Toronto

Robin Collyer

Carmen Lamanna Gallery

In the three sculptures of this show, Robin Collyer combines the formal arrangements of his earlier sculptures with the concern with systems and signs of his more recent work.

Like the earlier sculpture, the work exists both on wall and floor; yet the separation of elements (objects generally on the floor, photographs and designs on the wall) does not make the works installations—each remains a sculptural ensemble to be approached frontally and to be read internally. This conjunction of elements is not simply surreal or formal juxtaposition; each of the elements has a reference (a model of a pump refers to its real counterpart, a cubic form to a building), and the conjunction signifies a mode of production. In fact, the objects refer to one mode of production but indicate another: In Industrial/mine/Theirs, a metal gear is represented by a vacuum-formed plastic reproduction of it which hangs on the wall; while this object refers to a world of industry—many of the objects are models used to simulate or assist in constructing real technological conditions—it is not simply and completely an object of commodity fetishism. From element to element in Industrial/mine/Theirs we can see the devolution—or evolution—from commodity to sign.

In many ways Something Old, Something New, Something Scary acts as a key to Industrial/mine/Theirs. A papier-mâchè model of a fluid pump and a plastic mold of a shelf of “antique books” (for a television, drama, or movie set) lie on the floor—respectively a model and a simulation; the ambiguity is that a simulation can be either a model or a deception. On the wall, a collection of photographs shot from a television screen document representations and resemblances of look and function: a toy missile in hand, a missile in the air; the model of the pump, a fashion model; a mouth, an audio speaker; etc. The simple directness of these television images does not allow them to add up to more than a catalogue (a fact that does not reduce their effect), but Industrial/mine/Theirs has a more pronounced, if permutational, structure for its elements. This work has a horizontal axis of interchangeable objects on the floor and an invariant vertical axis that ties each wall piece to its counterpart below. A Bauhaus-patterned panel (which is at the same time the symbolic duplication of a machine esthetic in its visual effects and a degeneration into fabric design for bank walls) is associated with a Le Corbusier-like chair frame, and the vacuum-formed gear with a plastic model of an industrial refinery. With each object having a reference, the whole is like a rebus; but while associations are possible, subjectivity is regulated by the structural relationships of the objects and by the effects of Collyer’s production process, which duplicates the turning of one technology into the content of another. In other words, old production modes are dissembled or estheticized—as in the Bauhaus design and the thin seamless membrane of the plastic gear.

Buy Me is about television, and this would seem to be a place to investigate the contemporary practice of representation. And yet Collyer has preferred to set up, in a very crude and linear way, only the structure of television in its projection and reception: these two boxes, one a wooden model of a television with a receding sequence of flashing lights, the other a large gutted monitor with inside it a smaller set behind an electric fan, focus limited responses. Such a strategy leaves the proper intervention to artists working with and in television (Collyer, together with Shirley Wiitasalo, has produced a videotape, Darn These Hands, on this subject). The gallery is left to its conventions of looking, and the sculpture here recognizes this fact.

Philip Monk