Unrelated to the main gallery programme, a set of projects in the Golden Thread Gallery’s Project Space, run since the beginning of April 2008, has included day events, and solo and group exhibitions inclusive of a range of practices. Engaging both experienced curators and amateurs, the commitment to emerging artists, to experiment and visual research has been complemented by a desire to reach a younger generation of visitors. For example, in May 2008 a one-day event, Family fun day, foregrounded art as entertainment, while in March 2009 visitors could sample video art by Susan MacWilliam, who represented Northern Ireland at the 2009 Venice Biennale, while Paves in September 2009 focused on interaction with the audience.
Truth does not matter, the twenty-fifth on the list, begs the question: what matters? Its curator, Peter Richards, an artist and the director of the gallery, claims: “The pivotal concern of the artists exhibiting is the belief in objects…" On one hand the approach moves concepts and contexts a little down the hierarchy of priorities, on the other it is not a complete departure from Greenberg’s concept of a ‘privileged object’. Privileges, in essence, are context-related and hierarchical. The mystery and force of the inner image made the privileged object acceptable to all Modernists, Leftists or otherwise.
A belief in objects would appear incompatible with a Modernist object capable of holding two identities (eg Ulrich Rückriem’s blocks, 1982-85, or Warhol’s Brillo boxes). Ambiguous identity intrigued art critics and philosophers alike. Harold Rosenberg published The Anxious object (1962 – an idea elaborated in the 1982 Reith lectures by Denis Donoghue in The Arts without mystery) followed by Richard Wollheim with Art and its objects (1968). Wollheim keeps the distinction between art that is also a physical object (painting, sculpture) and art which cannot be identified with one particular physical object (music, performance). At the same time, he puts an emphasis on “the most seductive and irresistible of sources, the Self" (also a kind of identifiable object). He thinks of the arts’ desire to test, to question, to reject and to take risk as a corrective coercive force against art becoming an idle or indulgent occupation.
Exhibiting a trompe l’oei still life wall sculpture in the current show, Steven Earl Weber explores art as a trope for lived experience: “I strive to use multiple objects, images, and their arrangement to create analogies or metaphors, usually in order to present a question I have about some aspect of my own life" (www.stevenearlweber.com). Such a question remains hidden in his mind, making the sculptural object ‘anxious’ by its oscillating between the visible object and invisible question. A clue, which mitigates the insecurity of judgment, lies in the power of material to create a meaning. Weber insists: “An item rendered in wood has a different connotation than the same thing rendered in glass." Leaving aside the famous warning by Heraclitus, the reasonable step to take is to interpret Weber’s still life as an analogy or metaphor for lived experience.
A small hammer is frozen in the air above bread broken in two. It is made of porcelain with black glaze on the head and golden glaze on the handle. Porcelain and gold denote riches, the hammer signals power to drive nails in, or to break fragile objects. The broken bread is earthenware, which denotes ordinary life. The two materials are analogous to economic inequality between people, and the implied violence insists that the bread is not broken to be amicably shared, making this idea extremely fragile. The gold on the handle suggests money, bankers, greed. Weber’s object lost its initial anxiety when it allowed the viewer to replace the original question. In analogy to the aesthetic function (see J Mukarovsky), the object became transparent.
A similar aesthetic strategy explores the force of a pattern rooted in a found object and arranged in a grid. Martin Boyle bought a pack of popular sweets, seventeen in a pack, and produced seventeen squares of seventeen columns and seventeen rows. Sixteen of them make a regular grid, and so the final seventeenth square carries a fatal singularity, like birth or death; it is on its own. Consequently, the grid is limping and incomplete. As an object, it is anxious about its own identity: it is edible and not, it is regularly spaced and irregular, it is a grid with one square too many. Its sensual beauty connects to other dots in other works of art, eg Damien Hirst’s dot paintings, which secures its meaning as a metaphor for art (see T S Eliot’s ‘unfinished’ principle). The anxiety is so light because the colours trigger the impact of a poem, play and reverie.
The surprising meeting of two objects reminds me of Surrealism, of the lightness of being in Miró or Magritte, and of the robust tease by Duchamp. Brendan O’Neill connected building pipes to a reproduction of a landscape. The brutal scale of the pipes threatens to suck the tiny painted lake dry. The object is confidently telling a lie. Easily, the installation evokes thoughts about the role of water in our existence and thoughts of recycling. However, the biblical description over the landscape denotes the idea of the creator, whether of the universe or of the art. The installation goes along with Duchamp’s belief that even a small change alters an apparent meaning. I add: as long as the object safeguards some transparency.
The sculptural installation by Christopher J Campbell represents, resembles, and corresponds to The Least resistance (1981) by Peter Fischli and David Weiss, who, in the film, carry a body out of a Hollywood gallery. In his ‘remake’ Campbell introduces silence and immobility, and keeps the masks of a rat and a bear. He makes the sameness indeterminate. The small scale increases the privacy under the masks and reduces the narrative element to almost nothing.
The four artists promote a transparent object. The perennial and ineradicable self-consciousness of art inserts the memory of objects, anxious and privileged, with admirable ease.
Slavka Sverakova is a writer on art.