The complexity of how we live and communicate with one another, through our words, actions, practices and beliefs, and how these amalgamate in the traces we create, and those left for us, is the broad faculty that I’m left considering coming out of this two-man exhibition.
The artists are Giles Bailey (UK) and Jeremiah Day (USA) and, as the exhibition statement points out, these are two artists with distinct practices. As such, they are designated separate spaces in the CCA’s galleries: Bailey’s ambitious installation ‘I Bought a Little City’ (2012-2015) in the first gallery, a selection of Day’s works in the second, and a new moving image work of Bailey’s in the final space. Although without the immediate dialogue of shared sight-lines, Bailey and Day’s pairing creates a multi-layered, sometimes contradicting, but always lively discourse, drawing out new meanings, and deciphering in each other’s those that are less clear.
‘I Bought a Little City’, an installation of film, performance, sculpture and print, builds and dismantles the legacy of an artist inscribed in the identity of a place. In 2012, Bailey went on an artist’s residency to Marfa, Texas, a town now defined by the American artist Donald Judd. In the early 1970s Judd moved there with his family and work, with the apparent ambition of creating a framework for an artistically engaged community and for the permanent installation of his large, throbbing sculptures. Bailey’s installation consists of billboard signs, a lightbox, familiar condiments and appearing on a screen within, the artist speaks. In an apparent critique of Judd’s Marfa, he performs the monologue of a man who buys a city with the aim of improvement but realises the futility of his plans – an appropriation of a short story by a Texan writer called Donald Barthelme. The monologue is synced with two films projected on the back of the billboards, following Bailey’s friend, as he wanders amongst discarded artworks in the landscape of Marfa and Berlin. In addition a series of screen-printed posters unpack moments in Bailey’s own experience while on residence.
Bailey’s two exhibited works are concerned with the physical site where artists have attempted to create a legacy and his consequential relationship to them. In his new film, ‘John & Michael (The Chemical History of a Candle)’ (2015), we see Bailey interpret through symbolic gesture the six lectures of scientist Michael Faraday’s book ‘The Chemical History of a Candle’ (first published 1861) in the back garden of artist John Latham’s Flat Time House in Peckham. The incentive of this textual reference lies in Bailey’s observation that Latham is seen selecting the book in Laure Provost’s film ‘All These Things Think Link’. His ‘in memoriam’ actions would seem less pertinent but for the reminder in the film credits of the impending fate of the setting; Latham’s ‘Living Sculpture’, the building that was his studio for twenty years, housing part of his archive and now an active community art centre forging collaborations with numerous artists and students, will close in 2016 with the future of the building unclear.
While Bailey’s works approach the canons of art practices, Jeremiah Day’s attempt to decipher his personal localities and encounters as a US citizen now in Berlin, within the broader context of the fraught social and political situations of our times. His works across performance, installation, video, photographic imagery, audio narrative and found objects, connect his audience to his concerns through symbolic and bodily aesthesis.
A selection of Day’s works from his practice over the last decade feature, including his ongoing project ‘If You Want Blood’ (2013–) which focuses on land in Berlin where Checkpoint Bornholmer Strasse was located, and earlier works such as ‘The Fall of the Twelve Acres Museum’ (2008), a slideshow accompanied by recorded interview tracking a 1970s land dispute between the Mashie Wampanoag Indians native to New England, USA. Amongst his works, there is a definite method employed; the use of photographic imagery generally layered with related facts, found objects symbolising the specific site and his own presence through performance or remnant thereof.
During the exhibition’s opening night, Day presented a new performance ‘To a Person Sitting in Darkness (#4 Helicopter)’ which unfortunately I wasn’t able to see. Lining one of the walls are a number of framed ‘Performance Notations’ – basically planning drawings, depicting the choreography of his movements in the aforementioned performance with related emotive words. On a monitor resting against the wall as part of ‘If You Want Blood’ (2013), the artist performs on the stoop of a New York tenement building. The statement explains that the intention of the related ephemera is to allow a sense of the performance beyond the live event, which they do. However, I’ve experienced one of his performances before and I longed for the gesture, movement and physical uncertainty of the artist’s presence: the anticipation of a sudden, intended fall, the anxiety (in every stretch) of our current times, and the apparent helplessness that is felt throughout the artist’s and our body.
I might say that both artists deal with the narratives of specific sites, situating themselves as individuals (like us) within the legacies of those places, however this does not really do them justice. The real urgency of their practices is that they don’t follow such specific trajectories. The methods used to communicate their narratives, through spoken word, broken thoughts, gesture and ephemera, reflect the multifarious nature of how we experience the events that have past and those we create and live through.