Some Men of the Year, judged on criteria at which we can only guess, are to lunch at the Hilton hotel; the Equal Opportunities Commission is to file a report advocating greater child-care facilities in the workplace; several Everest climbers, armed with a scale model of the mountain, are to lecture the Royal Geographic Society; a major political figure will dine at the American Chamber of Commerce. Things like this happen in London every day. They are of varying importance and interest, and could, for the most part, go unnoticed by the population at large. But the attention given to them by the media makes them appear, on the contrary, as the very events that give larger shape to the city’s tangle of individual lives. The Press Association issues a daily list of times and venues at which such press conferences and other occasions of possible newsworthiness are scheduled to occur. Anyone in possession of a press card (and quite often anyone at all) can attend them in search of a story. Artists Henry Bond and Liam Gillick regularly pick up copies of the list. Each of the “Documents” they exhibit, consisting of a large framed photograph and an accompanying caption, is a record of one of these events.
Although they make art together, Bond and Gillick’s partnership is more a professional than a creative one. (They functioned perfectly adequately as artists working separately before this.) Bond, who has organized exhibitions and is involved in a number of photography publishing projects, takes the pictures, and Gillick, who is establishing a reputation as an art critic, takes care of the captions. Their attitude toward their material is, as far as it can be, one of disinterest. Things are not chosen, for example, in order to make a political point; they cover the whole range of subject matter, which is something a journalist would scarcely do. Furthermore, it is the planned, almost premeditated nature of the raw material, that is important. They never simply go to a likely hot spot in search of a story. Bond and Gillick half-jokingly suggest that they attend these functions on behalf of all the rest of us who don’t get the chance; but they’re half serious as well.
The presentation of this material, too, while evidently calculated, is not guided by primarily esthetic considerations. In trying to find a way out of the impasse in which it seemed that all permutations on the art photograph had already been tried, Bond previously used unclaimed prints in his work. These newer images have a similarly unremarkable air. Presented in solid but straightforward maple frames, their size is dictated by the optimum enlargement one can obtain from a 35mm negative without it becoming grainy. The whole negative is used—there is no cropping to enhance the composition—and the captions, each printed from a word processor onto a sheet of A4 paper, give date, time, place, details of the event, and an extract from what was said at the proceedings.
The question of what to do now that all the art has been made is not a new one. The answer, initially, was to make more that looked pretty much like the old stuff. Now, it seems, the best bet is to make things with no recourse to art at all. That they end up looking like art is another matter.