Having previously been presented with the assault course for the senses that the group exhibition The Noing Uv It was, a solo exhibition of the work of British artist Simon Ling, The Showing Uv It, is the second installment of a larger two-part exhibition at Bergen Kunsthall. How would the two exhibitions converse?
In some reflections on part one, I tried to centralise what I saw as the formidable challenge of The Noing Uv It as proposed by the curators Martin Clark and Steven Claydon: to alter the “terms” of perception by encountering objects on “their terms”. Simply put, the work in the exhibition seemed to assert that this re-terming be initiated through encounters with materials and stuff (and lots of it) rather than weighing upon experiential habits, prioritising the “what” of sensation over the “how”.
I had wondered whether the labour of such ambitions had been apportioned in a twofold articulation: the first exhibition (contrary to my intuitions) being the attempt to dismantle this “how” – encouraging the deformalisation of things to render them unrecognisable to us – with The Showing Uv It, as the follow up, providing the “what” through which our perceptual apparatus would be momentarily recalibrated. But, curiously, the former – the “how” – is something Simon Ling’s work seems to address much more directly. For me, this disorientation was exacerbated by the title of the two-part exhibition as a whole, something I had previously overlooked, I Aint The Noing Uv It Im Onle The Showing Uv It. And there was I thinking this was either a reversal of what I had thought to be the obvious order – “what” and then “how” instead of the other way around – or that both exhibitions were concerned with “Noing”! Am I being wooed by the stench of “red herrings”? Maybe there is no delegation of a task between the two exhibitions? Damn those herrings!
The Noing Uv It comprised sixty-seven pieces of work made from disparate materials. The Showing Uv It, curated solely by Martin Clark this time, consists of twenty-seven oil and acrylic paintings by Simon Ling, all of which are titled Untitled. The largest ever exhibition of his work to date, and his first major exhibition in Norway, The Showing Uv It demonstrates a pronounced concentration in terms of its colour palette, with a particular partiality for subsumed layers of vivid, almost lurid greens and oranges which seep through the images. This offsets the scenes of building frontages, verdant plantation, and the more formally abstract objects and forms, adding to the warped and transfigured quality of Ling’s work. However, this transfiguration is perhaps elucidated with greater nuance in his fascinating approach to time.
First, let’s calibrate our stopwatches: I think we can say that time has been altered within current capitalism. One aspect we might venture is that time has become an arbitrator, “labour time” being supplemented with “I-should-be-labouring time”, further emboldening the capitalist social relation; idleness has no value, you must work (for someone, especially yourself). But how to think about what I’m doing when the sole requirement is that I produce evidence of my labour as soon as possible? And so flows the endless deferral of reflective thought… Within our cultivated economies –the organisation of time and materials (not just finances) – this aforementioned “pressure” of time is structured by various processes. A prevalent method in art is to profess working with the varying economies of “process”, rejecting the “closure” of deciding on a path and unswervingly taking it. This processual focus is heralded as then leaving open the possibility for contingency and/or spontaneous activity, courting the alien collaborator of the “outside of time” of ex-temporisation. Can we really harness this external temporality, or is it oblivious to and/or contemptuous of our beckoning? If we beckon it – if we can beckon it – is it really a radically alien temporality at all and not merely something available to us within our ‘in house” logic, another way of deciding on a path and taking it? As mixtures of frantic workers capitalising on every moment, and proclaimers of practicing ”openness to contingency”, artists and their work are often in dialectical and complex relationships with time. Simon Ling’s work is no exception, and it is this aspect that struck me most in Bergen Kunsthall.
We can think of Ling’s work in The Showing Uv It as the compact residue of three temporalities harnessed by the artist in his practice: painting directly in front of his subjects (this done mostly in and around London, but with the smaller acrylics painted in Bergen on a previous trip); working from his memories of previous in situ work; and working from studio-constructed tableaux. The work assumes these temporal shifts created in the public, imaginary, and private situations of painting. One canvas partially depicts a car as if it is emerging from a portal, but, otherwise, traces of the conjunction between the fluidity of his public subjects and his sustaining, but distorting memories of them are less explicit. The warping and contorting of perspectives and structural contours, and the glaring colours evinced in much of the work, particularly the street scenes, are perhaps markers of Ling’s palimpsestic process and what he likes to term as our “creative relationship with reality”.
Concentrating on the six more oblique studio-initiated works in the exhibition, we can plot a point of perspective offering a greater dynamic to The Showing Uv It. These particularly rich pieces pose the sternest questions to Ling’s process, emanating from the private environment of the studio in which decision-making processes must be wrested from a potential lifetime of toil. The production of a temporal economy within the studio – that the potentially infinite period of studio work might be truncated – can be traced in both Ling’s choice of tableaux and how he works when faced with them. We are thus presented with a dual articulation of Ling’s approach and, simultaneously, an aspect from which we might come to align ourselves to Ling’s relationship with time. We might consider these six works as the evidence of what he considers a subject worthy of time through the filter of his painterly abstraction. He turns away from the “contingency” of his subjects and his memory of them towards an emphasis on the “rogue element” of how paint is applied to the canvas. We could here pose ourselves the difficult question of what the relationship might be between time and (Ling’s) abstraction.
The dialogue between Ling’s subjects, the situations in which they are encountered/initiated and realized, and how his particular abstraction enmeshes with these subjects and situations is a central kernel of the exhibition. Each canvas renders the mixture anew. Even if we might say that some aspects of Ling’s work occupies familiar and well-trodden territory, this familiarity is somewhat deracinated by the situating of The Showing Uv It after the titillating diversity of the previous group exhibition. When turning again to the first exhibition, retrospectively reconsidering it in light of Ling’s work, The Noing Uv It becomes a much more peculiar statement – perhaps this is the challenge to the exhibition format to which Bergen Kunsthall Director, Martin Clark, refers in an accompanying exhibition text. This uneasy relationship between the two exhibitions does nevertheless produce fecund tensions I look forward to considering in greater depth – the relationship between deformalisation (part one) and abstraction (part two), for example. When also bringing to the table the temporal aspects of Simon Ling’s work as I’ve tried to sketch out here, we might also then begin to wonder about how we could retrospectively think about time in The Noing Uv It. With forthcoming publications on both Ling’s work and the two-part exhibition as a whole, it will be fascinating to see whether the oblique dialogue of the two shows will be fleshed out, veering the project further off the beaten path.
Ask to borrow a chair from Kunsthall’s reception and offer your time forward into the mixture of The Showing Uv It.
The exhibition is on display until April 5th.