Friday, 16 August 2013

The Exhibition

So, lastly, I come to the matter of how I have chosen to show the book. First, I should make clear that the gallery is not a natural space in which to encounter a mass-produced artist's book. My work generally exists in a very different conceptual framework to the white cube gallery, and indeed a wish to escape the white cube was one of the things that lead me towards making books.

In order to try and make the book fit in to the exhibition, I knew I would have to play with the normal expectations of the gallery. The book is intimate; it is normally understood in the context of its relationship with a single reader; their body, their hands, their eyes, their subjectivity and so on. Even if a book is shared, it is generally through one person to a wider group, as in reading out loud. The white cube gallery, on the other hand, is the complete opposite of intimate; it is clinical, conceptually sterilised, the whole aesthetic designed to seperate the audience from the artwork, and the artworks from each other, creating critical distance. This is not what I need for my work.

My ideal choice would have been a small room which I could appropriate as my 'reading room', allowing people to enter in, perhaps through a curtain, to a completely seperate space, with walls and floors completely at odds with the gallery. Perhaps carpeted floors, or wood panelled walls?

I suspected however, as soon as I took a tour of the space in which we would be operating, and when I understand the requirements of other students, that I would not get a seperate room. Indeed, I was given a space that occupies one corner of a larger space; it was obvious that I would need to take dramatic measures to make this space my own. So I channelled my inner Ilya Kabakov and got to work.

Since the white cube is, in some ways, a Utopian conception, it made sense for me to create a Dystopian area within it. This was also suggested to me by one of my greatest fears, with regards to showing the book in a gallery; that people would treat it as sculpture, and not pick it up and read it. There were obvious measures I could take to prevent this; I have noted that the book can be read in the catalogue, and I have requested a small notice to be added to the label to the same effect. Another methodology that I hit on, fairly obviously, was to create propaganda posters that might imply the same message. To that end I created two posters, that would be wheat-pasted within the space.

For the decor, I decided to go as diametrically opposite from the white cube aesthetic as possible; scuffed wooden furniture, dirty floor, grimy, dented and crudely painted green walls. The particular colour I chose for the walls is a nod to my own previous work, as the shade (Wilkinson's 'Oak Green' matte emulsion) formed a large constituent, along with a couple of greys, of the paint used on my 2011 piece The Emerald Tablet, techniques learned from which I have employed extensively whilst creating the exhibition space. It is a pity that I do not have an extra week, and much more money, or I could have made a serious go of making the walls of the space resemble weather-damaged concrete. As it stands, I contented myself with a deliberately slap-dash paint job, carefully painting patches over patches with a brush by hand to achieve the desired effect, and with the employment of a liberal amount of the same mixture of flour, mud and hot water that I once used to dirty the tablet. The dirt also provided a solution to seperate off the floor from the rest of the gallery, using a thin black line and liberal amounts of dirt.

The furniture was a hard decision, and one unfortunately constrained by time, money and lack of proper transport. I think the utilitarian wooden furniture is satisfactory, however, and approaching the best solution, though I would prefer a slightly plainer chair. Metal or plastic furniture would have suggested the institutional too strongly for an exhibition being held on a University campus, making the audience think I had simply stolen furniture from a classroom. This would have ruined the theatrical effect. 

One idea that I had been rolling around in my head for some time was to display my final book alongside others. I had initially considered lining up all my own books, but this would have required an entirely different concept and method of presentation. Instead, I chose books from my own collection, narrowing the final choice down by considering both the aesthetics of the books as well as their contents. Though I have included some obvious works (The Republic, Utopia, 1984, Brave New World), I have also included some books with a more oblique significance to the core topic, but that have personal meaning to myself, such as a script for Dylan Thomas' glorious celebration of humanity Under Milk Wood and Olaf Stapledon's beautifully strange metaphysical science fiction novel Star Maker. I have gone for books that look, to some lesser or greater degree, used and somewhat old-fashioned, tired out like the rest of the setting. The only author featured twice is Ursula K. LeGuin; the short story collection is included solely because it contains the stunningly powerful parable about the cost of a perfect world The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas.

The other features of the space were matters of serendipitous risk-taking. I saw the large no-smoking signs for sale at the place where I got my posters printed. Once I had it, it was natural to include the mockingly over-filled ash-tray underneath it. This suggested a subcurrent of rebellion. I underscored this by scrawling the phrase 'Bored Mindless Here in Utopia' from the Hawkwind song Arrival in Utopia, which is quoted in full in the book, thus tying the book and the space together.

The condom was just to increase the general grot. It is, I promise, not used.

No comments:

Post a Comment