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< 20. October - 25. November >

Bare Words - Øystein Aasan, Joe Amrhein, Nadja Bournonville, Heman Chong, Mark Hamilton, Reto Pulfer, Annika Ström, Sue Tompkins and Eve K. Tremblay

curated by Leif Magne Tangen 

 


 

Person 1: Are you interested in Plato's Republic?

Person 2: Uh...

Person 3: Well, I am Plato's Republic. I'll recite myself for you whenever you like.

- Francois Truffaut's Fahrenheit 451.


Bare Words is concerned with the blurry juncture between word and image and consists of a series of possible solutions for this predicament. In art, the material or gestural aspects of language have often been idealized in the course of the hunt for an original expression- rooted in bodily movement and purportedly hidden underneath the grid of mechanized grammar (like in the work of the Lettrists or the Cobra group). But rather than resorting to some nostalgic idea of primal expression or authentic involvement with the materiality of the sign, the most interesting work with language in visual arts today is the work concerned with the possibility of language and the future of letters. This is a more interesting modus operandi than proceeding in a strict deconstructive manner and delivering a pessimistic diagnosis of the state of language or communication.

The investigation of the convergence of text and image is conducted in several ways in Bare Words. Nadja Bournonville's Dear; Things as they are, letter to self, 2006, allegedly a description of everything which has happened or is going to happen to the artist, reminds one of Jorge Luis Borges constructions, which often are difficult, or even impossible, to visualize. The work starts as readable sentences and gradually progresses into abstraction as the letters blend and become too small too read. Consequently the descriptions, the map of the artist’s life, are disseminated and the proliferation of meaning anchors up in the surface of the work as a figure of irreducible possibility. The semantic openness of the work does not make the work unreadable, though, but opens the figural side of language, words as material. Reto Pulfers' drawing Hermetisch, 2006-07 is, in the same vein, not closed in upon itself, hermetic, but invests in this figurality rather than the linear thinking developed in conventional discourse.

Sue Tompkins' work revolves around the usage of language. Typewriter written poems that are as concerned with the space between letters and fonts as with the words typed, might also be seen as a hermetic figural contribution to the exhibition. Annika Ström and Joe Amrhein approach the matter somewhat differently. Coming from a conceptual tradition developed by the likes of Lawrence Wiener and Bruce Nauman, they invite the viewer to contemplate the mechanisms involved in objects becoming art. Annika Ström's painting Mitt Liv är Bättre än ditt, 2007 (English translation: My life is better than yours) and This work was made with passion, 2007 address the problem of utterances in art. Who is speaking? What does the sentence mean, exactly, and to whom? Amrhein's These Days (Artforum, May 2002, p. 187), , 2002 and Qualities (Artforum, December 2000, P.157), 2007 are fragments of sentences painted on glass plates. The sentences, originally printed in Artforum, are cut up and spread out in space and are destined to be read in new ways according to the movements of the viewer in the gallery. The original jargon-like expressions, “The gimmicky excuses for painting that pass for paintings these days” and “Its pre-modernist, heavy, monumental, and masculine qualities” are presented as fragments ripe for new combinations (and maybe better ones). Moving through the gallery the viewer becomes a combinatory vehicle, an involuntary writer of art criticism. Both artists encourage a participation in how word and image interact.

Bare Words moves through semantic openness and participation but- these designs should all be read in connection with Eve K. Tremblay's reworking of (both Truffaut's and Bradbury's) Fahrenheit 451. In both the novel and film Montag, the protagonist, lives in a future where books are forbidden, but he is no longer able to refuse himself the pleasures of reading. He escapes at the end of the film and ends up in a utopia-like community in the woods outside the City. There the people actually become books: they memorize them by heart, and burn them. The gesture is intriguing: the reader becomes, through endless repetition and recitation, a dust jacket for the book (as they themselves define their role), a vessel for the artwork.

Tremblay presents a photograph showing all the book people in the movie Fahrenheit, as well as herself in a burned forest, becoming the novel Fahrenheit. Maybe more captivating is her installation, Le refuge des amis de Truffaut, 2007 that is a remake of one of the common devices for hiding books in the film: a hollowed out TV. Tremblay's work indicates a love for the book, the word, and the inescapability of reading, but she also – by placing the hiding-device in the gallery – elaborates on the idea of depth in art and literature. Within a work of literature or art there is, one is inclined to think, some kind of “real” or “original” meaning, which the act of reading or viewing brings out.

Tremblay's work touches on grounding myths and literature – the myth of meaning as something internal. Rosalind Krauss’ concept of myth is instructive here. Myth, she claims in her essay Grids, “deals with paradox or contradiction not by dissolving the paradox or resolving the contradiction, but covering them over so that they may seem (but only seem) to go away.” Both the gallery and the book are myths, in this regard. We usually imagine the book as a vehicle for our imaginative transportation into a fictive or otherwise alternative world, different from the site of reading. But while the book is a portal to another place, the gallery already is this place: it is, already, an alternative world, a space more ideal than real.

Heman Chong, with his sad gaze, chooses to look at the reality in View from MITSFS W20 – 473, 2007 and turn his back on the transporting myths that fill the room behind him in the world’s largest science fiction library at MIT. Roland Barthes claimed that myths disguised real political and social conditions and that any real criticism should be to fabricate second-degree mythologies. These could counteract the repressive function of common mythologies. In this case, the myth of the gallery and the book. Øystein Aasan's Reading Hemingway without guilt, 2007 is a work, which creates a model for producing this kind of counter-myth by making art and literature converge in an antagonistic field. In Aasan's work the modernist grid, supposedly free of literature or the depth of stories, is invaded by language: in each square a letter is inscribed. But the sentences that the words, enclosed within the exile of the square, make up are difficult to read fluently. The work shows the modernist canvas as haunted by language and literature, but also exposes literature’s visual base.

Mark Hamilton's Untitled (occupation dub), 2007 questions our tendency to think in conjunctions and dichotomies. His work could also be read through Barthes critical mechanism. However, where Aasan focuses on how different fields are caught up by a manifestation of the practice of thinking in opposites and contrarieties, Hamilton is elaborating on the possibilities offered by this tension. The size and placement of the string installation is not so much ironic as a reminder of the exaggerated importance we place on the different means we use to organize the world. If Aasan puts language into the visual grid, Hamilton puts language on top of the invisible one.

When we think about the possibilities of language and art, sense is not something to be extracted from the work by the viewer -it is rather an internal element within the viewer exposed by the work. Just as art is never purged of language and stories, words are never "bare".

Kjetil Røed
Brooklyn, October 2007

 

Appendix
By Leif Magne Tangen
 
Heman Chong’s work Untitled (Seth Siegelaub, Berlin 1992), 2005/2007 is an oddball and at first gaze a one-liner. Seth Siegelaub is an innovative conceptual art dealer that curated many shows and projects in the sixties. What seems to be a signature stolen from the internet or Xerox copied is in fact a scan of a real signature by Siegelaub. It is dated 1992. But the signature was made 2005. When signing a copy of his book the curator / writer said that it was 12 years delayed, consequently it should to be dated 1992.
 
As a part of the exhibition Bare Words Eve K. Tremblay starts on her project Becoming Fahrenheit 451; the novel with the same name by Ray Bradbury, ends with a utopian like society in the woods where people “become dust jackets” for the books they internalize. So, on Sunday October 21, Tremblay will, as she puts it, go into the forest outside Sognsvann T-station and work on the memorizing. The project will culminate in a solo exhibition at BUIA Gallery in New York, opening January 19, 2008.
 

_________________________________________________________________________________________________

Øystein Aasan (*1977) studied at The National College of Art and Design (NCAD/SHKS), Oslo. Since moving to Berlin in 2002 he has been involved in music (the band ACO), writing (for the magazines Neue Review, Berlin and Spike, Vienna) as well as producing and showing his own work. He will have his second solo show with the gallery in the autumn of 2008.
Joe Amrhein (*1953) is living in Brooklyn, NY as well as in Leipzig. He will have a solo show at Red Dot Gallery in Miami in December this year. He is the owner and director of Pierogi.
Nadja Bournonville (*1983) holds a BA(Hons) in fine art from the Glasgow School of Art. She was this year one of the nominees to the Victor Scholarship and took part in the exhibition New Nordic Photography at the Hasselblad Center, Gothenburg. She will move to Malmö this month.
Heman Chong (*1977) did his MA at the Royal College of Art, London. This year he had solo shows at Vitamin Creative Space, Guangzhou, China and Art in General, New York. He lives in Berlin and Singapore.
Mark Hamilton (*1968) just finished his solo show at Galerie b2 in Leipzig and is preparing a solo show at GfZK, the contemporary art museum, in Leipzig, spring, 2008. He lives in Leipzig.
Reto Pulfer (*1981) lives in Berlin and Basel. For the time being he is in a KSK residency in Cairo, Egypt.
Annika Ström (*1964) is preparing a new book to be published in 2008. She studied at the Royal College of Art, Copenhagen, Denmark. She lives in Hove, UK.
Sue Tompkins (*1971) is opening her solo show at The Showroom, London, October 31. She lives in Glasgow.
Eve K. Tremblay (*1972) lives and works in Berlin, she studied at Université Concordia, Montreal, Canada as well as the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre, New York, USA. She is preparing her solo show at BUIA Gallery, New York, 2008.
Leif Magne Tangen (*1978) works as director of Pierogi Leipzig and is the artistic director of Kunstraum D21, Leipzig. He lives in Leipzig.
Kjetil Røed (*1973) writes for Artforum.com, Billedkunst, Contemporary Magazine, Frieze, Kunstkritikk.no, Le Monde Diplomatique, Morgenbladet, Prosa and Vinduet. He is for the time being in New York on an ISCP residency.

 

installation shoot

 

Installation shoot, Lautom 2007