Roger Ackling

A postulate of Minimalism and Conceptualism was that art is a kind of phenomenological frame. The frame as such was autonomous, independent of any charge or sign. Purely affirmative in and of itself, it bracketed or suspended the motivation of the world to reveal the motif of the world wherever and whenever the attention arrested. The consequent characteristic of much of this work was a double “ecceity,” or “here-is-ness”; the presence of both art-as-art and thing-as-thing (or site-as-site) was reaffirmed in a simultaneous act. In structuring such work, only two forms of practice were admitted. The first proceeded from the absolute priority of a conceptual order, executed with implacable indifference across any or every material, field, or site. The second, contrarily, proceeded from any or every “phenomenology of making” intrinsic to whatsoever chosen material, field, or site.

Characteristic of a certain British version of such practice—notably that of Richard Long, Hamish Fulton, and noniconic pieces by Tony Cragg—is that, though the former method is followed insofar as a rigorous discipline of selection, pacing, and system is made to structure the making of the work, the process is projected as a testament of subjective experience in traversing terrains of diverse material, field, and site. The phenomenologies of such encounters are not explicitly engaged to generate forms, but are framed within the brackets of the work as implicit and romantic connotation. The values of association and the picturesque are dispersed and distributed at an even rate, so that the literary feelings, ideas, and content concomitant with such values are accommodated to the rationalities and dogmas of systematic art. This is, depending on one’s viewpoint, either a lamentable compromise with confused and nonartistic yearnings and nostalgias, or a subtle and humane assimilation of feeling to the cerebral austerities of pure art.

Whatever interpretation is placed upon it, this tendency certainly includes Roger Ackling. But if his recent work has ploughed a narrow furrow, one feels that it reflects less the rigors of a serial method than the personal discipline of an ascetic temperament. Like Long or Fulton, he has a habit of taking to a chosen location a normative and repeated action. But he does not array a collection of metonymic objects, samples, or snapshots into a combinative work. Instead, the template is applied consistently to a particular class of objects whose exemplars are selected and intensified in their individuality by virtue of the manner of application of the template. Additionally, the conceptual template, or frame, bears a certain intrinsic relation to the material. Pieces of wood—flotsam mostly—are found during walks, and are charred on the spot by the sun’s rays, which are focused through a magnifying glass. The pattern of branding—parallel straight lines like corduroy—never varies, although the marks are aligned according to the shape of the piece. The result is a quietly idiosyncratic hybrid of Daniel Buren’s insistence on the void signifier of pure art with the sacramental repetition of a ritual craft. The singularity of the found object is intensified like the sun’s rays by the charred bands which index the ambit and order of art as a focused and concentrated regularity. Yet what a regime these reductive things exact when one imagines them as the productions of an alienated, professional practice rather than as an off-hours pastime, like whittling, of some beachcomber-minimalist Douanier Rousseau.

Brian Hatton