In 1967-68, Richard Serra produced a document titled ‘Verb List’. Consisting of 108 terms (not exclusively verbs) it describes a set of actions and conditions with which artwork could be produced. To crease. To hang. To scatter. To smear. In his work of the period, Serra explored the consequences of these propositions, subjecting materials to various actions. Lead, for example, was rolled, stacked, torn into strips, and even splashed, in molten form, against a wall. Artist and object receded in favour of process. The focus of the work shifted to the intersection of action and material, verb and noun.
‘Verb List’ comes to mind more than once while viewing the eloquent sculptures in Florian Roithmayr’s ‘with, and, or, without’. The process-oriented concerns of the ‘post-minimalist’ generation seem to haunt this body of work. This is not to say Roithmayr simply rehashes their strategies - instead he complicates and elaborates the way process is understood. Each of the works here deserves a detailed description but it is worth concentrating on one. ‘Strike’ is a concrete cuboid form, through which course roughly surfaced cavities. These appear to be carved or dug into the material but the production process was considerably more interesting. Concrete was poured into a wooden mould and a foam was subsequently released into the still wet concrete by means of a pressurised hose. As the concrete set and the foam both sprayed and expanded, the materials entered into a state of conflict. Once they had solidified, the gallery’s technicians excavated the work, removing the foam with tools while leaving the concrete intact. Roithmayr’s role here was to establish the terms of the process but the production of the work was enacted by a whole host of factors and participants. The verb/noun relation of Serra’s early work is opened out into a more complex system. The subject of the artist is even more radically displaced. At every level the sculpture makes visible its nature as a relational thing - Roithmayr’s beautiful exhibition title reinforces this point. Conflict, tension, fissure and suspense can be read throughout - the foam’s expansion is still legible on the concrete’s interior; the constraint of the mould has left the imprint of its slats on the sculpture’s external surface; the small wooden blocks that support the work are cracked and buckling, evidencing the sculpture’s weight.
Roithmayr’s sculptures insist on their own interdependence, a lack of autonomy, but the result is not an entropic breakdown of form. ‘Fermata’, a work produced in the same manner as ‘Strike’, is contained within a structure that is both plinth and frame - forms which traditionally delimit the separateness of the art object (although the use of both, one associated with sculpture and the other with painting, suggests some kind of slippage between categories.) The bounded nature of the object as thing is stressed, even while it points to its own rifts and divisions. Sometimes these works present themselves as objects, while at points this objecthood withdraws into a cloud of relations.
With so much of the objects and ideas in our environment appearing to come to us fully formed, without joints or cracks or evidence of labour, it is difficult to see the material relations that lie behind the smooth surfaces. Urging us to look anew at material processes, Roithmayr’s work is a valuable counterpoint to this tendency.