Ignasi Aballí "This is not the end". Courtesy of the artist.
Firstly, the interview “Rank & File” between the artist and Latitudes for which we discussed his ongoing List series. The text was originally published in 'The Last Star Ledger' (Issue #4 of 'The Last Newspaper' catalogue edited by Latitudes, New Museum, New York, 2010).
|Read here: https://issuu.com/latitudes/docs/4_the_last_star-ledger/2|
ARTIUM's 'This is not the end' includes the work "Tomar medidas" (Taking Measures, 2009), in which nine instruments are displayed measuring things we cannot see: dust particles, time, electrical fields, noise, temperature, the intensity of light, radiation, etc. The first version of "Tomar medidas" was produced for 'Nothing, or Something' (22 May–22 July 2009), an exhibition curated by Latitudes for Suitcase Art Projects, the project space of the Today Art Museum, located on three floors of the Yintai retail centre in Beijing – see images of the exhibition.
Following is the essay included in the small publication 'Nothing, or Something' produced to accompany the exhibition – see images of the publication.
'Ignasi Aballí: Nothing, Or Something'
The morning before Ignasi Aballí’s ‘Nothing, Or Something’ opened, we couldn’t help but overhear an American businesswoman having a breakfast meeting at our hotel. “We’re working very much with intangibles”, she declared – and, we had to concur, so were we. Aballí’s works for Suitcase Art Projects address immateriality, residues and traces. He prompts us to consider things that we cannot perceive directly or are too ordinary to be properly noticed. What is perhaps philosophy’s central and most enduring question – ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’ – is simultaneously approached as a precise existential experiment and as if with the shrug of a silent comedian.
Despite drawing on the formal language of modernism’s impulse towards reduction and the ‘white cube’ of the museum as much as commonplace materials and unremarkable elements of daily existence, ‘Nothing, or Something’ has nevertheless been created for a situation that is neither fully ‘art’ (though presented under the auspices of the Today Art Museum), nor ‘life’, nor public space – but for a shopping centre. Walter Benjamin’s vast The Arcades Project (1927–1940) located the bustling arcades of nineteenth-century Paris – early versions of the contemporary mall – as heralding a decisive shift to the speed and commodification of things which signalled the emergence of the modern age. Following Benjamin’s concerns, Aballí’s project is preoccupied by the parameters of display while being experienced through a collision and confusion with its surroundings. The windows in which it takes place are located throughout three floors of the Beijing Yintai Centre, a recently opened retail destination hosting high-end fashion, jewellery and watch manufacturers in the heart of Beijing's Central Business District, in one of the tallest buildings in the city. In the context of an excess of brand visibility, signage and luxury product presentation strategies, the eight conceptually interlinked works which comprise ‘Nothing, or Something’ seek a counterpoint and temporarily make room for a different kind of looking, a slower revelation and, to borrow from Marcel Duchamp – to whom we will return – a ‘delay in glass’. The constraints and techniques of making something visible, and the very expectation of having something to see, become the projects’ points of articulation.
Please excuse our appearance, for example, wryly offers the visitor an explanation for the apparent lack of anything in the display case beyond the out-of-place presence of pages from the Spanish newspaper El País (which has often been used by Aballí as the basis for his art) which are laid on the floor as if anticipating some messy activity. Summoning an in-between temporality of perpetual waiting, the vinyl text on the window requests pardon for an apparent hiatus in the rhythm of seasonal trends. Aballí’s work from 2005 entitled Próxima aparición / Próximamente / Coming Soon – a one hour film showing the text of its title – similarly places the audience in an irrational situation of viewing where the main event is declaredly taking place at another time. Coming Soon is also the title of the vacated shop scenario of ‘Nothing, Or Something’. Only traces are left on the premises. An inventory of products on sale is detailed in half-removed words on the glass. Torn posters hang from the side walls; dirty marks have been left by shelves at the back; the dusty outline of objects in a forgotten display case. Each is a reminder of what purports to have been a unit dedicated to photographic equipment. The awkwardly appended ‘coming soon’ vinyl text on the window creates some confusion, however, as to what has left and what has yet to appear. Dust has regularly featured as a material in Aballí’s work, bringing to mind not only Dust Breeding (1920) – Man Ray’s celebrated photograph of Marcel Duchamp’s The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass) (1915–23) partially covered in a thick dusty layer – but less specifically a concern with entropy and the threshold of perception, where something is only readily perceivable through gradual accumulation or through its removal. Dust is “a very complex material ... a terminal, annoying, residual material that we don’t want” as the artist has described – particularly when it comes to photography.1 As he addressed in his recent exhibition ‘Without activity’, so many of the gestures and routines of (especially pre-digital) photography are concerned with cleaning, brushing and wiping away.2 The depositing of dust also becomes an analogue for the exposure of light on photographic paper and in essence the inevitable passage of time.
Dust is, unsurprisingly, present in the atmosphere of Beijing. In the work Beijing Air, Aballí takes the small volume of the city’s air present in a window display as the subject of what seems to be an encyclopedic annotated diagram cataloguing its actual and speculative, or feared, components. Text fixed to the glass and indicating lines describe the common gases present in air as well as a host of industrial pollutants, various airborne viruses and environmental particulate matter such as pollen. Many artists have commemorated the notion of blankness or explored the radically empty and each different reasons – the void can represent the wiping away of content and yet the preparation for something new. Aballí echoes this legacy – alongside Duchamp once more, whose Paris Air (1919) consists of a small vial of air from the French capital – yet his pseudo-scientific indications that nothingness is in fact not so easily achievable, at least for an earth-bound artist, brings humorous bathos to one of the central myths of the avant-garde.
Taking measures similarly adopts the language of objective inquiry with an absurd twist. Eight identical plinths occupy a vitrine and present scientific instruments which detect and measure invisible forces for the duration of the project – a stopwatch counts time, a digital barometer records the atmosphere pressure, a compass shows the magnetic orientation, a thermometer-hydrometer measures temperature and humidity, while a lux meter detects light. A sound meter measures in decibels alongside an instrument for sensing radiation. It is no surprise that an anemometer reveals that it is not windy in the vitrine. Contrary to immediate, decorative, or pictorial appeals to vision, Aballí proposes an ongoing sensitization to perceptions that escape direct representation. Yet evidently, we are still looking at something and instead, our aesthetic attention is displaced onto the design and the presentational mode of these instruments.
The vitrine opposite this, Scenic Viewpoints, presents the visitor with an arrangement of what appears to be blank white sheets of paper taped to the inside of the glass. As with several of the other works, in this shopping centre context, it could well seem like an unfortunate-looking temporary situation. Something is changed, remedied, covered over and hopefully overlooked: nothing to see here! Yet the attentive are rewarded with an altogether different vision – looking through the gaps in the white ‘tiles’ through to the reflection in the mirrored back surface of the narrow space, one can piece together an exuberant compilation of sights. Each sheet is an enlarged colour postcard depicting views, events and landmarks from the artist’s home of Barcelona, a city whose popularity as a tourist destination lies in no small part to its presentation as a readily consumable and legible visual ‘brand’. Blankly monochromatic on the outside, Scenic Viewpoints refuses such a generalised overview. Its ecstatic orchestration of wide vistas and saturated spectacles is only visible to a peeping, prying viewer who then can only see a small part at one time while linking “the abundance of images around us with the scarcity of meaning we can attach to them”, as Bartomeu Marí has described of another of Aballí’s works Revelations (2005).3
The vitrines titled Illuminating and White Cube are sited facing each other. Illuminating consists only of the application of light. Very bright light. The installation of professional film lights which shine out from the vitrine creates a level of luminescence that is evidently excessive. With a seeming lack of anything in particular to illuminate, one is reflected in the mirrored vitrine in the looped process of beholding oneself beholding the work. A counterpoint to the tastefully spotlighted products in the neighbouring shops, the wastefully ‘incorrect’ situation highlights a stark condition of energetic consumption while literally highlighting its context. White Cube provides the backdrop to this intense reflexivity. It cancels the transparency of its vitrine through the application of whitewash on the glass, a technique commonly adopted by empty premises after going out of business. (Not coincidentally, some of the pages of the newspapers of Please excuse our appearance carry stories related to the recession, which are illustrated by closed-up shops.) As with Aballí’s Big Mistake (1998-2005) and other works using Tipp-Ex correction fluid (used to cover errors on writing or typing paper), the artist creates a quotidian monochrome, through a melancholic painting-like blanking-out activity that nevertheless is never properly a painting. If White Cube refers to a spectre of painting, Vitrines for a Vitrine seems to orientate around some missing sculpture or precious object. Yet as if the artist has been perpetually unconvinced by the plausibility of displaying something, nothing is on show – rather it is the condition of display which is demonstrated in a mise en abyme, itself within the regime of visibility of the shopping centre. Three clear acrylic display cases like those used in museums or in chic stores occupy the glass vitrine. Each contains one small photograph of different empty vitrines which the artist has encountered in various cities.
‘Nothing, or Something’ undoubtedly triggers perplexing situations for the shopping public and the workers of the centre who were more-or-less familiar with the art project’s presence or witnesses to its installation. For many, the works may well go completely unnoticed. Are we seeing what we are supposed to be seeing? Where is the work? When is the work? Yet it is not the intention of Aballí’s project to be disingenuous or confrontational. On the contrary, it operates through orchestrating and modifying simple possibilities for observation, deduction and reflection. Something or nothing is happening, is not happening, is not happening anymore, or is yet to happen. Enhanced by memory and hindsight the project allows a disarmingly humble visual retirement – the kind of complexity that emerges through ceasing or waiting. How and why are things added and subtracted from the world, or from sight? What is worth looking at, having or keeping, and what is to be doubted or erased? What does it mean to be more aware of the things we cannot see? Perhaps we are all working with intangibles?
– © Latitudes (Max Andrews and Mariana Cánepa Luna)
Text originally published in 'Nothing, or Something', the publication accompanying the exhibition that took place in the Suitcase Art Projects, Beijing, China, 22 May–22 July 2009.
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