Archive for April, 2019

Spectral figure

Tuesday, April 30th, 2019

To engage this spectral figure will require us to open ourselves to the effects of certain traits which I want to gather together under one word. And that word – whose introduction here will no doubt be troublesome to many – is “magic.” Something on the order of magic – unreal, phantasmic, hallucinatory, perhaps even diabolical – is released in these works. (As I see it, the term “magic” would ultimately refer to any psychic operation that would appear to reduce or eliminate the distinction between, for example, an ego and an other. Such an operation would, in effect, fall outside of any order of representation; it would, in a word, be unrepresentable. I realize that such an operation, if pursued, may require that we rethink certain principles fundamental to psychoanalysis, to our understanding of the subject in general.) Consequences notwithstanding, I must insist on employing the word if only because, in reconsidering the effects produced by Graham’s set-ups, I now better understand the significance of a remark made seventeen years ago by a professor of mine. Commenting on my work – an installation of mirrors titled Loci – he offered only this on-the-spot assessment: “It’s magic.” Without doubt, this judgment – “it’s magic” – left its mark, becoming for me, in time, something of a leitmotif. So, tonight, the word magic – think of it as a password or passkey – will, I trust, assist us in going a little further into these excessive and most redundant devices. Given my predilection, my fancy for the word, for all that overflows and exceeds the phenomenality of its sense, I will say that an event like Present Continuous Past(s) “presents” nothing less than an extravagant set of surface effects, a generalized simulacrum of presentation on which all movement, all transaction – yours and mine – are inscribed. You and I are, thus, one of its effects, an inscribed function if you like, part of the machinery of a complex sleight of hand production that is capable of proceeding – quite miraculously I assure you – without us. These events, if we can still call them events, repeat themselves. As soon as they are up and running, they divide and multiply themselves. They auto-partition themselves – and, at once, discount themselves as events.

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Indeed, as Pelzer astutely points out: “the video works consist of so many variations on partition,” that is, so many counter-points to a modernist orthodoxy which, she goes on to explain, has come to base its authority on a “unitary conception of space.” Now if you recall, I mentioned earlier a text by Jeff Wall, Dan Graham’s Kammerspiel, where, in speaking critically of the glass house (the Philip Johnson House in New Canaan, Connecticut), he resorts to what he refers to as its theoretical occupant. But why, in the middle of his analysis, must he rely on such a construct? Why, when it comes to a question of the house, must he invent something? Well you see, but I could be wrong on this, I doubt whether Wall has ever visited the house; he has never experienced, has never given himself – first hand – an experience of the house. Hence, a bit of speculation was called for, out of which arose, as if from the dead, his theoretical subject, his vampire – which, of course, is not a subject at all. Let us, instead, call it a figure, a figure of the imagination or the Imaginary, but – and I hope I have made this clear – a figure whose affects, insofar as we can experience them today through certain technologies of reproduction, are nevertheless real. Further on in Dan Graham’s Kammerspiel, Wall introduces such an affect, what he calls a coup d’oeil (a glance). This blow (a nocturnal coup de grace or finishing stroke) irrupts from the mirror — and, as you all know, the vampire’s image, his imago elides reflection since what is reflected, what is returned to it, is its own nothingness.

Many of Therrien’s sculptures

Sunday, April 28th, 2019

Many of Therrien’s sculptures are polychromed and the use of a painted surface over a sculptural form (largely rejected by minimalist sculpture), if followed in one direction, leads back to traditional folk art and religious statuary, both of which relied on colour to heighten the emotionality of the experience and to enhance the viewer’s identification with the object through an augmented realism. The relationship between the level of identification sponsored by an artwork and its degree of realism is, however, a complex one. Both indices depend on and fluctuate with varying historical notions of verisimilitude. (Increasing the emotional register of a work through the use of colour may well be at the expense of verisimilitude.) What is finally at issue here is the relation between a work’s degree of realism and its degree of authenticity and how this relationship is regulated by shifting and evolving historical circumstances and tolerances. With regard to Therrien’s work, the importance of this discussion is in noting that his art attempts to maximize both the concreteness of the sculpture as object and its emotional potency and to balance these attributes.

A complex, symbiotic relationship between shape and colour, objecthood, fantasy, memory and feeling applies to Therrien’s objects. Some of the key images in his lexicon are snowmen, ovals, cones and clouds. These are motifs he returns to over and over again. The impulse to repeat, rework and recycle his motifs is a prominent aspect of his activity as an artist. These are basic and compelling general features of the work and they reflect on its privacy and psychology as well as on the work’s relation to other contemporary art, which, at least since minimalism, has been regulated by themes of repetition, variation and reproduction. Repetition can entail and signal emotional attachment on the one hand but can also serve as a distancing, objectifying device. Both these aspects are implicated in Therrien’s use of it.

Repetition and variation enable a play between constancy and innovation. Intersecting formal and psychological leitmotifs reverberate among Therrien’s objects. The meaning of each object is amplified and modified by the next and all together they construct a network of entwined themes that emanate from and engender a particular realm of feeling and a field of aspiration.

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Therrien’s objects fall into various, overlapping sets or constellations, which organize themselves around certain formal resemblances, thematic affinities and emphases. “Bent Cone” (1984-5), “Flagpole Maquette” (1983-5), and “Keyhole” constitute one such grouping. The freestanding version of the black “Bent Cone” oscillates between an illusion of flatness and an illusion of spatial depth and recession. It has a quirky figurative aspect that grabs our interest yet what holds it is the evanescent condition of the figure. The apex of the triangular, conic shape serves as a fulcrum balancing two opposing movements in the work: a perspectival recession to a vanishing point and the pouring back of the shape from this point of origin into the material present. Accordingly, the work hovers between past and present, ellipsis and concreteness. A related work, the black “Flagpole Maquette,” reverses the perspectival recession of “Bent Cone” and is seen in extreme foreshortening, which anamorphically collapses and reduces its “actual,” normal size while magnifying its virtual aspect. Space/time is warped. The flagpole looms in space like Aladdin’s genie and, like “Bent Cone,” includes a nostalgic, sentimental dimension. “Bent Cone,” suggestive of a monumental sorcerer’s cap or token from a Brobdingnagian game board, also fantasizes its figure through a magnification of scale. The third work in this constellation of images, “Keyhole” combines the formal elements of the other two. It also involves an evanescent image and occupies the threshold of real and imaginary space. Each of these works evokes a virtual, hence remote and elusive space of enchantment.