On entering ‘Circles of Focus’ there is a table with stacks of publications neatly displayed on its top, each one bears the strap-line ‘THIS EXHIBITION IS A PROPOSAL FOR TWO BODY DONORS’ in large Times New Roman font. The rest of the room is empty.
On the brief walk from the table to the next room I started to question whether this exhibition is really meant for me, there is a curious feeling of being a permitted observer, a guest who has unwittingly blundered into a study and begun to poke and pry into the collections of obscure information neatly organised in enigmatic order on the carpeted floor. We are made awkwardly, critically aware of our own gaze, it is less like looking at an exhibition of work as analysing an idea or propounded theory. This feeling is certainly evoked by the newspaper’s content and title, which suggests the exhibition as a proposal, but it proceeds, is reinforced and frustrated through the ascetic minimalism of the exhibition as a whole.
In the main gallery there is a single work, a large circle marked out by a white line and a series of arranged flat triangular clay shapes that fill approximately half of it. In dimension the circle makes reference to a mort house in Aberdeenshire, where bodies were left to decompose (lose their value to grave-robbers/science etc.) before being buried. Similarly, the Orkney clay (of the triangle shapes), which uses animal matter and hair to strengthen it, has a primal corporeal feeling to it, its fleshy surface crumbling with a bruised purple erythemal pattern.
However, I question to what degree this reading is subject to an understanding of Christine Borland and Brody Condon’s previous practice. Other bystanders vocalised their interpretations variously as: a planet’s scorched surface, an arid desert, or fantastically as a crumbling death star, all of which are plausible readings.
Next door an identical circle is this time filled by 3D printed shapes similar in dimension to the clay ones. Behind this is a video depicting a close up of the skin of a dancer baring the imprinted marks made from the pressure of lying upon the circle. Here the pared-back approach continues, but with a colder, more clinical feel, as a clock in the right hand corner of the video slowly counts up the minutes to fifteen, and I begin to wonder how any of these ideas connect or can be read; “where are the bodies?” one women exclaimed to me.
Although connection to the body is elusive, even the video work regrettably never really quite emerges out of its abstracted representation, viewer’s reactions are overwhelmingly tactile. In the gallery several people tried to touch the flat sculptures in both circles, and it seems with both works that they necessitate this tacit, almost primal interaction that quietly enacts the dancing circle of the ideas that seem almost illegible within the exhibition as a whole.
Perhaps it is this profound absence of bodies that creates the space for imagination at all, as we are asked to think about an artwork enacted with two donated cadavers, whilst being aware that we will never directly, visibly, experience it. This is perhaps always implicit in the experience of a proposal, and what Borland and Condon suggest is a profoundly private art work, one which is experienced only by the artist themselves and the medical students that the bodies are then passed onto. It is probable that only five or six individuals will ever experience this work, and therein lies the power and intrigue of ‘Circles of Focus’, both as an exhibition and as an ongoing research project.
Art is usually created with a ‘public’ in mind, a consumer to be identified and played to. The art should appropriately also be photographed, multiplied, re-exhibited, collected, and exchanged; that is, it should have a market value equal or higher than the investment put in. The neo-liberal system which embodies these principals and evangelically bases an assessment of an artwork’s value or power on the number of people that experience it, is here at a loss, and so are we in our assimilation of these values as norms.
What is true of art is also partially true of the way we value our bodies. In our current society this is based on their use within a market, latterly a purely economic one based on one’s ability to work, contribute and create capital growth. Under this system we like to deal in strict binaries, and taboo superstition and prohibition surround the transitional areas between what is deemed ‘useful’ and ‘useless’. Death is no exception.
Fundamentally the ‘Circles of Focus’ exhibition, or rather the proposal that the work gives physical form too, rests on the challenging of our social taboos surrounding these areas that abound in the way we both observe or experience art and understand death, our own corporality, and its perishable value.