New York

Ceal Floyer, Plughole, 2017, video projection, color, sound, 3 minutes 53 seconds.

Ceal Floyer, Plughole, 2017, video projection, color, sound, 3 minutes 53 seconds.

Ceal Floyer

303 Gallery

Ceal Floyer, Plughole, 2017, video projection, color, sound, 3 minutes 53 seconds.

Ceal Floyer shares with a handful of her contemporaries, such as Martin Creed and Gavin Turk—all three emerged in London during the early 1990s heyday of the YBAs—a wry post-Conceptualist mode that edges consciously ever closer to non-art, to simply merging with the fabric of everyday life. But while Creed has inherited the interest of the original Conceptualist tendency toward systems and ritual, and Turk the movement’s preoccupation with questions of authorship, Floyer leans in a more programmatically minimal direction. In her fourth appearance at this gallery, the artist continued to examine the intersection of nature and artifice, substance and appearance, distilling her findings into spare, sometimes confounding, but always flawlessly realized images, objects, and situations. 

This was an exhibition more or less devoid of color, entirely lacking “punch,” and incorporating acres of empty space. Yet the Berlin-based artist added ample doses of easy humor that rescued her work from austerity. The gallery’s press release refers to her projects as “phenomenological readymades,” the neat turn of phrase again giving little sense of the fun to be had with them. Newton’s Cradle, 2017, is typical: a slender pedestal on which sits one of the familiar eponymous chrome-and-wire executive toys. But the work refuses the satisfying ticktock of suspended spheres in repeated pendular collision; instead, the orbs are snarled in a silent knot. It’s the simplest of alterations, and an elegant joke about frustration.

Gurgling away at the other end of the gallery was a short projected video, Plughole, 2017. This work, too, hints at thwarted ambition, as a stream of water is variously trained on each of a standard bathroom drain’s six holes, the intention seemingly being to hit a set of perfect bull’s-eyes. However, it soon becomes clear that this is an impossible task—and so the sequence recommences. Again, a childlike game reemerges as a Sisyphean torment, familiar objects retaining their identities but becoming the loci of strange, abstracted routines and potentialities. And is there a hint of the shower scene from Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) in this close-up image and the obsessive focus it describes?

Saw, 2015, hinges on a similar absurdity, again spiced by a dash of violence. Echoing the basic forms of Plughole’s drain and descending stream of water, a large saw blade projects from the gallery floor, having seemingly cut an almost complete ring into the polished concrete. It looks like something from a Looney Tunes cartoon, though of course the fabric of the gallery remains (disappointingly?) intact. Instead, the work undermines our faith in the reliability of our senses—in our readiness to accept a plainly ludicrous suggestion as physical actuality. Domino Effect, 2015, on the other hand, actually is what it appears to be, though with a by-now-expected twist of the frustratiing—a row of wooden dominoes that stretches from wall to gallery wall, its tight fit precluding the tumbling chain reaction to which its title refers.

At 303 Gallery, Domino Effect crept along the floor below another multipartite work, Contacts, 2015. This set of 128 framed digital drawings appears entirely abstract, but its angular patterns turn out to have been derived from Floyer’s list of personal phone numbers; she rendered each sequence as the route taken from one numbered key to the next. The results, in spite of their graphic precision, feel organic, as natural and inevitable as the swirl of water down a drain.      

Michael Wilson