, sable brushes perhaps but…
Snippet 2 some 5 hours later after 6 pm:
A: So what did you make of it? Converted you to installation art?
Z: What a delightful gallery – light, airy, with a quirky sense of welcoming roomy strangeness in spite of being packed to the gills with idiosyncratically disparate gests. It almost achieved the impossible by making the show’s quirky gathering seem at home there.
A: I’m glad you said ‘almost’ for, as I’m sure you will have worked out for yourself, and as Thurlund knows only too well, the very point of making-for-art now, surrounded as we are by what my dear old friend Phil Roth calls the world of ‘Total Entertainment’, is to put forth things that are precisely unheimlich, unhomely, out of kilter with their times and places. Makers have to make for something, somewhere, that is absolutely ‘other’ – elsewhere to ‘what is’.
Z: Sure! But here we are slap-bang in the middle of a city renowned for its exemplary institutions’ displays of the singular visions of the world’s supposedly greatest artists, while this Thurlund character goes out of the way, however brilliant the execution and aligning of the fragments, to deny, possibly even to mock, the need for any such singularity as the defining mark of a maker’s vision. What Ongröope seemed dead set on enacting was the effects of a multiple personality lost to itself! In any other context this would surely be taken as symptomatic of a serious psyche-hat-trick disorder with all the ontologically disintegrative character damage that goes with it. The show was a gathering of scintillatingly engaging shards that seemed to lack any visible common ground. What on earth was going on?
A: Undoubtedly something unurthly, perhaps even urthrodish. But I’m glad you qualified your response with that ‘visible’! For this was sURely a show in which one has to see through and past the sURfaces of the perspicaciously suspended and aligned gests (thanks, I gather, to the team of trusty co-hangers who took over the exhibition’s installation from a physically and emotionally drained Ongröope) to the essential reason-for-being of the installation itself. Try to imagine the elusive Thurlund as a paradoxical singular-composite, a kind of familial cooperative of apartnesses…
Z: …apartnesses, hmmmm, that’s not a word I’m familiar with…
A: …me neither, but it seems to fit. Anyway, while each of these self-separating fragments may sing to us (or not…) on its own inimitable terms, old Thurlund…
Z: …am I to hear that ‘old’ literally?
A: Aaaaah well, perhaps the ‘ur’ in Thurlund (as DÜRer and TURner already remind us…) draws us inexorably into the Ur- of our unfindable and hence unexcavatable (de Kooning notwithstanding) origins, or should that be Ur-igins? But, with luck, at least the now ageing codger (or could that be codgUR, who knows…) should have received the sovereign’s centennial greetings some time ago. Thurlund’s perennial fear is, of course, that the all too fragile body may just be taken out by the creeping insidious silent, and now all too common, InTheRedoma, or perhaps by a sudden and devastating attack of the recently resisted smaulgroopeyetis (against which the body has had little time to develop its resistance). And some of Thurlund’s friends have apparently warned that the body’s defence mechanisms may now be under cellular threat through some of its art-cells bizarrely turning against themselves and self-transforming into curating-cells, which could generate a massive delusional and incURable attack. Hopefully the body’s defence mechanism is already kicking cURateosis into touch.
Z: Oh dear, the outlook seems distinctly minatory. So is this ageing and parlous body’s installation offering itself as a kind of passing sURrogate for Art’s ever-retreating threatened Body?
A: Look, just like Art’s pathetically weak Body, Ongröope has nevertheless developed a strangely resilient frame through having had, since birth, to fend entirely for itself as a homeless committed itinerant. It now appears to have adapted to its lack of any firm ground or place of its own where it can rest easy. It seems to float detached somewhere between the Body of Culture (under whose sorry sway we must all live out our all too drab routines) and Art’s definitively Other Body through which all who make-towards it as a life-commitment seek to be absorbed and suckled. This is always where you will find Ongröope drifting – in-between – aside from locations and institutions.
Z: Sounds like a rough old life!
A: Certainly being-at-ease has never been on its agenda or drafted into its constitution.
Z: So what’s Ongröope doing here in the so-called ‘Chillo Fict Tree’? Isn’t this precisely a location, a grounded resting place?
A: Like a flitting butterfly Thurlund knows that this body has to alight every now and then, always very temporarily, for the nectar that is its sustenance. Wild bee-like it lives for and sups off the occasion itself; it tries to chill out in and through its strange ficts. For a few brief hours the ‘Chillo Fict Tree’ doubles and hums as a wee hive-of-making where many small sweetly sharp droplets are set forth, exemplified on this occasion by the multiple inimitables constituting Thurlund’s installation. Yet, of course, if one approaches it as a singular-composite it has rather different implications.
Z: You mean something like the strange ’pataphamilial apartnesses you referred to earlier, a sort of union of irreconcilables, a collective of distant cousins (twice (or more) removed perhaps) who had never met before?
A: Exactly! Ongröope’s weird gathering hangs together, if at all, through a kind of web of unlocatable graphene-like immaterials. It hangs on in there through the perverse strengths of its very defining weakness – its being detached from all those forms of power that seek to maintain control over Art’s Body now. Just look, for example, up the road at the État Gallery, a true engine of late-modernity, whose prime reason for being is to assert the visibility of its own power over Art.
Z: So what exceeds and gathers together each of the singular fragments constituting this installation is a sort of will-to-cooperate-in-the-face-of-whatever-authority?
A: I believe so. And, of course, that has consequences in turn for each of those tiny gest-fragments here. For, by its placement as one disparate among many such disparates, each of Thurlund’s fragments has to give up a bit of itself, give something of itself away, to the gathering whose figure, running invisibly through all of them, binds them together in and as their differences.
Z: You mean each becomes slightly less than itself, a kind of mini-cello of itself, precisely by being here?
A: Maybe we can see each gesticello here as a singular but ever so slightly diminished independent exclamation whose point in the installation is to contribute to the off-beat storyline that the installation perhaps seeks to display…
Z: …which is a story that tells us about the irresolvable tension between being-on-yoUR-own…
A: …every artist’s founding fate…
Z: …and being-together with others in catastrophic times.
A: When were the times anything else for making-for-art!
Z: If, then, each, by its very installed presence, is ceding something of itself to this nebulous figURe of the will-to-cooperate, does it get something back in retURn, some little supplement, like an unquantifiable bonus?
A: Perhaps, just for the exhibition’s brief period, each frees itself from all the external judgments of aesthetic value that are routinely imposed on every gest that enters the public domain. It gains a few degrees of freedom to be nothing less and nothing more than itself by accepting that here it is suspended among equals. Thurlund’s installation offers itself as a collection of differences aside from any value hierarchy or the rules for constructing one; each fragment is thus both first and last among equals. Don’t forget that those who make-for-art are constitutionally uninterested in aesthetic judgement. All they are concerned with is getting something out there which exposes its over-riding affinity for Art’s always receding Body. And how better to try to expose that attempt than by offering an installation whose point seems to be the refusal of any grounds for differential judgements of value across the participating shards? For a few brief days all are gathered as peers in their contribution to this casting aside of all external pressures to judge and value according to the rules of the aesthetic economy. Don’t forget that the ‘value’ that overrides everything else for makers is the commitment to the making process itself, a necessary defining constituent of which is precisely to suspend the aesthetic criteria with which the surrounding UR-less cult..e passes judgments on makers’ gests. In the making situation makers have to become tasteless, eldritch even, to perform outside the boundaries of taste.
Z: So my judgments are of no relevance?
A: Far from it! They are crucial particles in the consumptive aesthetics that defines the culture sURrounding and managing the arts. It’s just that, for makers, all that stuff comes after the fact of making. And Thurlund’s installation, in seeking to withdraw you from the encasing economy, perhaps wants you to see through the surfaces of its irreconcilably different fragments and draw you towards what might just be holding them together.
Z: You’re suggesting that the installation is an allegory?
A: Well, at the least it is offering you a double experience: see each gest-fragment both for its performative difference, but simultaneously see that each of them here is only what it is through the relation that it is in, temporarily, right here, with each of the others.
Z: In that case your earlier reference to the installation’s story-line was a way of drawing attention to what might be holding all these independent exclamations together. If they are here to expose something other-than-themselves then that ‘something else’ seems to be nothing less than ‘relation’ itself!
A: Of coURse! Where else would such a gathering seek to draw us? But it is surely offering a very specific ‘take’ on ‘relation’s’ immaterial stickiness. Perhaps in Thurlund’s installation the story, however obscure it may seem, is dependent on the gaps, the wall-and-floor-space-time, that lie between the suspended fixed gests. These significant absences, entirely visible but hard to ‘read’ as either simple absences or as message-bearers, just like the whites between the letters and words in Mallarmé’s book, seem to be doing something crucial for the installation and thus for all its gathered gests. Maybe we can see each gap between the gests as fictURing an unseeable hyphen that binds them together while keeping them apart. By doing the connecting work of the installation and inviting us to feel out what might be going on between the gests, the gaps perform ‘relation’ as a binding-together, a kind of plaiting perhaps, through their distribution of a shared equality.
Z: Oh no! Not Mallarmé again! I might have known you’d drag things back to him…
A: …no better placeless place to start and finish, after all isn’t every occasion of making-for-art essentially the throw of a dice?
Z: Perhaps. Let’s come back next year to see what face the dice lands on.
A: Certainly. But I can almost guarantee that, barring the mean-time’s disasters, next year’s installation will be somewhere else and will look utterly different…
Z: …yet rivetingly identical. Still I’m glad that you qualified your prediction with that ‘almost’…and yet…
(They recede rapidly, passing over the seemingly unnoticed ‘earth rod’ and the Unit’s barely concealed microphone, as they head north towards the river.)