Galerie Urs Meile, Beijing. March2-April 28,2013.
The transition that the iron tongue of midnighti brings in Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Nights Dream could well describe the dramatic shift, which took place for mankind recently. For the first time since the dawn of civilization, the human being is about to become a predominantly urban creature reflecting a great change, which has slowly been happening. In a wider context, this means that humans have not evolved to fit our habitat but have changed our habitat to suit ourselves. No one knows for sure precisely where and when urban life started but we can make a good guess about where the urbanising trend will reach its zenith. Simply count which skylines have the most cranes, track where the bulk of the world’s concrete is being poured or follow one of the biggest, fastest movements of humanity in history. All roads lead east, to China.
It was impossible for me to think about these enormous changes happening in urban China without remembering Calvino’s Venice. His book, Invisible Cities acts as a Meta fictional guide to the Italian city, an elegy to a succession of exotic and remote cities that are all versions of the one place, according to the Venetian traveler Marco Polo – who describes these cities to the emperor Kublai Khan in the story.ii Each one is a poetic image of some aspect of urban life: though the book is abstract, you will constantly find yourself picturing the streets of the city you are living in or have visited as you read. Invisible Cities touches inexhaustibly on the essence of the human urge to create cities, be in cities, and speak of cities. If all the cities are Venice, it is because Venice is in some sense the perfect distillation of the idea of a city. Ever since the Renaissance, when Shakespeare imagined the lives of its merchants, Venice has floated in the world’s imagination as a paragon of cities, real yet unreal.
Beijing, Venice, New York, Zurich, Dublin. Every city in every atlas—real and fictional— has a unique character shaped by history and geography. More than a mere sense of place derived from architecture and planning, cities have a feeling that pervades the consciousness of those who live there until they themselves become a piece of the urban fabric, a fractional embodiment of the city itself. Through this narrative I have entered the city of Beijing. Not by road or rail but from the sky. The large drawing In the midnight city (2012) is built up using short sharp strokes, moving from the periphery towards the center. Descending through from black through grades of gray; oscillating between straight and curved line. This drawing is tautologus in nature; forever describeing its own making that attracts eternal incompletion always re-enacting imperfection, its incompletion. Rather like a city , forever in the process of construction.iii
Drawing has an innate contigency about it. The writer Michel Newman points out that drawing only lightly touches its suface, that each stroke is a sign of withdrawal, of depature. “ Drawing, with each stroke, re-enacts desire and loss. Its particular mode of being lies “between withdrawal of the trace in the mark and the presence of the idea it prefigures” In the large drawings their abstract nature form the relationship between drawing and thought or idea, as the line weaves abstract spaces from tiny marks scratched along the paper. This in between stage can be found in All that you cannot take with you, a hybrid made up off drawing and sculpture continue my investigation into our desire to create order through building/making. Forever trying to paraphrase Beckettiv.
This liminal stage is further explored in I wait for Sleep (2012), crippled by jet lag these drawings are again worked up using short sharp marks but given the nature of the smaller page the dark lines begin at the one end of the page and ascend towards the summit, away from the void, a physical hole in the pagev. The purpose of this space acts as way of reinforcing this absence, as does Styrofoam packaging, inserted in boxes to keep the contents secure during transport. Although the sculptures and images posses a certain otherworldly quality as in Near a city (2012) with its totemic stance in front of In the midnight City, such connotations are offset by the utilitarian familiarity of the materials. The purpose of Styrofoam is merely to fill in the negative space of the container and render the essential components immobile. Here these throwaway objects have been cast in stainless steel, separated from their initial rationale and given a new role through transformation like the double head of Janus Head (2012) always in between never static. Just like a city – forever waiting completion.
What qualities does that in-between space have, that cross over place found at midnight? Does the process of deconstruction and destroying the architecture of an old and previous city also erase memories, or are they ultimately wedded to the space that is being left behind? And can a deeper understanding of the ‘cavity’, rather then the ‘solid’, also inform our understanding of the creation of architecture, or, in this case, the creation of anti-architecture? Take for instance the sculpture Day for night (2012), which takes its name form an old cinema technique used to simulate a night scene; such as using special blue filters to create the illusion of darkness or moonlight. This works’ vague architectural quality recalls a mixture of impressions such as Nano Gabo’s constructions or perhaps the set from Fritz Lang’s Metropolis but lends itself more to being a shadow of these structures or a doppelganger rather then a pastiche. Similarly Shine a light (2012) with its bright yellow glow masks a structure, which is more cavity than solid.
These new drawings and sculpture continue my interest in the materiality of the object and images combined with a more conceptualized concern with the legacies of past eras of cultural history and the contextualization of artifacts within the pragmatic approach to design through making. The process of image making and the changing concepts as to what constitute materiality reveal new ways of understanding our present without being a slave to the conditions expected for an aspiring future. Concern for environmental issues, which always accompany materiality in the work, are considered though a need for a new aesthetics, one that is guided by care and attention for unwanted things.
“The iron tongue of Midnight hath told twelve lovers, to bed; ’tis almost fairy time. I fear we shall outstep the coming morn as much as we this night over-watch’d.”― William Shakespeare, A Midsummer Night’s Dream
ii He never mentions Venice; instead he describes all the other fantastic places he claims to have visited. But when Khan asks him to speak of Venice he replies: “What else do you believe I have been talking to you about?” Marco Polo describes all of these places in calm, authoritative language in Calvino’s compelling book.
The paried down bare mark of 1970’s conceptualism drawing and its relationship to its surface enjoy a profound directness which is a source often found in my drawing.
“Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better” Samuel Becket, Westward Ho.
Drawing enjoys a very different relationship to its background then painting. Where as painting completly obscures its ground to creat the illusion that its’ not there at all, the white back ground, accroding to Norman Bryson, acts as a reserve, a blank space from which the image emerges. This blank space being “perceptually present but conceptually absent”. As the marker moves about the page , its path is local and confined; freed from the need to consider , it can respond immediately to “where the hand is now in praesentia.”