holes, rents and tears

21 August 2009
Pistoletto Venice Installation

Pistoletto Installation Venice 2

Pistoletto Installation Venice 3

I’d heard about but then somehow ‘forgotten’ the Pistoletto installation only to ‘remember’ it immediately on entering the gallery in Venice – a narrative scenario which must account for a lot of encounters with art these days (arriving to see the thing you have already had described at some length). The line of second-hand description in my head was a warning about how dead the scene of the work might feel, comprising as it does the residue of a performance in which a room lined with large mirrors in ornate gold frames have been smashed, the floor now littered with broken mirror shards, the mirrors themselves still hung there floor to ceiling, cracked and shattered in diverse ways. But somehow I wasn’t even drawn to even try imagining the past action of breaking the mirrors, happy instead to find the life in the room at the moment of my being there, seeing everything via its doubling into partial and repeated reflection. I liked that. The reality of the room and the people in it cut up, distorting through the crack lines in the mirrors, the whole scene endlessly fragmented/absented/replayed in part by the holes and shards of what reflective surface remained.

A space of stories, pasts, associations. I had to think of Pistoletto’s long journey thru his work with the mirror and reflections, as well as recalling Andre Stitt’s motto “art is not mirror it is a fucking hammer“, itself a re-versioning of Mayakovsky’s “Art is not a mirror to reflect the world, but a hammer with which to shape it.

More than anything though I loved the accidental drawings and large scale Rorsarch tests producing by the breaking of the mirrors and the partial revelation of the blackness of their backing – bold graphic shapes that here and there brought to mind figures, or animals, whilst elsewhere they resisted any kind of narrative ‘reading’; each mirror a set of cracks, shapes and holes  that both incorporated the world as reflection and blanked it as absence. Thinking a lot about what art can capture and what it cannot, about these formal compositions in identical rectangular frames, produced by violence and to a certain extent by chance – contained or frozen chaos. About what we see of reality even, and what escapes us.

Saburo Murakami's Muttso no Ana (Six Holes) (1955)

Roman Ondak - Slovak Pavillion

Later there was Saburo Murakami’s Muttso no Ana (Six Holes) (1955) – a set of rents and holes torn or poked into brown paper stretched on a timber structure, so simple and perfect, violent, echo of an action, beautiful – again with this form of an object that both gives and denies a view on the world.

Later still there was Roman Ondak’s Slovak Pavillion which fashioned the interior of the space as a kind of compacted extension of the exterior, planting trees and bushes throughout, a path running down through the centre, as if the inside were no inside at all. There was a hint of ruin here, a faint suggestion that the space for culture had somehow been abandoned and partly overgrown, though still so evidently tended of course and with no drama added to the building, no theatrical decay. Instead here outside and inside have simply folded into each other, to make a kind of Escher space, at once genuinely perplexing and completely banal. This sense you see often in Roman’s work I guess – that the work can be simply an amplification of (or focus pull on) something already present or implicit. And/or that, however deliberate, clever, and articulate the placing of the work is, it also, somehow, aspires to invisibility.


Our work, our trade, our business, like that of certain drug dealers, doctors and psychiatrists perhaps is always one way or another the job of slowing time or the shattering of it, or the stretching, bending or speeding of it. The big clock of the now bent double, forced to a limit, or cranked up, condensed to hell. The strange yet necessary job we have in rooms like these, of getting time to drip, pulse, echo, loop, freeze, shimmer, explode.

I love those strange gaps or holes in time which appear in performance, in rooms like this one, gaps or holes that deny physics, break the clock, where you think for a moment that time has stopped or slowed, or that it was stopped or forgotten but that now in now this moment only it has started again, remembered. I love the ways in which – watching – you are forced (connected to – seduced, tricked, lulled or self hypnotized) to abandon the sense of time – to let go of time here perhaps, to somehow enter another. Or to enter that temporary space where time does not notice, does not matter.

Or conversely. To enter the space where time is instead highly marked, measured, marched, announced, eked out, dripped like water clock or water torture, ticked and tocked. No forgetting, no transport, just the click clack of feet, the clatter of fingers on keyboard, the fact of here and now. One. Nothing. Two. Nothing. Three. Nothing. Four. Five. Connected to blankness and complexity.

[A fragment of mine on time, which appeared in different versions, here and there in various lecture texts I’ve done in the last few years].


Next day we’re at the Iceland Pavilion in the Palazzo Michiel dal Brusà, a 14th-century palazzo on the Grand Canal near the Rialto. shows his ongoing performance/installation/project  (not sure what the right word is there) titled The End. He’s working each day to paint a portrait of the same guy – his model for the project (Haukur Bjornsson, also a painter) – and there’s something truly wonderful about the space he’s creating. You feel time differently, that’s for sure. The studio sprawls towards the open doors at the far end, opening to the water in beautiful afternoon light. Canvases lean and hang everywhere, the floor and tables are strewn with paints, beer bottles, wine bottles…. music plays from a cd player, a few old chairs, an acoustic guitar. Ragnar is talkative and friendly when we arrive (I know him a bit from Manifesta last year), while Haukur lies more or less naked and more or less asleep on the green sofa, a blanket draped over his midriff. For a moment or two the project they present looks like it could be a mockery of what an artists life might be at this point – there’s something colonial, dandyish, almost 19th century about the scene – but at the same time it’s quite genuinely idyllic, warm, generous. We chat about this and that. For some reason I’m explaining that the t-shirt I’m wearing features a text description of Texas Chain Saw Massacre until Haukur waking/stirring corrects me  – it’s The Hills Have Eyes of course, he points out. These dandy types know their schlock B-horror movies. We laugh a bit.

Ragnar Kjartansson - The End - Venice

I guess more than anything what you feel in there, at The End, is the slowing of time, the entry onto another continuum – it’s a six month project, six months that they’ll be there, six months on one portrait a day, only the ebb and flow of visitors and the shifting light marking the hours as different, the paint accumulating week in week out on the canvases – at once boring and gripping I guess, the same body in the same room endlessly re-seen with the same eyes, portrayed with the same tools, intense macro focus. You feel the commitment of time, the commitment to time, slow time, the taking of time, and in the rush of Venice (and the drastic schedule some of us are on constantly) you can take a deep breath in this space, which is really something of a gift. An impossibility (of many different kinds) made manifest.

On the way out check we check Ragnar’s video work in a side space –  a darkened room with five projections which time and space have been remixed quite differently. On each screen there’s a winter scene – mountains, ice, snow (the Rocky Moutains in fact) – and in each of these landscapes we see Kjartansson again, sometimes alone, sometimes with another guy (musician Davið Þór Jónsson), mostly in longshot, other times in mid-shot. In each case they’re playing instruments… on one screen a grand piano, on another a banjo plus mic, in yet another it’s a drum kit stood at the edge of a lake or by a line of snow laden trees. Their isolated exterior figures, always dwarfed by the landscape, attempt (and succeed in making) a kind of long distance musical jam, their song building between the audio of the separate projections. It’s like the inverse of the 6 month focus on one model in one room in the heat of Venice, instead a fifteen minute dispersal and repetition of Kjartansson (and Jónsson) in set of distant exteriors.

Ragnar Kjartansson - Venice Video

Ragnar Kjartansson - Venice Video