Andrea Fisher

Gimpel Fils

Specifiable content often implies a mirroring of established power structures, which leads to a replication rather than a questioning of authoritative coherence. Conversely, the deliberate avoidance of a commanding voice that speaks with conviction on some subject or other can end in a dissipation of a work’s energies. Andrea Fisher has long concerned herself with this problem, making work that is both luscious and spare, and, in doing so, drawing out the congruences and disjunctions between the relations of power and the structures of pleasure in the visual field. For some time there have been two important interacting elements in her art. The first of these is a small sculptural presence that makes reference to Minimalism, an artistic resource that is both productive in terms of the openings it has made for a critical art practice, and inhibiting in respect to its masculine rhetoric. By contrast, the second presence is female, and has taken the form of an image of a woman, usually projected, perhaps as a fleeting pulse of light. This image is always hard to read, representing in its passion both desire and death.

Her latest installation marks quite a change for Fisher. Slide projection is not used, and there is no direct image of a woman. The closest is a sequence of black and white photographs in the small rear space of the gallery, showing a hand of indeterminate gender tugging at and teasing a head of thick hair. Whether the gestures are tender or violent is deliberately unresolvable. Furthermore, although the main installation is “minimal” insofar as there are very few things in the space, Minimalism itself is not referred to. At one end of the gallery, just inside the door, a large gray polygon, a kind of cropped rectangle set at a jaunty angle, is painted directly onto the wall. Its shape is derived, in fact, from an Ellsworth Kelly painting, but it passes muster as an arrow, directing the eye and the body down the length of the space. Leading on from this is a brushed-metal barrier set slightly away from and parallel to the wall. Normally it would be either projecting something on the wall or guiding the viewer’s steps, but both the wall and the gallery floor are empty. Its role is further confused and compounded by a plain wooden bench on the opposite side of the room from which one can view the barrier. At the far end of the gallery, a large clip-framed photograph rests on the floor and leans against the wall, its image protected and partially obscured by another section of barrier set immediately in front of it. The photograph, like those in a separate series hung in the small gallery, was reshot in black and white from a magazine spread and shows oil-well fires burning in the Kuwaiti desert in the aftermath of the Gulf War. Soft, dense billows of smoke and bright fire signify a time and place, an event both recognizably finite and, in causal and interpretive terms, impossibly complex. Staple marks where the pages have been pulled out of the magazine run down the photograph, pulling it away from the political exigencies of its subject matter into the realm of spectacle. Still, it is also an object, deliberately placed although its position appears provisional: perhaps it is about to be hung, or maybe it is to be removed to take its place in some other kind of display.

This installation probes the degree of complicity that exists between what is shown and how it is shown in producing that third moment in the equation, namely, what is understood to be shown. Swapping Donald Judd for Kelly, as it were, Fisher has introduced a utopian dimension into her work, but it is a queer kind of utopia: the Kelly is truncated and drained of color, the photograph and its content not only shown, but also protected and to a certain extent obscured. It is a utopia dragged from the realm of the unattainable and rendered within the problematic space of contemporary discourses of power. In this work Fisher continues to struggle with critical practice in contemporary art.

Michael Archer