Joëlle Tuerlinckx, B (bèche), 2021, found object, metal base, welded metal rod, coins, magnet, 51 1⁄8 × 7 7⁄8 × 4".

Joëlle Tuerlinckx, B (bèche), 2021, found object, metal base, welded metal rod, coins, magnet, 51 1⁄8 × 7 7⁄8 × 4".

Joëlle Tuerlinckx

I once saw Joëlle Tuerlinckx spend the preview of a solo exhibition at a prestigious institution in her native Belgium shifting her works around the gallery spaces and gradually adding to their number, to the bemusement of the invited guests. By the time the show opened to the public the following evening, it was unrecognizable, seeming to contain twice as much material as before. Instability, flux, and recombination have always been fundamental to her artmaking, as has a unique mode of site responsiveness. This is an artist who once likened being invited to exhibit in a particular space to receiving “a kind of parcel, a packet of air.”

So it must have been hard to resist an invitation to occupy a compact gallery in North London named after an early masterpiece by modern art’s most celebrated purveyor of packaged air. The gallery’s particular association with photography also guided Tuerlinckx’s choice of what to show from her multifarious output. The generous selection of works orchestrated in “PLAN B – série b,” whose title confirmed a commitment to shuffled alternatives and inevitable reconsiderations, explicitly invoked Duchamp via blurry images of his Bicycle Wheel, 1913, and Bottle Rack, 1914. Many of the pieces in various media arranged around the gallery walls, floors, and tabletops—one was installed in the lavatory—also registered a more specific and long-evident debt to the randomized geometries and sense of arbitrary arrest of 3 Standard Stoppages, 1913–14, which Duchamp himself characterized as “casting a pataphysical doubt.” The work of Tuerlinckx’s compatriot Marcel Broodthaers also has long informed her idiosyncratic commitment to an “archival impulse” that in her practice has tended to manifest in a very different manner than in that of more sociopolitically explicit contemporaries. This has, for instance, sometimes resulted in formal recalibrations and reconstitutions of earlier works, as evidenced here; while in B (bèche), 2021, her take on precarity—though I highly doubt she would characterize it as such—assumes the enigmatic form of a spade balanced alarmingly on its blade atop a small metal base on which several obsolete English coins have also been placed.

B (bèche) was the first piece to confront visitors as they entered the gallery. Mustered inside, according to the exhibition checklist, were some forty more. Many of these were clustered in groups, each constellation accompanied by one or more small postcards, either attached to the wall nearby or propped on an adjacent desktop or baseboard. One side of each postcard depicted a specific artwork, while the reverse bore a succinct indication of its details, quite unlike the lengthy “protocols” via which Tuerlinckx usually supplies information about her works. (The full complement of postcards—sixty-three in all, many of them absent from this presentation—constitute a new, editioned piece, from which future shows will be generated.) Inevitable challenges arose, however, from the fact that the relationship between the work depicted on a given postcard and the cluster it accompanied was sometimes evident but other times not. As ever with Tuerlinckx’s work, the tantalizing pleasures of this unique gathering derived from a process in which one thing is forever devolving into another in a ceaseless transmigration of capricious form.