In his later work Piet Mondrian used slender strips of coloured plastic to test and plan out his paintings, constantly reworking the same pieces day after day until he was happy with the composition. Not only does this process blur the line between sculpture and painting, but also shows how a common, mass-produced material can be in a liminal state of becoming – between being finished and unfinished – not adhering to fixed state, instead, holding the potential for perpetual blossoming of a multiplicity of machinations.
In its exhibition of the work of James Fuller and Marco Miehling, William Benington Gallery, in collaboration with curator Lily Brooke, presents a similar creative reconstitution. This is a show in two parts, the first of which blurs the artistic personas of the two artists in displaying a deconstructed functionless kit of parts throughout the gallery space, before – in part two – being reconfigured into a bench and other wall-based pieces, at which point the two artists’ practices are clearly delineated. The bench, however, seems to be but a brief sojourn before all the fragments metamorphose again in the manner of Mondrian’s plastic strips.
The show comprises of miscellaneous, quasi-Bauhaus objects, the functions of which seem to have been mysteriously forgotten. Although separated from each other, they are connected by various suggestions: hints of interlocking forms, joints and movements. Their arrangement, still set in their protective foam packaging, carries the obsessive-compulsive organisation and anxious precision that usually belies a more fitful typography below the surface. And indeed, something is amiss; all the connotations usually placed upon Bauhaus, modernist and mass-produced objects have been broken. As you try, unsuccessfully, to place the objects into some practical whole, their rationality is eroded. That famous modernist dictum ‘Form Follows Function’ is illogically corrupted. Rather than making the objects completely useless, this propagates and activates an imaginative reading, optically leading the viewer towards dead ends with red herrings, as attempts are made at ordering the scene into something that functions; that order the human mind always seems to crave, especially when faced with such objects.
From something explicitly objective then, the objects carve out an irrational subjective space, appearing inert, but actually loaded with potential functions, arising from how they perpetually pivot between being functional and functionless. They never convey finality, but, and contrary to their strong and robust materiality, fragile shadows of the form they will take next. Rather than being identical mechanical repetitions, these same objects can take multiple different forms in the same manner as the strange machines of desire created by Marcel Duchamp in many of his works.
Duchamp first made reference to such a species of contraption in 1913 calling it the ‘Bachelor Machine’ in a note written during his obsessive preparations for ‘The Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even’. The bachelor machine eventually manifested itself in the lower portion of the work and captured the unproductive cycles of the lonely bachelors.
Bachelor machines have proliferated throughout art and literature characterised by being unfinished, unfinishable and incapable of operating in reality. Instead, they are mental machines, the imaginary workings of which suffice only to produce movements of the mind. With their sculptural configurations functioning in the same way, the assemblages of Fuller and Miehling are such bachelor machines, or more precisely, they are bachelor rooms, as the work is not tethered to a canvas or glass plane, but working on a whole space. Due to their tentative patina of identifications, the objects have the constant potential for different configurations and constellations of meaning. Appearing to be specifically functional, the same as many facets of Duchamp’s ‘Large Glass’, often they are not, signalling the death of monotonous mass production and the evolution of an increasingly bespoke and imaginative alternative.
Fuller and Miehling’s work is a simple set of unformed and impotent objects coalescing to create a changing space fecund with clouds of bespoke and subjective reproductions. Their usefulness, we discover, is merely an illusion; only their optical and psychological extensions are real and a new perennially changing narrative begins where their momentary function leaves off.
Part 2 takes place 17 January - 15 February 2019