Thursday, 2 February 2012
When I first walked into the Jerwood Project Space (aka the Jerwood cafe) to see Katie Schwab and Jamie George's collaborative exhibition My (We) I'm embarrassed to confess I hit upon a problem. I couldn't see any art. Sandwiches and cakes aplenty but, at a cursory, impatient, 'let's get this job done and dusted' glance, no art. In retrospect I suppose this is symptomatic of the very thing I'm so often shouting my mouth off about. These days we want to dash into a museum / gallery / project space, have it tell us something immediate / amusing / educational and then we wish to leave, expediently, perhaps slightly smugly, with a new nugget of information tucked into our back pockets. So used have we become, in this marketing-driven information age, to things jumping out and bonking us about the head with whatever message it is they wish to convey, we have no sensitivity left with which to tune into the subtler things in life.
Luckily I did not fall at the first, or the second, because this work, even once discovered, remains elusive. Perhaps contemporary art has become so ambiguous, so 'difficult' in the communicating of its message precisely in response to the grasping nature of the Ikea Generation. At any rate, rather than criticise it for it's aloof intellectualism, better to enquire into what it holds in the fist it clenches so firmly behind its back. At the very least, it challenges us to engage ourselves at a deeper level than we are perhaps used, which is no bad thing.
I remind myself, when lost, start from where you are. So, in front of me are three small black and white passport sized photographs framed as one work, showing what reveals itself to be the torso of a woman wearing in the first a t-shirt with a large circle, then a t-shirt with a star and thirdly, a t-shirt with a stripe. The rest of the body, including the head, is absent. Thoughts of identity and nationality present themselves, the ways in which we symbolise our identities to the world. Way above me on the wall is a large blue circle containing five stubby uprights that hint at fingers, but also put me in mind of ancient monoliths. Again disembodied, decontextualised symbols, images reduced to a bare minimum, stripped of superfluity.
Below that, de-centered on the far left of the wall, two framed photographs sit one atop the other, blocks of colour, green and grey, one an inverted smiley face drawn with a finger in wet concrete, the other has a smiley sticker appended to the glass. Behind me, two thin girder-like beams, cast in concrete, flank the large window like very modern sentinels. I don't know what they are but they amuse and delight.
Accompanying the work is a publication. A captivating short story by Katie Schwab and a somewhat dense (for my taste) text by Jamie George, the later offering relief in the form of a dusting of short quotations from the likes of Maurice Blanchot, Henri Lefebvre and Jacque Ranciere. I am transported, with no small dread, to the befuddlement of my days wandering the halls of Goldsmiths'. What is going on here? What am I being shown?
Eventually I recalled the day I stood in front of my tutor, the terrifying powerhouse that is Professor Irit Rogoff, nursing a pristine copy of Deleuze & Guattari's A Thousand Plateaus. Having listened to her speak, for upwards of two hours, on the subject of nomadic thought and the rhizomatics of domination, I found by the end I had no clearer understanding than I'd had at the start. Please let me be clear: I am absolutely certain that this was due to the shortcomings of nobody but myself and I am, once again, embarrassed to admit that I have not, since that day in 1999, attempted to grapple with the extraordinary genius of Gilles Deleuze. When I plucked up the courage to tell Professor Rogoff that “I don't get it,” her reply was confoundingly simple. “Darling,” she said, “there's nothing to get.”