Reference to a selected text is often employed as an introduction or prop within the context of the contemporary art gallery. The exhibition visitor can certainly be observed, shuffling, a black and white A4 press release around the space. Text develops the ability to back flip and pirouette in this format; to question individual practices, pull together divergent ideas in works or speak of particular cultural themes. In other words, the use of a chosen text is seeking to make the work in an exhibition cohesive as opposed to disparate. Donations from theoretical texts are familiar offerings in the rotation of exhibition props. In ‘The Pleasure of the Text’ at Campoli Presti, the title itself has been transplanted directly from critical theory. Over forty years ago, a book by the distinguished Roland Barthes was published with the same name. The elder edition of ‘The Pleasure of the Text’ discusses a break down or perforation in narrative text as a device for the reader to fully immerse themselves within the materiality of a text. Barthes suggests that this causal fissure in the narrative shouldn’t necessarily mean a break in making sense of the text. Instead he proposes that the tale continues on a divergent path as confused or as linear as the reader wishes.
It is worth noting that this approach to text is now, over forty years since ‘The Pleasure of the Text’ was first published, a cultural normality. The World Wide Web has built a factory of mass divergence out of the readers and producers of text(s). In summer 2013 Frieze touched on this in Future Fictions, which gives an overview to the context and direction of this cultural phenomenon. To stage an exhibition with this concept running in the background makes the very idea behind the show difficult to extrapolate; when culturally all material is approached as something that will diverge from its original intention. Perhaps it can be pleasing however, to see these essential ideas applied to objects that are not necessarily linked to theories of the internet and technology.
Upon entering Campoli Presti, the screen for a short while does not make an appearance. Stretched from the window and into the gallery Daiga Gratnina’s ‘cometresch’ (2015) has dimensions that become undefinable in the language of geometry. Supported only by three lines of wire and string, ‘cometresch’ approaches a crescendo in the centre with material suspended in a crumpled grip. Ripples of blue can be viewed from one side, nestled amongst clear PVC and white matter. Alternating the gaze between looking at Grantina’s entity and the list of works detailing medium and form brings the viewer no closer to articulating what ‘cometresch’ actually is. The list of works provides no exhaustive list of what has been gathered and suspended. This adds a layer of intrigue and prompts the viewer to engage their actual thought processes. It is not a work to be flattened onto paper or the screen, it is an experiential proposition.
Parallel with the door there is a nearly square canvas hung on the wall with a pale pastel-like wash across the surface. Within Jutta Koether’s ‘untitled’ (2013) mathematical formulae appear and reappear, underneath and on top of the scrubbed colour. The corners of the canvas are highlighted by a darker brush of orange-red. Then, almost a thumb-width into the canvas are repetitions of these corners, this time suspended within the space of the mathematical expressions. This framing device is a familiar signature across the rest of Koether’s practice. Aesthetically it anchors the almost anarchic forms within the canvas when at the same time conceptually, it can be read as a futile gesture. Strides away, far on the opposite wall hangs Lucy Dodd’s ‘The Inherited GBH’ (2014), a painting where all the lengths of all the sides differ and the diversity of materials present relate to the gathering process previously described in relation to Grantina’s ‘cometresch’. Similarly, what the collection of foss leaf extract; verona green earth, iron glimmer, hematite, graphite and mixed pigments on canvas become is not a simple articulation of form. There are suggestions of other worlds beyond our current realities. In the imagination these realms roam across mythology, parallel universes, the future or fiction.
Since entering the gallery there has been the consistent sound of a female voice filtering across the room. It is coming from the only screen based work in the show. Amy Sillman’s animation ‘Pinky’s Rule’ (2011) emanates a more traditional story structure than the other work in the show, as does the floor to ceiling installation of ‘Stills from “Pinky’s Rule”’ (2011-12). The comic-strip format of Sillman’s stills deceive you into seeking out a linear reading of the story. Instead the eye is pulled across graphic forms and colour, reading shape in addition to a tale. There is a self-assurance in traversing across mediums here, where the work allows the nebulous to establish a position. All the pieces in the exhibition were propelling the viewer towards this. After leaving I had a dull sense that Roland Barthes doesn’t need to be distinctly layered across the work in ‘The Pleasure of the Text’. In this context Barthes languishes like a long dead spectre who wishes he were a poltergeist so can he justify his existence. The work here moves confidently beyond the initial theoretical discussions proposed by Barthes, thus ironically chalking a more decisive (and thus curious) break in the continuum of theory than perhaps Barthes could have wished for.