Los Angeles

Boyle Family

Turske & Whitney Gallery

Based in Greenwich, England, Boyle Family consists of Mark Boyle, Joan Hills, and their children, Sebastian and Georgia Boyle. Working as a collective unit (or “four feuding dictators,” as Sebastian puts it), the Boyles have spent the last 20 years working on a still continuing series called Journey to the Surface of the Earth. It began in August 1968 when the Boyles had a blindfolded group of family and friends throw darts at a large world map; by this method, they selected 1,000 locations randomly scattered all over the world. Since then, the Boyles have been systematically visiting as many of these sites as possible. Using the same procedure with progressively larger-scale maps, the Boyles narrow down their geographical objective to a specific spot of earth (from 3 by 3 to 6 by 12 feet), determined by throwing a right angle up in the air and, wherever it lands, marking off the area that it delineates. This then acts as a sort of archaeological base for filming and observing the surrounding human and physical geography, whether it be the weather, geology, the local inhabitants, or the sensory reaction of the Boyles themselves to the site in question.

The project’s relation to the international art world derives from the Boyles’ attempts to recreate these bits of terrain as three-dimensional esthetic objects. Using closely guarded secret techniques, they lift up the loose surface layer of earth, sand, or street debris and attach it to a painted fiberglass simulation of the immovable base. The results are then protected and fixed by a thin layer of invisible resin, creating an amazingly realistic yet conceptually neutral object.

Such “communing” with mother earth is clearly grounded in the earthworks and environmental sculpture “movements” of the early ’70s. Yet whereas the latter tend to acknowledge and make allowance for the site’s inevitable physical evolution over the years, the Boyles’ objective is specifically geared to recording and preserving frozen moments in time. Their recent work, for example, has focused on surfaces that are undergoing natural erosion and change, whether it be the roughhewn, fissured rocks of the white cliffs of Dover, the worn-down asphalt and cracked paving stones of London street corners, or the tire patterns in the dried mud of a truck parking lot. Isolated and mounted on pristine gallery walls, these random chunks of weathered topography are suddenly transformed into precious, almost fetishized relics, examples of what the Boyles call “permanence in the face of imminent dissolution.”

The work also discloses interesting formal and conceptual antinomies. While the “Dover Series” underlines the tendency of natural configurations—nooks, crannies, crumbling rock strata—to create their own innate formal structures and surface textures, Double Path Study with Black, White, Red and Yellow Tiles, 1987 highlights man’s predilection for creating his own formalist structures from even the most utilitarian of undertakings. These broken and fragmented checkerboard tiles—the remnants of a path leading up to a London house—create a poignant sense of order (Victorian propriety perhaps?) from even the most chaotic and devastating of scenarios.

Perhaps the ultimate irony of Boyle Family’s project lies in its dependence on simulacra to satisfy the sensual pleasures of seeing and feeling “reality.” In many cases, the original case study has disappeared or been destroyed, leaving us with the simulation as the sole fulfillment of desire. As a result, for all their claims to move beyond cultural prejudices toward the Platonic truths of objective nature, the Boyles are still slaves to that slipperiest of false copies, art itself.

Colin Gardner