Margaret Honda, Sculpture, 2015, wood, drywall, paint, 9' 3“ × 59' 3/4” × 78' 9". Installation view. Photo: Aurélien Mole.

Margaret Honda, Sculpture, 2015, wood, drywall, paint, 9' 3“ × 59' 3/4” × 78' 9". Installation view. Photo: Aurélien Mole.

Margaret Honda

Margaret Honda, Sculpture, 2015, wood, drywall, paint, 9' 3“ × 59' 3/4” × 78' 9". Installation view. Photo: Aurélien Mole.

“A museum devoted to different kinds of emptiness could be developed. The emptiness could be defined by the actual installation of art,” said Robert Smithson in 1967. “Installations should empty rooms, not fill them.” Margaret Honda articulated this emptying-out in three parts, one of which she calls Sculpture (all works 2015): “Every studio I’ve used in my life is reproduced—as one sculpture—at full scale. Consisting only of white walls, with no ceilings or architectural details, each studio is empty and represented solely by its volume.” Here in the Triangle France space on the fourth floor of La Friche la Belle de Mai, the dimensions were faithfully reproduced (except when the wall height was greater than that of the exhibition space), but the spaces remained open and without doors. Visitors were invited to circulate freely in and around the replica studios—that is, between the public and collective dimension of the exhibition, on the one hand, and the private one of artistic identity on the other.

Although the measurements of Honda’s studios were replicated, the works she made there were absent—like voids of memory—and one could only deduce, from the small scale of the spaces, that they must not have been monumental. The only elements interrupting the empty zone were slender, round columns—preexisting features that Honda decided to keep as sculptural and architectural structures that marked the space and remained semantically available for her own use. The columns made it possible to perceive the discrete disjunction between the artist’s various studios—geographically distributed throughout America and Europe, and chronologically spread over more than three decades—and the exhibition space in which they now appeared.

Three corridors led to a space carved out from the backs of the studio walls. Compared to the outside path, which was doubly illuminated by electric lighting and by natural light from the windows, this central area was immersed in darkness. But it was the heart of the exhibition, where intimacy took the form of a 16-mm film, Wildflowers. In it, we hear the voice of Morgan Fisher, without pathos and with impeccable French pronunciation, describing the color and structure of a sequence of stills of flowers, each of which would have appeared on-screen for ten seconds had the film stock not expired. Instead, we see a rectangle of white light. Shot in Kodachrome and developed in a black-and-white negative, since color processing is no longer available, the work deals with a kind of loss of visibility: “The film’s stock, fifty years past its expiration date and suffering from base degradation, was returned from the lab with no discernible image on either roll,” Honda has described, in this way, “the film is a record of something that is disappearing [the blooming of the flowers] on something that has already disappeared [Kodachrome].”

The exhibition’s third element was Margaret Honda: Writings, a book in which earlier works are conveyed via brief analytical descriptions, without images. It is a form of an iconic archive, one that delegates the artist’s life and work to the imagination of each viewer. To facilitate this operation, Honda installed a topology that was physical as well as mental. While the artifacts evoked were virtual—the works in her studios, the images in the film, the reproductions in the book—they were conveyed by way of white quadrangular surfaces of different sizes: the walls of a room, a projected screen, the pages of a paperback book. The viewer encountered, in this order, the exhibition space, the film, and the book—telescoping down from a public scale to an intimate scale, and from three dimensions to two. And yet Honda’s practice works exactly the other way around, as the artist herself makes clear: “Things need to exist in my mind first. There is just always a lot of measuring and weighing in my mind before something becomes three-dimensional.”

Riccardo Venturi

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore