The Showroom, 63 Penfold Street, London, NW8 8PQ

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Ricardo Basbaum: re-projecting (london)
The Showroom, London
12 July - 17 August 2013
Review by Lizzie Homersham

NBP (‘New Basis for Personality’) is the name of Ricardo Basbaum’s abstract octagonal form. Featuring two long sides and a central circular hole, it manifests itself most clearly in three dimensions, painted white with dark blue edges and propped against the wall facing the viewer upon entry. As a physical solid, NBP is pleasingly anthropometric, reaching approximately hip height when stood vertically and lending itself to easy transportation and multi-use. Since its development in the early 1990s, NBP has been carried from place to place - from Basbaum’s native Brazil, to the United States, Chile and Estonia, for example - and used as a pedagogic tool to the artist, understood as an initiator of encounters, discussions, and choreographed activities.

NBP not only relocates but mutates, too: on the left hand wall, a black line drawing dominates, showing how NBP has been flattened into a 2D diagram and laid over a map of the local area. NBP’s 3D rendering ought not to be thought of, therefore, as a finite sculptural form. The principles of Jack Burnham’s ‘Systems Esthetics’, published by ‘Artforum’ in 1968, seem apposite here: ‘art does not reside in material entities, but in relations between people and between people and the components of their environment’, Burnham wrote.[ ] A ‘systems viewpoint’, he continued, ‘is focused on the creation of stable, on-going relationships between organic and non-organic systems be these neighborhoods, industrial complexes, farms, transportation systems, information centers, recreation centers, or any of the other matrixes of human activity’.

In the case of ‘re-projecting (london)’ the neighbourhood is Basbaum’s system of choice. In NBP’s application to the map, The Showroom, a canary yellow beacon of a space, is circled at the centre as ‘Point 1’. The gallery space becomes the locus for communicating events held at a further eight sites designated by the corners of NBP. A series of freestanding black notice boards and a pile of bright yellow leaflets at the door tell us that these include, at ‘Point 3’, a meeting facilitated by artist Lucy Pawlak between female employees of the nearby BNP Paribas banking group and women from a local Women’s Refuge. At ‘Point 9’, a public action has been organised, drawing attention to the work of ASK! (a Dutch collective of cultural workers researching the conditions of domestic work) and the migrant workers’ group Justice for Domestic Workers.

Just as NBP lacks finite form, the material on display at The Showroom is subject to change. On my second visit, I spot two new additions: a collage of a woman made of shiny blue and gold buttons, and, in white and silver buttons, the words ‘more than 500 women on strike’ - a quote from women’s rights activist Annie Besant. One cannot experience Basbaum’s projects exhaustively: they are simply too numerous, and many of them occur off-site during normal working hours. The event at ‘Point 3’ is not even open to the public.

If artists and gallerists generally seek to please the viewer, s/he may feel something of a spare part here; a figure of secondary importance to local groups, some of whom The Showroom has worked with for more than two years. A programme of events seems geared towards a more conventional art audience, as if to compensate for leaving us out. On 22 July, for example: Chris Dercon in conversation with Ricardo Basbaum and Massimiliano Mollona. A week later, I attended a talk with Andrew Pickering, author of ‘The Cybernetic Brain’ (2010).

Following a list of preoccupations shared by the aforementioned Jack Burnham - depleting planetary resources, Western interventionism, the corporatisation of the public realm - Pickering spoke in praise of performance. ‘We’re bedazzled’, he said, by a hall of mirrors unwittingly erected in our overdependence on theory, and by our submission to a culture of command and control. ‘How might things be different’, he asked, ‘if we privileged a dance of agency and performance’’ Naming Gregory Bateson, Gordon Pask and R.D. Laing among figures who had eschewed ‘command and control’ in the interests of fruitful entanglement in situations, Pickering yet bemoaned common insistence on clouding these figures’ praxis by theory.

Basbaum might be added to Pickering’s list of exemplary practitioners subscribing to a holistic systems and cybernetics approach. But International Art English might pose a greater threat than theory to his work. It is easy to imagine a bad press release, littered with IAE, accompanying the latest commission: ‘re-projecting (london)’ might be described as a series of interrelated socially engaged projects invested in notions of relationality, participation, and the interrogation of impermeable architectures obstructing common perception of interdependence and interconnectedness in urban space.

Happily, The Showroom’s official press release has nothing in common with the version imagined. IAE would be especially damaging to Basbaum’s: it not only invites ridicule, Rule and Levine suggest in their research project for Triple Canopy, it is also comparable to a form of English upper-middle class speech, the use of which allows for easy recognition of status and, ultimately, the consolidation of elite authority.[ ]

If Basbaum is guilty of speaking in Deleuzianisms common to IAE, (the ‘gestures [of re-projecting (london)] negotiate the protocols of contemporary experience and art practice, as a line of flight for producing meaning’), there is ample evidence at The Showroom of the artist’s interest in demystifying exclusionary language and diminishing even his own authority. A sheet of A4 paper printed in advance of a meeting held at The Showroom by FLAG (a Chelsea College of Art group formed with a view to examine art and pedagogy) is headed ‘PROBLEMATIC VOCABULARIES’: ‘What do we mean when we use the word knowledge’ What defines something as an institution’’ In the blank space below, a multi-authored handwritten list suggests that obstacles to answering these questions reside in terms such as ‘liminality’, ‘participation’, ‘interrogating’ and ‘contextualising’.

Here is Basbaum, engaged in a challenge to IAE. If as acronyms, NBP and IAE rhyme, they have thankfully little else in common. The latter, representing linguistic stagnation and a covert segregational agenda is the antithesis of NBP - a dynamic, enabling form.

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