Keef Winter: I had no idea, Platform Arts, Belfast, 7 – 28 February 2013
In three days time there will be a three-hour-long event, “Demolition and Whiskey Sours” to mark the end of the exhibition, turning it into a participatory performance after it existed as an installation.
Its title signals activation of attention without intention that engages with the early critique of minimalism by Michael Fried (1939) published in Artforum in 1967. Fried disliked what he perceived as confusing art with ordinary object and reduction of art to ideological statement about the nature of art. Winter’s courting of the vernacular adheres more to Carl Andre’s (1935) acceptance of remakes, e.g. Cedar Piece, 1959 remade 1964, or Well, 1964 remade 1970, as confirmation of the central role of material. He is quoted: “I have one great talent…choosing great materials and getting out of the way…I am a matterist.” (Suzanne Muchnic in The Los Angeles Times, November 27,2007, accessed on articles.latimes.com).
Winter emphasises three characteristics: the importance of material, recycled or new, eradication of signs of authorship, and emphasis on the physical space. They integrate without being tied to a fact or to a delineated type. As if wishing to illustrate Maurice Merleau-Ponty ( 1908-1961, The phenomenology of perception, 1945). Winter created a situation, one of several possible, in which the objects, found or constructed, are in no immediate sense related to a biological function. Even the natural daylight that would have come through the windows is excluded by boarding all of them, forging a damp twilight.
On entry, the striplight that is part of I had no idea, 2013, invites a guess at how deep the wooden construction may be, on closer look, revealing the shine of the steel and chain, and on a closer look, also the heads of the screws holding the timber in position. It is revealed as a work, labour with a drill, a kind of silent and measured homage to homo faber. The chain and striplight could have been there to start with, or added at the end, thus detemporalizing the open sculpture. Consequently, the emphasis is on the rhythm of mass, volume, density and emptiness in relation to the space.
In an opposite corner casually scattered on the floor, at random intervals, without any apparent connections, rest three objects made of concrete / cement, sand, paper and metal rods, Constructing the debris (PhD thesis), 2013. All have an appearance of found objects, an illusion shattered by a kind and tactful message from the artist that the cuboid one he cast using shredded PhD thesis – hence the “visible invisible” paper.
It is the most derivative (Art Povera), least “primary” (Donald Judd’s term coined in 1966) floor sculpture / installation of them all. Perhaps a critique of the influence of the higher research degree written work on visual practice.
Diagonally opposite stands the most accomplished of exhibits, Leo Johnson, 2013. Timber, right angle, straight lines, modular units turn it into a classical minimalist sculpture. Timber answer to Anthony Caro’s Cliff Song(1976), and to “specific objects” in metal or stone by Ulrich Rueckriem (b 1938) for its insistence on appreciation of the insignificant, thus making it significant. The concept of tectonic rationale favoured by David Rabinowitch (b 1943) in his floor reliefs turns here into a free standing closed form, expressing Winter’s commitment to form that by necessity confronts gravity.
Formal concern with geometry moves the large sculptural diptych Each of us were several, 2013, onto the territory of invented angular shapes, a domain of Lynn Chadwick (1914 – 2003). Winter wrapped shapes in black stretch film plastic while marking an almost immaterial connection to a wounded plasterboard. An acute dissonance in visual, tactile, tectonic, geometrical terms, of the fragile against the more durable, has not succeeded to let the two to fall apart. Moreover, the material of both is set off against the immaterial, the framed nothingness and a striplight on the back wall, possibly in a discreet nod to Dan Flavin (b 1933).
The light sources make for a neglected connection to another minimalist, Robert Irwin (b 1928) involved in the Light and Space movement in the 1960s.
The above connections to minimalism of the 1960s are meaningful and do not detract from authenticity of Winter’s art practice. As a parallel example of re-visiting a practice of a predecessor, Segal, Hanson and Kienholz provide glorious cases in relation to Rodin’s Bronze Age, with the attentand accusation that it was cast from a living model. Minimalism was the first coherent style in the second half of the 20th Century wedded to the abundance of metal, twisted metal, clean metal, any metal. The love affair with metal spread out. A Calder, Cesar, P. King, R. Serra, K. Armitage, A. Caro, C. Andre , M di Suvera, D Smith, etc. They all share one principle: the integration of the object with the setting, namely the art gallery (but not only gallery). Their objects are not “anxious objects” like Warhol’s Brillo boxes, with whom they share a power to disable judgement grounded in older art. Instead they offer conditions that seem to contradict each other: they look like ordinary, useful, in the words of William Morris, lesser arts (life supporting), but they do not depend on usefulness, they appear disinterested in usefulness.
Winter focuses on materials connected to a trade. There is a fuzzy logic to his choices. What connects wood, plastic and neon lights? Energy, resource and use. As art objects in a gallery they become signs for tolerance to “waste” valuable resources as if there were still untouched huge forests and abundance of cheap oil and electricity. Each, the wood, the plastic and electric light refer to the production of energy, as a resource for life. That link provides the proof of their usefulness. The incompleteness of each form, the low number of strip lights, easily become a warning about limits.
The contradiction described forges a deliberate tension capable of releasing a combative impulse to free the aesthetic experience from oppression by a utilitarian society. The corrective simplicity points on one hand to economy of means, to the vernacular tradition of log cabins, tents, umbrellas, chains, bollards and anchors, on the other, it points to private uncensored fantasies and associations. The former embodies the concern with the historical position of the work of art, the latter with the depth and fullness of the sphere of personal choices and responsibilities. The visual and tactile registers of the selected materials offer sensory delights that are authentic subject of these objects. It is art that foregrounds your presence, your feeling, your subjectivity.
The exhibition felt also somewhat subdued, the boarded windows insisted on cutting off the world out there, fostering instead tomb like, cave like, church like badly lit interior. A space for contemplation of whatever response the present objects manage to evoke.