Let’s begin by considering activities and the times in which they take place. If we were to take an image, a snap-shot of a man lying in the shade in a garden on what seems to be a collapsible bed-for-one, we could assume it’s a warmer time of year–the shadows are stark and his sleeves are short. But when exactly? A summer break? When time is taken away from work? The summer here this year extended its reach well past its usual termination, and as this man is at rest and his age suggests he’s had a life already full with work, it’s quite possible he’s retired.
Is though this man’s working life, or cessation thereof, of our concern? We encounter the image because it is used as the invitation for this show that opens as winter takes hold. We read alongside this summer-tranquil scene, Like Deadlines in Heaven, and like the end of summer, the original deadline for this show was postponed. It’s the reason I could consider writing this. It’s why I sit now at my work table and attempt to write an introduction to a show I’m yet to see, have encountered in only parts and as projections, in conversation, and from ghosts of other shows. It’s why I contemplate these images and the disjunctions their titular significances suggest. But time is running out! Where’s the Heaven in this?
So I do the work of engaging with the out of time, the out of place, with part objects, of considering what these images are doing as they emerge from signifying-chains, possibly adding to them myself in the process. It’s a psychic work, and although you’ll encounter these disjunctures and emergences theatrically, in space, the work you do will be similar. Is there something despotic going on here? In this Heaven? Tables, whether once used for work—like this one right now—or for eating/drinking/procrastinating, are all used up, retired. But all their used-up-ness returns, crowding the space with different alphabets, interrupting your movement as well as a series of paintings hung in the room, as if they arrived late all noisy. Is their return a glut of recording devices composing, as a whole, a kind of stage or platform for both this noisy production and your efforts? Or does the composite simply work to frustrate the productive orders they were once part of, as well as, of course, frustrating your view of the paintings?
The sleeping man in the summer image returns too. He happens to be the artist’s father but this time he’s wide awake and appears menacing. Luckily, the work’s title alerts us to the fact that his bared teeth are a post-op show-and-tell, and not a grimace. Each of the painting-collages consist of singularities that seem to be drawn from a bank of subjective affinities, none of which really appear to correspond to an overall narrative. A few recall the snap-shot status of the invitation image, yet each are extracted from their contingent fields, and although their titles are familiar in tone, they don’t draw us away from this conclusion. Formally we could note that both female figures appear floating in/on orange, or that the two painting-collages heavily coloured with black harbour two disparate images. Are they each performing on that stage? Albeit under duress? The presence of a third order of works seems to deny this fact, as if indeed the paintings were hung conventionally, even decoratively in the room before the tables arrived. They too are are wrested from their former places of use or significance, populating this estranged setting. Constructed from clothing, they can inhabit postures because they’ve been drenched in resin, and whether from the staircase or from under the stage, they have the last word here. They speak by way of their naming and they do so directly.
So eine schöne Geschichte und keiner weiss, wie sie geht
SINUHE, commonly known as Corpseship Island, is the only island in that swath of remnants – 134 W W and 010 N S by Quinnian's Compass – ever submitted to the great Encyclopedia. Apparently once near the center point of a nuclear conflict, the entire region was thought to be uninhabitable during both epochs of the Laurii and since. It is not known to this day whether the correspondent, one Tadashi Harai, ever really existed. He might well be a fiction. In 5059631034, a librarian of the thirteenth Qaueternurnal recovered Harai’s submission in its canister off Ickles Prow. The canister had been floating unopened for some four hundred years. The librarian reported that the island described by Harai did exist at the time, and with many of the surface features described by the self-professed "madman" still very much in evidence.
Sinuhe was distinguished by its great sea wall, the feature that helped it survive the OmniOceanic millennia with its "ruins of ruins" relatively intact. The island resembled a battle-ready corpse ship from afar. Architectural protuberances, such as Harai describes them, "gridded with the decay of hollow geometric dreams," defined its "skull-like face." Despite the archaeological complications, in the librarian's time, the surface of Sinuhe still yielded signs of potential future exploitation.
As the librarian described it, coal still lurked in veins and tunnels crossing beneath the swell to the other islands in the region. We can presume then that Harai's claim of a "tunnel-world of endless mystery and improbable complication" was possible beneath the suboceanic plateaus of the emergence.
Harai was a submariner. The sole survivor from a now forgotten conflict, he was cast away on his Utopia's shores at the age of forty-three. Teeming with rats and cockroaches, ringed with neo-pelagic seaweed, and boasting a soil rich with the fertilization of dead generations and their sewage, the island offered protein enough for comfortable survival. If the castaway were willing to work and forswear decadence, Sinuhe afforded great pleasures. On rare nights when the oppressive weather lifted, Harai reported spectacular views of the Laurii-cleaned skies.
It is in the tall crumbling ruins of human architecture that Harai founds his ideal state. The Utopia is anti-human in the sense that Harai is its sole inhabitant. But humanist in the sense that it is in the human history of the island's architecture and physical development that Harai chases perfection. "We include Sinuhe as exemplary Utopia," the curator writes in the marginalia, "precisely because of, not in spite of, its entanglement with what other disciplines have labeled 'mental illness.'"
The curator quotes Harai at length: "Utopia is, by definition, no place. It can only be approached, never reached. Utopia cannot be in the future, nor can it be known in the present. Utopia is the past. Not the past as a golden age, but the past as ruins of its own ruins. Unrepeatable, whose recreation can only come about with a reverse of temporal flow, untempered by thermodynamics, to entropy. Entropy moving backwards against itself? We see its promise here. Can we harness time to erect our Utopia in the very gash of our own wounds? Can our state really not exist? Is it in this great nation founded by a madman, that we have finally located our fathers' hope – within their proven despair?
"Ruins of ruins, tending so soon to dust. We labor in the warm season to piece them back together. On the cold and howling days, we bore new holes into the face of the past. We return and rebuild another possible articulation upon its vacancies, opening great doors to wealth and freedom out of the walls of what was once a cage. We breed diamond, tunnels of it sparkling beneath the brine. We breed diamond to cut the diamond and we fuse the ancient concrete into more than it might have been in any dream but our own. And the diamond, when our reflectors have brought the sun deep into the bowels of my island, splinters us multitudinous. We are our own ghosts – we visit and illuminate the eldritch depths of our own uranium-warmed marine-smelling womb. We discover strange footprints every day! The possibility of the other, hardened to stone. Alone, we sift through cherished remnants. We crystallize used memories from the heaps, never-voiced dreams of what has not yet been but what might still have been but can be no longer. Change is constant on Corpseship Island. Soon enough we swim against it, alone with the society that the miraculously ever-crumbling concrete grid-field affords. We are not divided from nature on our rigid island. We ourselves are nature. As we work to undo our undoing, making of the world what it almost dreamed of being, we approach the sparkling kingdom of coal-baked diamond and insect flesh-cakes, of solitude and company, of paradox lived and not held at a distance. We survive among elements of our own demise. A king's word is our command. Our freedom is to control that word. We love and hate in the purity of self-knowledge. We believe and exchange our stone and sand visage, through canisters such as this, imbued with the inscribed signs that come as they do from time, lapping up and inevitably breaking against our walled shores. Our diamond contains the traces of the sounds that once bounced through our sun-draped interiors and we converse with those who know not what we are.
"We know nothing of you and your dreams, but we know they are not of our own time. Owning our time, we are beyond death. We are ghosts already. We live even now against the skeleton of our own emergence before your eyes, in these undeniable and adamant words."
Mark von Schlegell
A New Earth Encyclopedia of Reported Utopias (see Ben Rivers, Slow Action, 2011).
Heji Shin’s first solo show at Galerie Bernhard continues her investigation into photographic portraiture. In this iteration a hired surrogate replaces the artist in a series of self-portraits. The staged studio shots wryly and candidly ape current quasi-feminist ideologies of being able to be ‘political’ via any trajectory other than their assigned gender. Using techniques conventionally applied when photographing people, the photographs of the monkey parody this very sexualized and aggressive form of feminism. Likewise, the au courant phrase 'checking your privilege’ is apposite to this ironic backdrop as an attendant form of judgement.
"I started using the photography-based social media app "Instagram" and discovered "hashtags". #lonelygirl is a popular tag mostly used by younger women to depict themselves—through "selfies". Both banal and highly staged, the photographs belie ambitions, dreams, deceptions and aspirations—to be rich, to be a whore, to be beautiful, to penetrate and visualize one's anus.
Under the guise of an animal stand-in—a monkey named Jeany—these allegorical selfies evade society’s demands to regulate “my” own body to fit the norm. They show a proudly unshaven female body in a safe space—a primitive consciousness over which the devastating condition of existence has barely begun to hover: “How do I represent ME?”"
Look at it and make up your own mind as to what it is. I don’t always know, I really don’t care, and if I did I would lie about it in order to defend my own chance in creativity. If you can’t see, reach out and feel it with your elbow. (Alan Shields in Arte Milano, 1972, p.14)
Part of the magic of making art, or anything that excites the viewer’s eyes, has to do with primitive feelings. (Alan Shields in Alan Shields, Deborah Emont Scott, p.25)
Galerie Bernhard is pleased to announce Alan Shields’ first solo exhibition in Switzerland in 31 years. The show will consist of a cross section of works from the three decades of the 70s, 80s and 90s.
Alan Shields (1944 – 2005) worked in the wake of New York 60s Minimalism, honing and adapting his materials and techniques in painting, environmental installations, and printmaking with patient persistence while maintaining a conscious availability to unexpected results.
Shields started making threaded canvases in 1968, the year he moved to New York. They consisted of unstretched canvases, usually large, in which he sewed colored threads. Some of the canvases were blank, while others had stained acrylic areas that contrasted with the colored threads. Some of them had a grid as a recurring motif. When he first did these paintings, Shields, in addition to making art, was involved in theater, working with sets.
He moved to Shelter Island, NY in the early 70s, but remained proud of his family’s deep, Midwestern farming roots. Practicality was the mother of much of his aesthetic invention—such as the portability of unstretched canvas or the use of stenciling to recycle compositional forms in his painting and paper, as well into his printmaking. His machine-sewn colored threads operate as drawing details in many works such as Flakey (1975), Colors in Clay (1988), but they also secure the grids of woven fabric tape. The duality of farm life—the extreme uncertainty of nature and crop outcomes versus the unrelenting multitude of small, endlessly repeated daily tasks—could be seen as the underpinning for the compositional device common to many of his large works, juxtaposing cosmic scale with a uniform dispersal of very small remnants of paint, repetitively printed forms, or, in the case of In Bed the Sty is Teacups (1976-77), a large web of rope, string, and beads.
Process and making have always been visible, crucial components in his diverse works. “The easy flow of one medium into another in his art is not a big deal to him; it’s done with ease, as part of visual and ecological idea in which materials are recycled in an ever growing repertoire that defies closure” (Artforum, March 1986, p.6).
Shields’ painted works would often take object form, occupying and displacing space, having insides and outsides, fronts and backs, surface and volume. They would hang from the ceiling. They would be freestanding. “At times they might be what you bumped into when you stepped back to look at a painting hung on the wall. With Fuller’s geodesic dome structures in mind, we can more appreciate the fact that rather than painting an illusionistic grid on a flat canvas support, Shields, who had studied civil engineering in his 20s, physically constructed grids from painted canvas” (Something Goin’ On & On, Bob Nickas, 2011, p.9).
Between 1971 and 1974 he made more than 30 print editions. He approached printmaking like paintings by giving the matter of process the same unshakable focus. When asked about the differences between print and painting in an interview published in 1974, Shields brought up the farm in his answer. He said: “ It’s the same process. I guess probably they affect each other back and forth. I think I treat them equal – I try to treat them both with honest concentration. There’s no favoritism. I’m against favoritism in working in art. I don’t even have a favorite color. It’s just like farming. It’s good to rotate crops. It’s good to change media” (The Print Collector’s Newsletter, 1974, p.18).
Shields work is included in museum collections such as the Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY; Museum of Modern Art, New York, NY; National Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C.; The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, NY; Tate Collection, London, UK; Walker Art Center, Minneapolis, MN; and the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, NY.
I forgot to mention before I begin that what I can’t stand anymore is the assault of charged expressions onto the windowless pane of the day. Color is simply imagination, although it may be highly dramatic. This is not to underestimate it, for usually there are epistemological questions involved. For example, the receptionist of a country hotel daydreams about asking the guests how he should know they wouldn’t be downloading illegal materials. But he doesn’t, so they just sit there on couches, like birds on burgundy mammals. Sometimes color is about one’s self. Remember the tour bus last Saturday? In Iceland? They’d spent the evening hours looking for a missing woman after the driver noticed someone was missing. The search was called off around 3 a.m. after it became clear the missing woman was among the search party. She had been staring out the window onto the red and white terrain and hadn’t recognized their description of herself.
Pablo Larios, 2014
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