PRINT February 2003


THE INSTALLATIONS BY FISCHLI & WEISS no less than the performances by Paola Pivi and Eric Duyckaerts carry out, in slapstick mode, deliberate inquiries into process. From the Gutaï group’s spectacular gestures to Wim Delvoye’s digesting machine, the works brought together in these pages by process-oriented painter Bernard Frize sustain the notion of the artist’s labor-intensive engagement with the mechanics of a work. In Mike Kelley’s Free Gesture Frozen, 1998, the spontaneity of the artist’s gesture is ensured a priori by the very nature of the medium—finger paint. By liberating new possibilities of play, Kelley has discovered a radical way of producing “process” as fiction, of, in Frize’s words, “making materiality readable as convention.” The artists convened here refuse a retreat to the unquestioned authority of art. For them, the decisions that make the work are based on a logic of contingency, wherein limits and accident are embraced as necessarily part of an art caught in motion. Some choose to demonstrate a weak hold over such contingencies—or even over the viewer’s apprehension of the work: Adrian Schiess, for example, whose installations’ sprawl and reflective sheen thwart a focused gaze, or Ayse Erkmen, whose balloons, left to drift in the Jerusalem breeze, allow the “propensity of things”—to borrow François Julien’s phrase—to come into play precisely in a place circumscribed by conflict. In Untitled, 2000, Günter Umberg flaunts the slow, deliberate labor of painting. His signature black canvases seem to absorb all light and incident into their dense matte surfaces, making them all but impossible to reproduce. Others address the dispositif—the apparatus that underwrites the “inevitability” of the outcome—with a rigor verging on the absurd: Blinky Palermo and Ellsworth Kelly (in his Paris years) both foreground an element of serendipity, even randomness, inherent in the artwork’s genesis (a simple window casement or the shadow of a grid cues a composition). We find this figure of the ineluctable, too, in the “theater of machines” of mannerist architect Georg Andreas Böckler, who, in his Theatrum machinarum novum (1661), presents a hypertrophied system of gears so elaborate that the page achieves graphic saturation. A theatricalization of causalities: The image promises a certain knowledge of the workings behind the effects and, thus, of their purpose. And yet, what is made visible is trivial—little more than common geometries and rudimentary mechanics. The machinery’s applications are just as absurd: hydraulic roasting spits, mechanical bouquets of flowers. As soon as one pretends to the inexorable by plucking the incident from the chain of contingencies, the inherently fictional nature of the causal links reveals itself, as does the ridiculousness of the ends. From this gap between the often delirious complexity of the machinery—of means and process (painterly or otherwise)—and the mundane results, the viewer draws the bounty of multiple fictions, a comical, inexhaustible wellspring.

Patricia Falguières

Translated from French by Jeanine Herman.