This text was written for the catalogue of an exhibition, titled From Here, at the High Street Project, Christchurch, New Zealand in 1998. It is an old piece that I’ve recently re-discovered so I thought it worth sharing as I have no idea where any of the catalogues are now and it may be of interest to someone out there, including the exhibiting artists. Background info: I was invited, as an artist, to exhibit and curate this exhibition. I developed a concept that would respond to the fairly short lead-in time, and to the fact that the work would need to be easily transportable, which included me carrying some works to New Zealand. I decided to select works that could be produced directly onto the gallery wall (from artists instructions or designs), works on paper and unframed works, and video works. I titled the show WallPaperVideo. I also wanted to include as many artists as possible from Glasgow. _______________________________________________________________________
Artists in From Here from Glasgow David Shrigley, Sarah Tripp, Lucy Skaer, Toby Paterson, Robert Johnson, Caroline Woodley, Dalziel+Scullion, Stephen Hurrel, Graham Fagen, Jonnie Wilkes, Ross Sinclair, Cathy Wilkes, Chris Evans, Judy Spark, Ross Birrell, Gary Rough, Tom O’Sullivan & Joanne Tatham, David Michael Clark, Ann Marie Copestake. Artists selected by Stephen Hurrel (Glasgow) and co-curated with Leigh Martin (Christchurch)
Time, Speed, Distance, a Sense of Place, and Other Stories
Memory is both an unreliable source and a useful form of editing, and, six months after the From Here exhibition, my thoughts on the project seem unquantifiable. And I’m happy with that. Putting together a group show from the same city involves engaging in a series of disconnected dialogues, which, individually say one thing and collectively say another. And these dialogues, which emerge and converge within a local context, also operate within a wider network of knowledge and commonality. I suppose what I’m saying is, things don’t happen in isolation, they are products of an exchange of ideas and interactions with other people, of received information and chance encounters. In a sense, putting the two-part exhibition together was a very organic process and I don’t want to encapsulate the selection of works within a textual form of closure. I want to retain a sense of ‘lightness’ that the works projected. And I mean lightness here in terms of the economy and means of expression – which somehow seemed to counter ‘the weight of living’ which many of the works expressed. And so, with this in mind I hope to touch on some of the things that influenced the selection, and perhaps the production, of the works from Glasgow.
As I awoke New Zealand slept, as I slept New Zealand awoke. Email; questions at night answered by morning. Time was compressed and therefore extended.
I came to this project at a fairly late stage and was faced with a tight deadline in which to approach artists and select works. At first this seemed problematic. In retrospect it was actually this factor which shaped the form of the two exhibitions and, for me, raised interesting questions about strategies for art production and its exhibition.
Speed of production and speed of delivery. Speed of communication via electronic networks. Thoughts and ideas articulated via the language, signs and processes of mass production.
In keeping with the immediacy of the project, and the fact that a lot of artwork was to be transported to the other side of the world, a framework was devised in which to operate. Generally, the works had to be light in weight, of a manageable size, unframed, easy to transport and install. The format for the exhibitions therefore became; (1) works produced directly onto the gallery walls, by gallery staff, from artists’ instructions (2) unframed works on paper (3) video-works.
The exhibition title became ‘From Here: WallPaperVideo‘.
Glasgow, London, Osaka, Christchurch : 24.5hrs air time x 500 mph ave. = 12,250 air miles approximately.
…and a Sense of Place
Sitting in 400tons of ‘ 747’, 30,000ft above Earth. Eating a Chinese main dish, with Japanese noodles and Scottish salmon as side dishes. Drinking French wine and Italian coffee. Watching a video of Japanese teams playing American baseball. Isolated from the German passenger in adjacent seat by headphones playing ‘calming sounds of nature from the Amazon’, whilst the video-screen changes to a real-time graphical map showing our plane passing over Russia. (From notes written on the back of a JAL sick bag whilst on route to Christchurch, 24th August 1998)
Shift: Place to Non-Place, Linear to Non-linear
Before my involvement in From Here I had recently returned from a twelve-month artist residency in Australia. I was, at the time, going through a process of reassessing my life, my future direction, and what it meant to be back here, in Glasgow. During this process, I considered countless metaphors for making decisions, including the archetypal image of a cross-roads. But when I considered this metaphor further I was not sure if it was still that valid. It seemed so old fashioned. Language today consists more of superhighways and interconnecting webs of information, where there are endless paths to choose from and everything becomes available at the double-click of a cursor…all that information, all those images and all those people waiting to meet you on-line. A place, or non-place, where there is no beginning or end, just different points of entry and exit within a continuous flow. There is no true path, but there is a multitude of options to sample from and to leap between. And as you enter these new spaces mentally, and become actively engaged, your physical body is immobilised. Your movement through space and time is illusory, non-physical and non-linear. And there occurs a shift in perspective and a major shift in perception.
Back on the road
There is still something appealing and quite sublime in the long, straight empty road leading into the distance. It is somehow reassuring. You can see it in front of you, feel it under you, even smell its substance, and it shows you where to go. It leads you to an inevitable destination; a point on the map, a cluster of civilisation, a community of strangers, a land of opportunity. It offers unknown possibilities, chance encounters, unspoken desires. Or it simply leads you home to ‘a place where everybody knows your name’. It promises everything and is unashamedly Romantic.
The metaphor of the road is a recurring theme in various classic forms, such as Jack Keruoac’s book ‘On The Road’ in the ’50’s, Hunter S. Thomson’s ‘Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas’ in the ’70’s and the films ‘Easy Rider’ in the ’60’s, ‘Wild at Heart’ by David Lynch in the ’80’s and ‘Thelma & Louise’ by Ridley Scott in the ’90’s.
Within these works the road, or road-trip, remains the constant linear structure on which to hang the uncertainties and chaos of the protagonists’ lives. The road, like life, remains linear, leading to a point in the distance, a conclusion, an end, a death. It is still a powerful metaphor because, no matter how crazy things get off-road, we always know that we can get back on the straight and narrow and try again. Relevant or not, it is a powerful paradigm. We have been immersed in it since birth, and the dominant rationalist perspective on reality serves to enforce that position. But the road metaphor has to do with the symbolic representation of the physical world based on what is recognisably real. Whereas, new forms of representation don’t necessarily use reality as a starting point. Are we ready for the unknown, the ‘ungraspable’ and the non-physical interaction with cyberspace and other imminent developments, such as digital television: Developments which open up new spaces to negotiate and greater fragmentation within our lived experience?
If we look at the development of television, perhaps we can see that the bridge has already been built between what is real and what is fiction. Television has become omnipresent in our lives and we readily accept the way it compresses and inter-cuts moments of time, and creates extraordinary illusions which soon become ordinary. And if we think about the impact that this has on our thoughts, memories and the collective consciousness, then perhaps we have one of the most emphatic symbols of the fragmented twentieth century. As well as the single most powerful medium in which to disseminate, receive and control information.
Within the medium of television we experience several things happening at once. Like the road, television takes us somewhere else; we enter its space and it shows us the way. We don’t have to do anything except choose the channel. Everything else has been taken care of in the edit-suite, the production meeting and the Programmer’s office. In a sense we are reassured by its paternal nature. It punctuates our lives and sets the rhythm of the day. It tells us about the atrocities of the world in a seamless, sterile form. It encourages us to relax and share some time with it on daytime-TV; to switch off from reality, return to a child-like form and become cocooned in the warm glow of welcoming strangers. And in a sense that is completely understandable, because it has been left to television to fill the gap left by our gradual dislocation from family, friends, neighbours and the wider community. We are now visited by an endless progression of fictional characters from fictional places, or real people with TV-friendly smiles or fucked-up lives. But as the outside world deteriorates and becomes a more frightening place to be, it is reassuring to know that when you watch television you are engaged in the same collective endeavour as a large part of the population. And a strange comfort is taken from just knowing that.
Whole generations have been raised on the same codified language of television, advertising and other generic forms of mass-media output. We have witnessed the innocent early years of broadcasting as well as the more ironic, cynical and ‘real life’ programmes of recent years. We have become accustomed to the illusions and deceptions of everyday life and accept that these are all part of the game – everything is true and nothing is true – it no longer matters. It has become part of our collective psychic experience and has in some way shaped our identities: Cinematic moments, tv characters, political leaders and supermodels have all become reference points for discourse, triggers for memory, and intersections within our daily experience. As their relevance and symbolic meaning within culture is analysed and deconstructed, they either become powerful ambassadors of our hopes, fears and desires, or they fade away like half-remembered dreams.
A global village with no neighbours
And now with the dissemination of images and knowledge through ever more efficient communication and distribution systems, we are able to experience the same mass-media output with a greater amount of people. The latest fashion trends can happen simultaneously at several centres around the world, and we can experience the same tele-visual moments. We can discuss the intricacies of soaps, films, music, magazines, etc. and use these as reference points to who we are, or, who we want to become. In the art-world, too, the production and dissemination of images and text on artists has become cheaper, more efficient and more widespread. We can all be aware of what is going on in our own local network and the wider network, simultaneously. We are aware of the debates, the strategies, the rising stars, and all this has an effect on us – even if we try to ignore it. And so, we find ourselves at an interesting point in history. If we accept there is a commonality of experience within post-war societies of the developed world, in terms of the mass-media, whilst at the same time accept that we have witnessed the erosion and disappearance of so called ‘Grand Narratives’ that used to provide meaning and security within our lives, then, where does this leave us?
What effect does this have on our sense of place, language, history and the vernacular? Will the intricacies of the ‘local’ that give daily life its texture and meaning, on a first hand basis, become consumed by other forms of experience, such as those available via new media? Will access to endless dialogues and knowledge, via the internet and digital television, for example, result in a further fragmentation of meaning? Or will existing communities of communication become strengthened by like-minded associations and exchanges? And what effect will wider access to the means of production have, now that it has filtered down from top-heavy corporations to the economy of the street? Will it result in a greater visibility and diversity of language and signification? Or will the world just become a noisier place?
If here is there and there is here
If all these ‘non-spaces’ become accessible as meeting points and places for collective and psychic experience then where does that leave our relationship with the physical world? In short, where is, or where will ‘here’ be? These are hypothetical questions which are constantly in the process of being addressed by society’s need to communicate and to visualise itself, whether this is through the natural progression of culture in images, music, language, style, the internet, or by artists in a more self-reflexive manner: ‘
…never before have individual histories been so explicitly affected by collective history, but never before, either, have the reference points for collective identification been so unstable. The individual production of meaning is thus more necessary than ever’
(Non-places – Introduction to an Anthropology of Supermodernity – Marc Auge, Verso 1995)
It is within this framework that I think a lot of the selected work from Glasgow operates. It is an ‘individual production of meaning’ which usurps the language and tools of technology. But instead of selling you a dream, it tells you a story. Instead of giving you what you think you want, it asks you who you are. It communicates directly but leaves you to decide what the message is. It demands your attention then whispers in your ear. Intimacy and immediacy become embraced in the ecstasy of mass consumption. It adapts, evolves and mutates, but tries to remember who it is. Like the society that shapes it, it appears ‘ungraspable’.