The Noing Uv It is the first of two exhibitions at Bergen Kunsthall inviting us to think once again about objects. Below are some reflections on how we might try to develop ideas from it, sustaining beyond the duration of the exhibition.
The first two exhibitions of Martin Clark’s directorship, the retrospective of Robert Overby, Works 1969-1987, and Corruption Feeds by Will Benedict, have seen Bergen Kunsthall jam-packed with work. Even if he has not been involved in some of the main decisions concerning these two previous exhibitions (Benedict effectively re-curated his own solo show, bringing in other artists, whilst the Robert Overby exhibition was predominantly curated by Alessandro Rabottini), Clark has shown with his co-curation of The Noing Uv It with British artist Steven Claydon that such quantitive generosity is very much a part of his approach, and, if anything, this exhibition presents a further step in this direction: there are forty pieces of work by eighteen different artists in the largest space, Gallery 1.
In the adjoining public conversation with Claydon and the high priest of the “object-oriented-ontology” (o-o-o) philosophical movement, Graham Harman, Clark himself imparted that he and Claydon had taken an “authorial” approach to curating the exhibition. He stated that this disposition had been instigated by a frustration with the justificatory necessity prefacing much curating practice in which curators are designated as the ‘subject supposed to know’ for both public and intra-institutional questioning. As with anyone who has felt the temporal drag of implementing a plan of premature assertiveness as required by the pervasive projective format (we’ve all got numerous “projects”), Clark acknowledged that for him this was a downside of the institutional structure. Even if not revelatory in itself, Clark should be commended for endeavouring to renegotiate his position, as well as giving regular visitors to the Kunsthall the opportunity to consider three extremely rich and penetrating exhibitions.
Following NO.5’s admirable revisitation theme, focusing once again on specific exhibitions or work, it is the practice of Clark’s co-curator Steven Claydon that is concentrated on in the adjoining gallery space with a re-presentation of his videos The Fictional Pixel and The Ancient Set (both 2008) within what is termed a “newly conceived exhibition environment”. At times bordering on experimental documentary shorts, a fundament of the two vividly soundtracked videos that also provides a rich constellation through which to think about The Noing Uv It is Claydon’s use of computer-synthesised voice narration. When attempting to achieve maximum pronunciation and prosodic “clarity” from the synthesised narration voice, the artist found that he had to write some words quasi-phonetically, observable in the “semi-phonetic” script available to gallery-goers, an example of such textual practice being the name of the pre-Socratic philosopher Democritus being written as “D’moc-retus”. In his comments about the work in the aforementioned public discussion, Claydon termed this process “reverse etymology”, and it is similar in spirit to Russell Hoban’s quasi-phonetic language used in his late 1970s novel Riddley Walker, a quote of which is also the title of the main exhibition, ‘The Noing Uv It’. Such concerns gravitate closely around the ideas foregrounded during “the linguistic turn” of philosophy and particularly in Jacques Derrida’s work of the 1960s and 1970s, so disruptive to the analytical philosophers’ work in the field, where he used inventive wordplay to not only develop his arguments, but also to perform them. Claydon’s “reverse etymology” rides on the conceit of ‘normative clarity’ – “this is what that word sounds like”, or “these are general identifiable characteristics of this word” – so contested by Derrida in his exchanges with John Searle (resulting in Derrida’s book Limited Inc); could not such a process of clarification be infinite? It is the positing of such a subjective, imaginary threshold that each of the panelists in the public discussion asserted when talking about the main exhibition as setting the speculative task of encountering objects “on their own terms”. Claydon’s external point of reference – he does not operate solely within the rule-governed behaviour of the computer used to synthesise the voice – and his decisions on norms of prosody and pronunciation enabled him to pervert the recognition-based programming of the computer. How can we “reverse” our own recognitional binds to subsequently meet objects on terms they decree?
The secreted second stage of Claydon’s “reverse etymology” is evident here: As Claydon already had a program from which he was able to extract and rework material before feeding it back into the computer, the “etymology” part – that the program functions according to certain scientific norms as deemed by programmers and within which Claydon can in fact only partially intervene – can be seen as requiring some kind of normative terms, and if these are to be set by objects, they would have to at the very least be some mutual understanding between an object and an individual. Neither Clark, Claydon, nor Harman gave any inkling as to how we may come to identify objects’ “terms”.
This is the difficult conflict running through The Noing Uv It: how to concede to what Clark and Claydon assert to be “the allure of objects”, whilst attempting to ‘reverse’ by becoming aware and unlearning the intra-subjective rules of perception (perhaps like the coding scripts of the computer programme inaccessible to Claydon). This difficulty is exacerbated by an imbalance between much work in the exhibition seeming to inhabit the ‘alluring’ reconstitution of the senses without perhaps enough aid in any kind of sensual dismantlement enabling a ‘reverse’. Of course, we could give in to the allure and in one movement try to undertake a sensual transposition. But is this not taking on too much in one activity, akin to trying to re-programme a computer without having access to the code?
In the context of The Noing Uv It, with the emphasis on this haptic sensing, works like Cerith Wyn Evans’ T=R=A=N=S=F=E=R=E=N=C=E (Frequency shifting paradigms in streaming audio) are attenuated to novel spectacles in which the specifics of the sound emitted by the ‘audio spotlight’ sound source (a highly-directional sound emitting device) are overrode by the formal novelty of hovering above the work and feeling the sound suddenly leap into your ear as you move into the narrow dispersion beam. However, within the limitations of opting for a transposing all-in-one approach, Wyn Evans’ work succeeds in confusing one’s senses to cajole some kind focus on how we are perceive the work. It is here that an unnerving situation within The Noing Uv It seems to arise: that formal novelty seems to simultaneously disarm and allure in one go, and in this sense embody the transposing approach I have considered above; we don’t know how it does it, but it does it, enticing and evading us. New technologies can often have this effect.
Dutch artist Magali Reus’ three works, Luke (UV Games), Luke (Dwnt), and Luke (Boulder), stick with evasion, and in so doing are not just interesting, intensely demanding works in themselves, but also significantly aid the exhibition as a whole, doing it the service of focusing on the “reversing” needed to better ground oneself. Reus’ work seems to be reliant on a much more obscure script, as if attempting to read Clayton’s narration script transcribed as phonetic symbols but with disregard the for sound each symbol signifies (yes, there is an international phonetic alphabet); “what is this thing before me?” we might ask.
This is the question Reus’ works’ demands. And perhaps this is its only “term”, undecided itself as to others. Wolfgang Tillmans’ Headlight (b) and Martin Westwood’s various fired-clay extrusions also lean this way, but not as radically as Reus. Listing the materials of her work serves no purpose here. Similarly, within the exhibition the details of materials are redundant if we are to scour matter with new eyes, but do provide invaluable guidance as to knowing which work is which (if that is in fact important in such an exhibition)! The inconspicuous filigree of the remnant-like obscurities within the brusque metal casing of Lukes (Dwnt) are aided by their material dissimilarity when many works in The Noing Uv It are often wedded to even more reduced material investigations. Reus’ work seems relatively ambivalent to the possible ‘allure’ it may have. The work’s abstraction simultaneously suggests questions as to what we are looking at as well as how the things we are looking at might cohere. Her work is thus aware that the intra-subjective rules of perception are not solely constituted knowingly and are also modulated by ideologies to which we may be completely unaware we abide. And it is, then, the assertion of meeting objects “on their own terms” that leaves us left with little but a slogan, defenseless to any ideological hijacking. The oddly religious foundation of o-o-o, emanating as it does from a curious initial belief, is something certainly needing more exploration and some of the dismissive comments about shamanism during the exhibition discussion were a little surprising. It is in such dismissals that we see o-o-o’s susceptibility to hijacking and its perilous complicity with the kind of relativist liberalism that has emasculated radically liberal values. Such convenient liberalism, most often self-serving, renders all politics a gradual drifting intoxication, as if from one presented interface to the next without an awareness of the ramifications of our actions.
The Showing Uv It, a complementary second exhibition consisting of the works of one artist, Simon Ling, may well address this consensual difficulty and Ling’s single work in the current exhibition – Untitled (2011) – evinces reasons to be enthusiastic about the future. If this is the case, the first installment currently showing at Bergen Kunsthall could be solely seen as the ‘reverse’ stage, attempting to render materials anonymous (once again). The great challenge for us is the work ahead to unformalise things still evidencing recognisable qualities. This is why the formal seem easier novelties to tackle with some of the other work being perhaps too decided in its address, where the question “what is this?” is not instantaneous. It is this incapacity for greater traction that leaves this exhibition in need of an appendage of consensus, however minimal and fleeting, from which we can make sustaining assertions. Let’s meet, discuss it, and see about changing things more radically. I hope to spend as much time as possible with the work to attempt reformatting.
The Noing Uv It is on display at Bergen Kunsthall until February 15.