Thursday, 27 January 2011
Here's one I wrote earlier. Last June actually. I'm not sure why it has only just made it out into the world. Pablo Wendel was in Bloomberg contemporaries as well. Although I didn't see it because the gallery shut early on the penultimate day, very annoyingly. Bloody ICA. Rubbish....
Visiting degree shows is a bit like going round the sales. Most of what you see is crap but when you do stumble upon a gem, it's a blinder. So it was at the RCA this year. Profoundly unfathomable map of works in hand I trudged round dutifully, stood before a video of someone's bare bottom; bizarre mounds of Styrofoam; a bronze mountain covered in Bosch-esque tiny little people all vomiting or shitting or shagging and a muddle of other strange items.
Then I came to a wall that had been half knocked down. Or half built up. It was a white wall and in that sense fairly unobtrusive. But its disintegration brought it into focus, not as something to be automatically circumnavigated or an unseen support structure for something else, but as a thing in its own right. On the wall were copies of a publication Subject: Re: Accidentally on purpose Pablo Wendel. The cover showed a photograph of a grey door with a lock on it, a sign saying PUSH, another prohibiting smoking and a lot of grubby finger marks. Inside the publication was a series of questions sent by Pablo Wendel to various members of the college.
The questions included "what do you think is the role of studio architecture in influencing an artist's work ethic?", "should student and teacher be able to act independently and courageously in an institution?" and "what do you think about the colour grey?" The emailed replies were published verbatim along with snapshots of structural elements of the college - walls, doors, etc.
Pablo’s other piece of work was listed as 'Number 55, MA Squat, House 14/6/2010-2/7/2010 accessed via stairs in the yard'. I went to the yard. No stairs. Somebody directed me out of the front door and around the back of the building. Eventually I came across a plank come make-shift ladder leading over a low wall and into a deserted shop. Inside was a table with a sleeping bag on it lying open, recently vacated. The place was filthy. I could hear voices from the next room and felt I was intruding so I went back out and walked around to the front.
There I found Pablo Wendel, the artist who is squatting this one time chippie for the duration of his degree show. He invited me to sit on the greasy plastic seating and showed me a video, shot two days before, the day before his show opened to the examiners and two days before it opened to the public, showing two members of the College administrative team in luminous tabards telling him they’re about to destroy his work on health and safety grounds. Wendel's voice can be heard objecting, explaining that this represents the culmination of two years work and the crux of his degree show. His pleas were ignored. What is Art in the wake of the modern demi-God that is health and safety?
This grotty little tableau provides a poetic response to the questions Pablo poses, demonstrating how little anything matters to us beyond the shoring up our own positions of safety against the imagined threats of an atomised world. Not creativity. Not compassion.
Wendel’s provocative action along fault-lines of power and control, freedom and constraint, can be viewed in the context of the art college and its politicking – the institution that defines itself in terms of its free thinking rebellious nature - so long as that rebellion doesn’t cost it. Or it can be viewed in a more universal sense.
Either way there was a rawness to this work that could only be perceived viscerally. Always we want to find meaning in things, to pin down a work of art and extract from it objective knowledge for ourselves. We struggle with the leap into an intuitive way of knowing. But to try too hard to evoke meaning is to miss it altogether.
In a disused fish and chip shop on Parkgate Road I came across a young artist with so much in his heart that he was prepared to risk losing everything in his attempt to express what he felt as he felt it, unmediated by tacit obstruction or the need to conform.
This is what makes degree shows exhilarating. When you find the real thing you’ve found it in its raw form, before the very systems of control that Wendel is grappling with have succeeded in knocking its vitality into the cruel slumber of passivity or mannered negotiation from which it will likely never awaken.