New York

Ceal Floyer

Ceal Floyer’s work sits on a cusp between Minimalism and Conceptualism. This is a vexed spot where literality and truth to form, pushed to their logical and rhetorical conclusions, metamorphose into something elseneither object nor concept but a hybrid of both. Ink on Paper (video) (all works 1999) consists of a closely cropped shot of the artist’s forearms and hands framing a white piece of paper on a small table. Floyer wears a shirt with white sleeves; in her right hand is a black marking pen, which she holds upright on the center of the white sheet, so that it bleeds a black circle. The hand is absolutely still, and the scene is staged and shot in such a way that it looks like a documentary photograph. But it isn’t precisely a photograph. In fact, we learn—it is necessary to read to learn—that, over the course of an hour, the contents of the pen slowly empty, until it runs out of ink. Viewed with this knowledge, what seemed a photograph now looks like a drawing—literally, ink on paper. Yet, as such, it is a fluid, expanding pool rather than a static object: The growth of the blotch cannot be perceived in real time, though in a sense it unfolds (or spills out) over time, requiring duration to become what it is.

Floyer’s work is initially not much to look at. It requires a double, even triple take—a process of uncanny intellection—to read the picture. Yet little in her art is hidden. Bucket, an ordinary plastic mop bucket, sat in the middle of the gallery space apparently collecting water from a leak in the ceiling. Inside the bucket were a small CD player and speaker, from which emanated the sound of a nonexistent droplet—actually a recorded loop. This demystification of the trompe l’oreille illusion—this is not a drip—rerouted the noise such that it began to sound like the percussive ticking of a clock. What starts, then, as a precious and “anesthetic” exercise in site-specificity becomes, with reflection and repetition, a poignant meditation on time passing or, perhaps, eroding (something) away.

Looking at or listening to Floyer’s work requires a refreshingly anachronistic patience. Her Monochrome till receipt (white) is, as one would expect given the Minimalist exactitude of her titles, precisely that: a visually unimpressive itemized receipt stuck on a white wall. If we scan the purchases, if we play detective in search of evidence, we discover a pattern. Everything the artist has bought—flour, sugar, ricotta cheese (the list goes on)—is white. These things can be visualized as an unseen, conceptual sculpture, and they endow an auratic elegance to the receipt itself, which on its white background begins after a while to resemble a Ryman work on paper. At issue, then, is a play between presence (the receipt) and absence (the products) and between both the critical and reflective and the literal and mundane operations of art.

In the installation 2 slides, Floyer screened two slides vertically, blending them into one monochromatic work. In the top slide, a line of exhaust left by an airplane trails across the sky; in the bottom image, we see the wake left by a boat on the ocean. This visual blending of sky and sea sharing a horizonless space references both the boldly dramatic Romanticism of Turner and the nuanced color changes of Rothko, while simultaneously investigating not the event (the movement of the plane or the boat across the frame) but the tracethat bit of writing left behind. As with much of Floyer’s work, here is something verging on the elegiac. What initially seems severe, unexpressive, colorless, and blunt becomes, if we are attuned to its metaphorical nature, engagingly, penetratingly poetic.

Nico Israel