Flat Time House, London
26 September - 27 October 2013
Review by Beatrice Schulz
In another show with a really great title - ‘Exchange’, curated by Gil Leung - a number of objects and texts overlap and interrupt each other. According to the text written by Leung to accompany the exhibition, it’s all about context, which I am taking the liberty to interpret as ‘how meaning is generated’. Much of the show’s material seems to be derived from the film playing in the back room of Flat Time House; a document of a 1976 performance by Marc Camille Chaimowicz. The colours and effects generated by the lights in the film are strangely fixating even though I’m not sure what is going on, but after a while I’m totally lost, until I find a long description of the performance on the exhibition notes, taken from a contemporary review in Studio International. A vase with seasonal flowers seen in the film is recreated in the front room of the gallery.
The relationships between all the materials that make up the show seem to suggest a reduced, but by no means eliminated, primacy of the object, in that the objects in the show do not appear as fixed, finite entities, but as groups of meanings gathered from various sources. Patricia Lennox-Boyd’s ‘[One] (Again), [After Another] (Again) 2’, and ‘[After Another] (Again) 3’, are unremarkable sculptures fitted to the walls of the corridor at the height of a banister. John Latham’s ‘Organism Somewhere’ is nicely framed in the front room. ‘Female Sensibility’, a 1973 video by Lynda Benglis, is shown on a monitor on the floor: two women, both made up in heavy duty lipstick, kiss each other, while audio from an American radio station with an obnoxious male presenter plays in the background. The kiss would be better described as an engagement, in the military sense: the women are oddly dispassionate, yet fully engaged in the kiss as an action, almost to the point of it being competitive. Again there is a long description of this work in the exhibition notes.
Throughout the show, I have the feeling of getting lost, but I’m not quite able to lose myself. I keep skipping backwards and forwards between materials and descriptions, which keeps me reflective. The show contains a number of works by John Latham, whose former studio and house is now the site of the exhibition. Gil Leung’s own ‘Monumentality Structure II’ (five grey slabs of limestone about the size of paving stones) is used as a horizontal plinth for various other works in the show, perhaps a metaphorical expression of her position as curator.
Since this show is about context, I begin thinking about the proliferation of text in art, not as an art form, but as description, translation, interpretation and even transliteration of artworks, and the role these texts play in determining meaning. Art is constantly surrounded by words, without which the objects themselves are often oblique. Of course in writing reviews, I too am participating in this proliferation of material surrounding supposedly independent and discrete objects. ‘Exchange’ begins to make something of this, scratching the surface of distinctions between object and description, thing and document. Or to follow the dichotomy set up by Leung’s exhibition text, between object and event.