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Geoff Kleem: Industrial division
In many respects Geoff Kleem takes up where Minimalism left off. His installation, Industrial Division, of dysfunctional display furniture, punches a conceptual hole through the intersection of form and function, still traced within the territorial precincts of Minimalism in the 1960s and 1970s. Kleem squeezes the formalist paradigm for humorous effect and creates a kind of theatre of the mutant object.
His characters occupy an imaginary world; they are the base genetic code, adaptable for display in any circumstances, equally at home in the supermarket, trade fair, shopping mall, museum or factory. In the art gallery they conjure up their own histories; performing as dadaesque characters, they become parodies of the high Minimalism of the monumental '60s, and at the same time they retain the wit associated with the hybrid Minimalism of Robert Morris. It is the mocking, irreverent edge that gives Kleem's work a performative aspect.
The idea of the expressive artist, the great stalwart of modernism, is hijacked by Kleem. The 'author' here is truly a bricoleur, operating as an ideas man, plotting out the display options on a computer screen, planning an event or exhibition which never quite arrives. Instead we are surrounded by the plinths, platforms, shelves, cabinets and trolleys which move, crate and display things. For the visual art enthusiast there are also art historical references. Joseph Beuys's autobiographically significant, existential lump of fat is lampooned by Kleem. Here it becomes an unfinished industrial wedge, mounted on wheels. The metaphysical pretensions of its earlier representation are undone as mini-mechanics do conceptual business with existential anxiety. Kleem's plywood tableaux also mimic great moments of modernist art history. The broom resting on the wall injects a narrative which again conjures memories of Beuys, but also of Joseph Kosuth, Claes Oldenburg and George Segal.
Kleem creates a theatre of expectation which underlines our desire for the spectacle by underlining its absence. It is the spectator's desire that is in suspension as we engage with the totems of display.
Like Kleem, Rebecca Cummins and Rosemary Laing break down the conventional conceptual parameters of the art gallery.
Cummins intervenes in the physical environment of the university campus with the strategic placement of camera obscuras masquerading as rubbish bins, flower boxes and birdhouses. These devices engage the viewer in the wondrous world of the camera's pre-history, as the spectator is both the creator of the view as well as the receiver of the picture. In this way Cummins stresses the narcissistic and entertainment value of the apparatus and its phenomenalogical space which produces an uncanny experience of the world upside-down.
In the gallery, Cummins creates what have been called 'Baroque dinner party games'. Her elaborate drinking goblets double as cameras catching the viewer unaware. This looking-and-seeing game is underlined by the gallery as looking-and-seeing space. As site of spectacle. We are looking beings who are looked at in the spectacle of the world. Enveloped in an interplay of scopic desires, we witness the drive of our own becoming visible, producing a familiar power relationship in our own bid to see our reflection, albeit upside down. We become accomplices in the surveillance machine, longing to look, caught in a scopic regime of desire.
We are doubly watched in these rooms, by the artist's mechanisms with which we interact, watching ourselves watching ourselves, and by the gallery's security system - a technological interloper on the 'primitive' mechanisms on the Baroque table. Cummin's uses the decorative drinking vessels to underline our easy digestion of the 'seen'-our literal gluttony to be seen, to see. To have power. To know. The simplicity of the gesture, the wine of the day, is underscored by a conceptual cynicism - big brother is watching you delight in watching yourself.
Rosemary Laing's photographs are spectacular pictures of cargo holds, things in transit and pregnant expectations of speed and flight. The monumentality of the aeroplane is represented by its interior. Vacant and gutted, the gigantic insides of the jumbo jet appear as sterile industrial spaces awaiting the injection of activity. All Laing's pictures are on a cinematic scale; many are tightly composed to give the feeling of a compressed edge which heightens the optical experience for the viewer.
There is an interesting collision of opposites in these pictures as cold, hard, greased and phallic spaces are opened up, stripped and laid bare. The phallic structure of the freight plane is sliced open (castrated) to reveal a void into which an athletic woman aims a javelin. The symbolism is over-played, but in the context of the picture it is almost understated. This theatrical ploy punctuates Laing's brown-work photographs to the extent that we can almost see this work as a documentation of some sort of performance art. But this is not documentary or documentation, as such. Laing is operating in uncharted territory in many respects, negotiating the spaces between one thing and another. I am particularly drawn to the performative aspects of the work, the ways in which the artist quite literally changes an ordinary space into a 'theatre of the absurd'.
In these exhibitions we must engage with the artists and their conceptual games to appreciate the level of analysis that the works are trying to generate. The exhibitions are about looking and being looked at, the vehicles that display that looking, including the gallery, and our preoccupations with the look, the surface, the carrier, the messenger.