A Constructed World
Paris, April 7 2014
It’s Monday 7:32 am, I have just read a black and white, stapled photocopy of Geoff Lowe Collaborations 1980-1992 at ACCA and it seems so near and so far.
For a number of years I had some interest in the kind of social practice explored in this exhibition, and later (from 1993) in projects by A Constructed World that followed similar concerns. We made exhibitions that included people not usually involved in contemporary art, at ACCA, and subsequently at Roslyn Oxley9 gallery, Karyn Lovegrove gallery, Arts Victoria, Victorian College of the Arts, Adelaide Biennale, Artists Space, New York, the Serpentine Sackler Gallery, London and so on.
The discourse around post structuralism and appropriation created a space where authorship could be challenged. The interest in this kind of production was somewhat short lived and by about 2000 the professionalisation of the artist and investment expectations had made these inclusive attitudes dated, once again. It seems truly amazing to me now that Roslyn Oxley showed these collaborations with amateurs in five shows in succession at the gallery in the 90s with no financial interface whatsoever. The enthusiasm that all the above mentioned galleries showed was remarkable. That brief open moment seems to have been replaced by a kind of Modernistic formalism in Melbourne, led by the architecture that thrives today.
The exhibition seems far away in that I now see these works as Romantic:
The urgent present and liveness, as transcendent, makes a circuitous arrival today from the Romantic period. Gericault and Delacroix (Byron too) often went to the location where events actually happened to break through the musty, truth-averse constructs and conventions of classical aesthetics and knowledge. In a kind of outside-broadcast they linked the audience to contested, dangerous sites that were imploding and exploding. This tradition continues in the transmission of news events today and has been duly deconstructed and critiqued.
For the Romantics ‘the logical end of mimesis is full illusion, yet now a spell or invocation suggests that something else is there as well. Their demand for urgent truth used irony to expand into a capacious space of historical empathy with an infinite number of voices murmuring at once. Over the last fifty years or so the word Romantic connotes polished, corny concepts and feeling states. This use is markedly different to the Schlegel brothers[i] calls for irony, the unknown and the ungraspable. Fragmentation and incomprehensibility were linked to notions of Ideal Presence in Romanticism. After the Modern period, every artist who sits down to make a work taps into this place as a cathedral of possibilities. It is the same for beginners or veterans. This exasperating eternity and alterity often prevents us from directing any conversation (as art) to any particular person or group. It seems there can be no address other than to the ineffable infinite1.
It’s far away because I hadn’t read Frederic Schlegel then in 1992, I had no idea that Romanticism was about ‘double ironies’2. I was desperate to get out of art into some more immediate interface, with real people. Two of the essays in the catalogue say I was ‘not sceptical’, ‘happy to believe’ and ‘deeply optimistic’, but amateur artist Ian Stuart seems to get closer when he writes ‘the struggle for an authentic response can have its perils’.
The catalogue and exhibition seem near because the collective idiom of rock n’ roll and it’s romantic transcendence that I attempted to represent seem perfectly replicated in the menace of the ecological state of the world now: it’s like the end of a Who concert where everything gets smashed up and trashed for the sheer fun of it. That’s my generation.
Ian Stuart’s comment is near to Frederic Shlegel who says:
Of all things that have to do with communicating ideas, what could be more fascinating than the question of whether such communication is actually possible?3
But whether we understand each other or not, the show was full of urges and surges, even if these works were often seen and described as piffle. To quote Ian again (this time very near) ‘the people in his paintings offer some support in a common cause’. And so they all, every one of them, still do for me.
The exhibition seems far because some of the works, whilst hospitable, would barely be seen as collaborative today. And farther again because as Kathy Bail (Chief Executive of UNSW Press) said, in her speech at the opening of ACW's survey exhibition Based on a true story at the Ian Potter Museum of Art, ‘Geoff Lowe does not exist’.
I believe I had to eschew painting as figure and form, not how John Baldessari did by physically destroying all his works between 1953 and 1966, as a tabula rasa, but by permanently rescinding my artistic identity by joining with Jacqueline Riva and whoever we worked with, as A Constructed World. This distancing from the medium of painting was the only way to get out of the impoverished transcendence mentioned above. To begin some kind of material account of what was actually going on. Who is speaking, who are we talking to and what is the address? It required a kind of confusion, to remove the false certainty of identity and address.
This refusal of medium gave a lot of people the shits in Australia. And to this day I have no idea whether that is what I intended or not.
For sure. there are other people there when an artwork gets made; to represent this remains the primary focus of our work. Walter Benjamin and psychoanalyst Darian Leader believe the audience makes a work of art ‘unfinished’ (by deciding it is a work of art, rather than the thing itself). This is an area where there is still so much work to be done. This alterity is relentlessly repressed by the market and by many circuits in the world of contemporary art. The exhibition at ACCA was an opportunity to begin to look at how a compromised, incomplete or unfinished work could be more inclusive.
What remains very near is our gratitude to all those in the world of art that made this show happen, to look back on.
Geoff Lowe: Collaborations 1980 -1992 was held at ACCA from 24 April – 31 May 1992
A Constructed World, founded in 1993, is the collaborative project of Geoff Lowe and Jacqueline Riva, Australian artists based in Paris.
1 From Breaking up over the phone a text by ACW (in French) in the book Art by telephone recalled, Sebastien Pluot and Fabien Vallos, Cneai= press 2014
2 The only solution is to find an irony that might be able to swallow up all these big and little ironies and leave no trace of them at all. [ii] Friedric Schelgel, Lucinde and the Fragments, On Incomprehensibilty (Trans. Peter Firchow) University of Minnesota Press, 1971, p267
3 ibid p259