PRINT April 2006



FROM THE POINTEDLY economical gestures with which she began her career—amps dimming or brightening in the viewer’s presence (Before and After Follow Each Other, 1990); recordings of applause or jeers triggered by visitors’ movements (as in Laughing Crowd Sound Piece, 1990)—to the polyphonic, multihued blend of geometric structures and son et lumière in which she specializes today, Angela Bulloch has progressively deepened a practice fascinated with ordering systems and the subjective processing of information. Inflecting the stringent aesthetics of Conceptualism and Minimalism with destabilizing elements such as narrative, theatricality, and sensuality (and drawing modernist insularity ever closer to the spheres of contemporary design and entertainment), the Canadian-born, Berlin-based artist’s work habitually underscores and problematizes normative structures.

Since the beginning of the decade, Bulloch’s cornerstone has been her “Pixel Boxes”—modular cubes, named for the screen-based visual building block, whose display systems can reproduce nearly seventeen million different colors. The artist has previously arranged these objects in groups to replay scenes from landmark movies, processing them via algorithms into pulsing painterly abstractions that privilege cinematic narrative even while making it indecipherable. But in Bulloch’s recent suite Group of Seven (One Absent Friend), 2005, which debuted as the centerpiece of her solo show at the Secession in Vienna last year, these changeable beacons are stitched into a sort of multifarious, open-ended orchestration. Polyreferential, life-size videos of performers combine with architectural-cum-display elements, social research materials, and a theatricalized venue to bring Bulloch’s signature interpenetration of categories to newfound levels of complexity.

Martin Herbert


THE HUMAN FIGURE is generally implied in my work, but having spent several years manipulating televisual sources in the context of my “Pixel Boxes,” I wanted to include a recognizable representation of the body this time. Group of Seven features different types of video documentation, moving images of characters that “haunt” the exhibition. Each of three performers, Frank, Yuko, and Daniel, appears alone in square-format videos that are projected on the sides of pixel boxes, on the walls, or on both at once, so the image is fractured. Video monitors around the space also display performances in which you see only their silhouettes. And, finally, running through three groups of pixel boxes is an animated program I designed; there is no representational image there, only pulsing color. Previously I’ve arranged such boxes together to form a wall, referencing a cinema screen. But in this case I’ve used pixel boxes of various sizes, which are scattered around the room. As in my earlier furniture-based works, the idea of moving among these objects and measuring them with one’s own body is important, but here I played with a different conception of scale and proximity. You can actually walk through a door into the larger pixel boxes. You can’t take the installation in all at once.

I deliberately chose three distinct types of performer and gave each one briefing notes in the form of images that provided him or her with different starting points. Frank, who’s an actor, began with a Paul Thek piece, The Tomb, 1967; I asked him to do his own interpretation of the dead hippie in that piece. He chose to take off his clothes, somehow getting back to nature. A key reference for Daniel, who is a dancer, was Thek’s Meat Piece with Warhol Brillo Box, 1965. Yuko is a performance artist and a butoh dancer; I showed her photos of teenage goths I’d seen recently in Japan who—particularly in the eyes of someone like myself, who grew up surrounded by goth culture in ’80s Britain—had a very unusual and contemporary interpretation of the look. Aside from certain guidelines, the performances were quite improvised but all the images suggested certain invisible social codes—and the visible efforts of conforming to a group or of making a statement against another group. All the “characters” are excluded from society in general, separate from one another yet confined in both the video and actual space. In fact, Daniel’s movements reference choreographies by modernists Oskar Schlemmer and Rudolf von Laban, who used the same idiom—the movement of the body within a fixed unit of space. Von Laban actually used a two-square-meter cube, the dimensions of which determined the size of my largest pixel box and projections here.

I conceived the installation with the Vienna Secession in mind—including its architectural details, like two-square-meter floor panels. The main exhibition space comprises three different zones surrounding a central open area. Entering the building from the street is like going on to a stage. The show as a whole was called “To the Power of 4,” and each of the individual works featuring Frank, Daniel, or Yuko—each subtitled Group of Seven (One Absent Friend)—comprises only six modules. So there is always one element missing. The fourth dimension here might be time, but also I was thinking about the fourth wall in theater. This idea was central at Secession, where I conceived of the space in theatrical terms—stage left and right, and back stage—so that visitors wander in through the missing fourth wall of the “stage,” or of the exhibition.

Modernist aesthetics play a role in this work, but there are, of course, different aspects of modernism: the advent of film, for instance, or the issue of how architecture affects the body. The pixel boxes I use, meanwhile, do reference Donald Judd and Minimalism’s postindustrial evacuation of subjectivity. I was interested in reintroducing an idea of subjectivity—or at least the idea of a character—but to ask in turn what constitutes an image. For instance, I have produced very enlarged sculptural representations of pixels—that is, picture elements—which are notional things made physical, a closely detailed look at the surface of an image as embodied in an object. But an “image” could also take the form of the body, with the self-image being an internal ingredient that can be visible. How do the performers construct their characters? It’s also important for me that the briefing images I gave to the performers are presented—inside the boxes or elsewhere in the gallery—so there’s a commentary that opens on to the influences embedded within the work. Within this, in various ways, I want to give the viewer some kind of agency—to bring back the question of where the art stops, where the edges are. This work, ideally, raises questions about permission and perception—about where you can go, what you can do or see. That’s where the question mark lies.