Published  30/05/2002

Mapping the process

, 31 May–24 August 2002

A well-assembled exhibition opens on 31 May at the Essor Gallery, London. Significant among the exhibitions are works by Dan Graham, Sigmar Polke, and Johannes Brus. Dan Graham creates conceptual buildings, making some proposals about changes in lifestyle for consumers, and old habits such as eating and swimming are reconceived in a different way. Here, he demonstrates his own working process running from rough first drawings via cardboard maquettes to architectural models in metal and glass. ‘Swimming Pool/ Fish Pond’ is an as yet unrealised scheme for a pool in which spaces are allocated not only to swimming but also to fish (in a separate pond), and to the ever-necessary pool Café… Two-way mirrors are conveniently located around the sides of the pool, cylindrically, and allow anamorphical but distorted views to the swimmers. Narcissus-like they can explore their own bodies, and also entertain the café-dwellers who can compare the swimmers with the fish that are also on show.

There is parody in Sigmar Polke’s work. He displays a teasingly self-censored gouache and uses salacious magazine ingredients to parody high art in a nihilistic mode. Johannes Brus takes photographs of totemic beasts, such as the horse and the eagle, and also Egyptian animal-like deities, empowers them visually, and then uses the process of photographic development to remove the identities man has constructed for them.

Sue Arrowsmith, Claude Heath, and Tim Knowles combine art and science, allowing metamorphosis in recording natural movements. Sue Arrowsmith draws the individually different forms of raindrops falling on her window, using ink on canvas. Claude Heath examines experimentally the movement of a fountain on four lightboxes, recording sections and elevations meticulously. Tim Knowles, by contrast, looks at the elegant patterns thrown by insects in flight and documents these tracks photographically; orange trails on the negatives.

The question of what comprises a stereotype and how such assumptions guide our conscience and memory bank is examined by Anne Daems, Majida Khattari, Susan Hefuna and Monica Bonvicini. Dames deals with small visual details that recall particular individuals over time. Khattari’s work joins ideas of haute couture fashion with basic codes of dress and how they constrain freedom of movement and expression. Hefuna’s work addresses the ancient restrictions on female movement still affecting some ethnic groups in the world. Bonvicini looks at the role of the domestic goddess, and explores through her drawings the interaction of gender and space. She does her best to undermine subtly the cliches and taboos of sexist practices in the cultures of the West.

Edward Allington, Markus Vater and Wolfgang Stehle take a look at the way in which office materials and behavioural structures dominate cultural reminiscence in everyday life. Vater’s drawings are pumped out from a fax machine throughout the duration of the exhibition. He recognises the random occasions upon which ideas occur, and immediately, from wherever, sends them out. Stehle emphasises that his product is compiled by visitors to the exhibition, who hand in information about anything under the sun. He then analyses and collates the information according to aesthetic criteria, ending up with an emergent sculpture accruing before our very eyes. In fact, Stehle focuses on a key premise of the exhibition, that contemporary art is not about completing finished works, but rather about a continually evolving creative product, interactive between mind and reaction on experiencing the work.

This is a powerful and thought-provoking exhibiton, which obliges the viewer to become involved in the thought process of a wide range of artists, all of whom have something to offer to improve both our information level and our experience about life, as well as our own, increasingly random, social patterns of behaviour. Perhaps it is best to see Dan Graham’s ‘life-enhancement’ at the end, and so smile sardonically with him. The fish have it best. Which is where man began.

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