Votive (2010) Art Review, London, Issue 39 (March)


Once, George Brecht tried sitting on ‘the’ chair attached to the surface of Robert Rauschenberg’s Pilgrim (1960) combine, only to be reproved by the gallery.  This left Brecht feeling frustrated and so, in an unassuming ‘Fluxus’ fashion, he devised Three Chair Events(1961) as a critical response to the strict policies of Galleries that separate Art and everyday objects:   two of his three chairs being largely undifferentiated from, well, chairs.  The later Chair Event (1969) might have varied somewhat in intent, but this analogy points to the inevitable tension that would arise should Brecht’s work be labelled ‘sculpture’ and made the frontispiece for an exhibition.

Votive is such an exhibition, an eclectic range of artworks and ethnographic artefacts that are ostensibly to conjure up the transmutative synergy of performance and object.   And in fact, as a concept with which to draw together an interesting collection of works, Votive is a beautiful one.  With growing interest in Material Culture and increasing understanding of the performative aspects of cognition, things given as an offering for ritual purposes seems wonderfully resonant.  But to display the static results of performance, the objects, and to have the ethnographic artefacts lumped together under vitrines, is to cast a stifling aesthetic web over things.  And this is the frustrating side-effect of exhibitionary conventions that always screw up good ideas by treating ‘Artworks’ as guarded possessions.

Under the still, silent regime of the main space then, it’s really the labour intensive pieces that fair best.  Thea Djordjadze’s works (2009) bring together a range of materials and intriguing forms that encourage you to imagine (illicit) tactile relationships with them, which given their unfamiliarity could only be playful.  Likewise Richard Wright’s work (2009) suggests time through its intricate patterning, though his work here is not as enveloping or harmonized as those made familiar during the Turner Prize.

In other rooms: Torsten Lauschmann’s Dead Man’s Switch (2008), a video installation, records a lit candle on the artist’s kitchen table.  At intervals the candle is blown out, whence the synchronised lights in the Gallery switch on, obscuring the video until the candle is relit and the darkness of the space resumed.  Considering past works by this artist this seems like a very sombre piece, its striking resemblance to Gerhard Richter’s painted works evincing a contemplative rather than performative engagement with time.  Chris Burden’s Bed Piece (1972), a super 8 video of his languishing performance of 22 days in bed, could seem pretentious and troubling in light of actual, unavoidable hardships.

In this mix, Chair Event ends up looking quite aristocratic as it resides over the still, main space.  At hourly intervals music from the opening night by Basque singer Nerea Bello, accompanied by Shane Connolly, somehow breaks the spell and Bello’s beautiful-jarring voice brings something to the space that makes things seem, if only for a moment, Votive.  Heidegger could suggest that music lends to an ‘openness of being’, it’s a shame that in contrast visual art remains so predisposed, so untouchable.


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