Camden Arts Centre, Arkwright Road, London, NW3 6DG

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Review by Rye Holmboe

Eva Hesse’s Studiowork at the Camden Arts Centre brings together a diverse body of objects that exist in the liminal, reciprocal space between the public and the private, the object and the art-object, the plan and the accident, the ‘complete’ work of art and the prototype, or, as Hesse’s friend Sol LeWitt had it, the ‘test-piece’. But it is precisely this sense of in-betweeness and provisionality which underlies each object’s precarious status in the world of objecthood, a continuous to and fro movement between these polarities with no evident sense of progress towards a final telos. There is, to use Hesse’s words, ‘no end in sight’.

Their resistance to definition and taxonomy is perhaps the first hurdle when one begins to think of how to describe and think about these objects, these things. Few are titled, which may have provided the initial clue. They are not even titled Untitled, a title in itself which connotes boundaries, finitude and presence, however illusory these may be. So perhaps the clue is, after all, in the missing titles. Of course one might simply say that the objects in question are not works but ‘studioworks’ and were therefore not named. But, given the fact that the objects were not discarded and that Hesse often gave them to friends, suggesting that they were valued, it may be worthwhile exploring the implications of the nameless further. For the objects with which we are presented do not pretend to ‘Be’, metaphysically speaking. They are not complete. Rather, they are in variable states of becoming, of perpetual ontogenesis with no beginning or end. Caught halfway between thing and object, object and art-object, all possible futures seem to hang in the balance.

The sense of coming into being inherent to all the works is reinforced by the materials used: resin, latex, wax, cheesecloth, plaster and so on. They are visceral materials, organic or synthetic but also temporal, subject to degradation and discoloration. That is to say, each material contains the seed of its own mutability within it and so makes no claim to transcendence. Rather, the vicissitude and transcience of materiality is accepted, even celebrated, and with it the bodily. And it seems fair to say that the haptic, fetishistic nature of these works draws you in on a corporeal, even primordial level. You want to touch them, twist them, open them up.

Take the small, intricate latex envelope in the main room. Several involuted layers of latex painted on wire mesh almost cover an amorphous, convoluted centre. Earlier photographs of the work demonstrate that it has hardened and darkened in time. It is sexually charged, not only because of the flesh-like texture and colour of the materials used but because it only partly encloses the stuff inside. An aura of titillation, then, which the eye can only partially penetrate.

Another striking example is the formless piece of latex lying in a different cabinet. It appears aleatory in its conception, utterly real yet wholly other, and has been described (thankfully for me) by Lucy Lippard as a ‘twisted or chewed-looking shape like a volcanically melted bottle’. What might have been passed over as rubbish has been retrieved, given new life. And when placed in a glass cabinet this thing is arresting, uncanny, enchanting even. Whether or not it is anything, however, remains an open question.

This brings us to what (I think) are some of the most interesting issues raised by the exhibition. How and why were these objects chosen above other objects found in the studio’ What was put aside’ What occurs when such objects are placed in the museum/gallery space’ Is it possible to know what was intended by Hesse as a ‘work’’ When authorship has taken such a sledge-hammering in recent times, does it even matter’

It is in the light of these ambivalent questions that Briony Fer’s curatorial strategy in Studiowork is, to my eyes, so successful. The objects are rarely presented alone, which contributes to their incomplete, unstable status. Instead they are placed in cabinets, like curiosities or archaeological finds, evoking a work-table, perhaps, the ground upon which a thing is turned into art. And so they become explicitly relational objects or part-objects whose meaning can only be grasped at within the broader framework of the exhibition as a whole. There are no explanatory notes, which allows you to think through the objects themselves, to think of them as objects and only then to consider their place in or as Art. The emphasis is very much on material encounters, on the potentialities that inhere in materiality. The objects’ resistance to closure, their enigmatic condition of illegibility, their marginal status as the detritus or supplement of artistic production and the highlighting of the processes behind art-making, all these aspects are foregounded, presenting us with an unusually refreshing exhibition that forces us to ask fundamental questions about the nature of the artwork, shaking the very limits of what art can be.

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