View of “Juliette Blightman,” 2011.

View of “Juliette Blightman,” 2011.

Juliette Blightman


View of “Juliette Blightman,” 2011.

For her recent show “at least you haven’t changed,” the Berlin-based British artist Juliette Blightman did not show her own work but manifested her refusal to submit to the regime of hyperproduction in contemporary art. She did this by bringing together various items that she had temporarily borrowed from close friends and fellow artists. These included a medium-size Expressionist-style painting by artist Anne Norman (Untitled, 1991), an antique Persian rug (Farghan, ca. 1870) lent by former art dealer Gregorio Magnani, and a vinyl record of a 2005 sound piece by Cerith Wyn Evans that he had recorded in the house museum of modernist architect Luis Barragán (The Curves of the Needle, 2005), plus a photocopy of Russian critic Sergei Tretyakov’s 1929 essay “The Biography of the Object” as published in 2006 in the journal October, proposed for the show by writer and curator David Bussel.

The few intimate effects collected for Blightman’s show stood out as silhouettes against the white gallery space, redefining it as a calm, quasi-domestic setting—what the artist calls “a place to think for a minute or three.” The items were grouped around a retro stereo lying on the carpet; one speaker was used as a plinth for Tretyakov’s text. Upon the arrival of visitors, the gallery staff would play the record, featuring selections from Barragán’s collection. The music’s atmospheric properties combined with the installation’s black-and-white tonality to create chiaroscuro effects comparable to those in Alain Resnais’s 1961 film, Last Year at Marienbad, a line from which provided the exhibition with its title and an image from which was used for its press release.

Blightman’s practice has often been described in terms of the construction of simple gestures that expand time and are imbued with personal narratives, often drawing spectators to windows from which they can watch life passing by. Her aesthetics of reduced production developed, in this case, into a symbolic displacement of other practitioners’ productions, which she appropriated to form a visual study whose meaning appeared opaque. At the same time, her self-imposed negation of artistic labor could be read as a critique, a formula demonstrating her self-conscious and consummate reworking of a complex tradition of modernist aesthetic and historical paradigms embracing the work of Marcel Duchamp and Marcel Broodthaers as well as that of such contemporaries as Michael Krebber, Silvia Kolbowski, and Willem de Rooij.

The effect of the installation was to gradually shift viewers’ attention from the reduced environment to the collaborative and private procedures of communication, conception, and production that had occurred between the artist and her contributors. Bussel’s selection of Tretyakov’s text is most relevant here: It makes the case for storytelling as a matter of antiheroic “living” actions generated by a group of things, people, and events connected by economic and production processes. Blightman’s objects were indeed related because their owners are her friends in real life. In addition, they expressed (to rephrase a proposition by American scholar David Joselit) a “transitive” character, since they were inscribed within networks of conception, production, circulation, and translation as much as within the criteria implicit in the behavior, taste, or method of any one individual. Identifying herself with the passive maneuverings of Herman Melville’s Bartleby, Blightman signals a refusal not of form but of public content.

—Diana Baldon