The following essay was commissioned by artists Astali / Peirce and Petra Rinck Galerie, Duesseldorf, for a publication relating to the Astali / Peirce exhibition ‘Seams’, at Autocenter, Berlin. The book will be published in 2014. The piece takes the form of an imagined conversation between the artists in an imagined studio.
A fictional conversation.
Scene: Astali / Peirce’s Studio.
The studio is a space of indeterminate volume.
The remains of the walls – a tangle of bone-white panels knitted together like the plates of a skull – hemorrhage intermittently revealing skeletal frameworks and anthropomorphic encores. Any flat sections are numbered, like pages, and embroidered with a dense tapestry of fractaling fissures, an electrocardiogram of faltering architectural heartbeats crested by boutonnière’s of imploding papery flora. A section of panels slide from the wall like Duchamp’s nude descending, or Muybridge slowly shuffling the architectural deck in a house of cards. Windows walk the walls like the rungs of a ladder, sharing one continuous head and sill. Some merely frame sections of the wall, whilst others open onto a reliquary box of stage set hills, a dark gateau of matter, elliptical excavations and plagiarized landslides. The studio floor is a meteor-stained skin of ashtray atrophy, a jigsaw-puzzle of Pompeian bed sheets curling up in tarred raptures, a fossilized hard drive from an extinct information age whose corners fade into a polyglot of whispers and montaged shadows.
At one end of the space are two perfectly cast petrified tree stumps, deftly chiseled from the banks of a carboniferous coal bearing strata. Astali and Peirce sit here, on one stump each, staring into a litter of spineless book pages. Peeled from compendiums of world theatres or volumes on natural history, the sheets form a pool into which Astali / Peirce periodically drop pebbles, watching as the ripples reconfigure the torn topography.
Still looking at the pool of paper, Astali speaks.
Astali Is entropy the small print on the reverse of every gesture?
Peirce It’s an increasingly ubiquitous term in art. A short hand for engaging a quality of degradation or decay. Depending on which side of the philosophical fence you’ve pitched your tent its rhythms orchestrate a death march or a rave, either way it’s assumed as fundamental a beat as your hearts. I think entropy’s currency in the arts has changed from its scientific origins…
Astali ‘Entropy isn’t what it used to be.’[i]
Peirce Arts relationship to entropy has always interested me. I remember as a child, being walked around the corridors of the Louvre and the Musée d’Orsay. I was struck by the aside that all of these artworks had outlived the artists. The museum’s sensitive, conservational lighting and temperature control seemed like a form of cryogenic immersion, preserving the corporeal body of the artist long after their fingers, lips, and eyelids had lapsed into denominations you’d have a hard time spending.
Astali Human beings unravel faster than artworks…
Peirce …they’ve higher entropy. The oldest known paintings, in the Nerja Caves, date from around 40,000 years ago. The oldest sculpture, The Venus of Hohle Fels dates from around 35,000 years ago. The oldest books or manuscripts are relatively recent, about 3000 years old. Still, compared with skin…
A leaf falls from a plant by the studio window. ‘Cattleya x dolosa,’ an orchid, is a natural hybrid. Its white petals have the delicacy of dusted fingerprints peeled from a crime scene, and an illicit, pale lamplight-yellow slips from under the doorway of the innermost petals. The phrase ‘to do a cattleya’ is used as a playful euphemism for amorous fondling by the characters Odette and Swann in Marcel Proust’s ‘Remembrance of Things Past’. The Latin for leaf is ‘folio’.
Plant You haven’t watered me for 80 days now…
Peirce The oldest printed collection of Shakespeare, the First Folio, dates from 1623, …390 years ago.
Astali ‘All the world’s a stage,’
Peirce ‘And all the men and women merely players.’[ii]
Astali All of the world’s a page depicting a stage…
Peirce …and all must list their footnotes correctly.
Astali picks a piece of paper from the floor – a page depicting a stage. She carefully tears along an invisible fault-line in the image, and lays this new edge across another image of a theatre interior. Reference points scout back and forth, textures, tones and narratives advance and retreat, fondling this new frontier, as the theatrical fragments are incrementally adjusted in rotations of her fingertips.
Astali The oldest theatre ruins, at Dholavira in India, are thought to be around 5000 years old. Examples of Greek and Roman theatres date back 2500 to 3500 years. I’ve always liked Walter Sickert’s paintings of theatres. He’s been given a significant presence in the Tate Britain rehang of their collection. His paintings depict these well-defined horizontal divisions – audience, stage, and backcloth. He shows the audience not as spectators, but as part of the performance itself. You get the impression that each doesn’t know the other exists.
Peirce He scripts a tension between observed and unobserved experience. Are we on stage or are we watching? They are one in the same; the implied dichotomy is an illusion…the ‘stage’ is an innate human self-awareness. For Sickert, like Shakespeare, the stage is inherent, we are on it, we are always on it as long as we are alive and conscious of being so.
Astali ‘Stage’ implies a role, or roles to play, as Shakespeare suggested in his ‘seven ages of man.’ As a motif it theatricalizes proposed dualities within these roles…like Sartre’s waiters, whom he feels are a little too ‘waiteresque.’ Art historically, Sartre’s concept of ‘bad-faith’, an allusion to pre-ordained identity or behavior, has inked a lot of artist’s contracts…
Peirce I was reading Just Kids by Patti Smith recently. She said, regarding acting: ‘I wasn’t acting material. It seemed being an actor was like being a soldier: you had to sacrifice yourself to the greater good. You had to believe in the cause. I just couldn’t surrender enough of myself to be an actor.’[iii] Sickert was an actor before he started painting; he played under the pseudonym of Mr. Nemo.
Astali ‘Nemo’ is Latin for ‘no one’. It’s also the Latin rendering of the ancient Greek ‘Outis’, or ‘Nobody’.
Peirce ‘Being like everybody is the same as being nobody.’[iv]
Astali Like the populace of Nietzsche’s ‘wasteland.’
The two pieces of paper find a footing within one another. Astali turns them over. Their reverse is a maze of broken obituaries, crosshatched currents of interwoven grammatical crystals and semiotic seizures, a cubist gridlock of decommissioned headlines. Across their burst lip, Astali presses a piece of tape.
Peirce Nietzsche was afraid of a kind of creeping mediocrity brought about by democratic freedom and equality. Image collection sites, like FFFFOUND!, Tumblr or Pinterest enable, through a curated accumulation of adopted imagery, a kind of collaged expression of the users identity. The creative act is one of choosing to assimilate someone else’s imagery into a matrix whose unique configuration alludes to authorship. But ‘everybody’ draws water from the same ready-made well, and these digital echoes, adopted by a click of the mouse, fabricate an indistinct, distracted, repetitious wallpaper for the wasteland…
Astali Sickert referred to the newspaper clippings he worked from as ‘ready-mades,’ and thought of his responses to them as ‘echoes.’ An echo’s inverted commas should articulate a sensitive awareness of the momentums within an image, and the effect on these qualities of context or proximity…of your engagement with your source. Do you quote, gargle, chew it up and spit it out, do you cut, tear, or frame the question of a subject’s definition? Duchamp’s considered indifference to his ready-mades had an acute pertinence. ‘In Advance Of The Broken Arm’ is just a snow shovel whilst it remains in the hardware store.
Peirce ‘What are the roots that clutch, what branches grow, Out of this stony rubbish? Son of man, You cannot say, or guess, for you know only, A heap of broken images.’[v]
Astali You might at least have a ‘guess.’
Peirce …or even ‘say.’
Astali and Peirce pause to consider the adjoined fragments in front of them.
Astali Do you think we are collages?
Peirce Engaging collage-based work explores the notion that our identities are collaged, and antagonizes what is intrinsic, or natural, or adopted in the same way that the theatre/stage/actor motif can. The capacity for collage to engage the theatre of psychological violence in the image-overloaded psyche of today has…
From the archipelago of paper islands at their feet, Astali lifts a triptych she has previously coerced into cohesion, and places it behind the duet she has just taped together. As she revolves its axis like the dial of safe, wormholes of absence open within the multi-layered kaleidoscope, as if it is digesting itself, a sloping introverted collapsing inward, as sand through an hourglass. Like colliding land masses melded by volcanic glue, the quintet of states settle into a new country.
Astali There’s a quality of impudence in collage. I will not do as I’m told. The rebellious, agitator Dadaist is imprinted in its genetic code. Interesting collage has a mutinous spirit, it’s your faculties grappling with a role, improvising all over the script. It’s the Shakespearean audience shouting, interrupting the actors, refusing the proprieties of strict delineation…collage kicks in the windows, collage tears up the map, rolls, and smokes it. Collaging the theatre reads as a kind of fable or manifesto for the mutinous life. There’s a moral power of ‘taking responsibility’ in its anti-ideological worldview. It is light refracted, spotlighting the covert amongst the overt. It is the collaged skull and crossbones of the Jolly Roger, a pillaging piracy looming over the ‘seven seas of man.’
Plant I myself am a hybrid, a naturally occurring collage of sorts. We orchids are quite easy to cross, so human-created hybrids of orchids range in the hundreds of thousands. In nature we hybridize for many reasons…to expand into new terrain for example. In human hands orchid hybridization is about producing new colours and larger showier flowers.
Peirce I’ve heard Kurt Schwitters’ collages described as having ‘the melancholy brightness of flowers growing on wasteland.’[vi]
Astali Plants sometimes flower as they are dying, like bamboo, a kind of last aching, petalled word or breath, before sending its seedlings on their way.
Plant It’s said that books make good compost, especially if they’re shredded. Microbes and worms break the decomposing image down, the remains from which a new image grows.
The collage takes possession of its slender cracks, the cracks in the ceiling, the lines in your face, your cracked lips, cracked tooth, the crack of dawn, cracked atom, cracked windscreen, cracked bell, the cracked shell, the cracked actor. Astali places the collage on the studio wall.
Astali / Peirce You can wallpaper over the cracks, but, as Nietzsche said, ‘woe to him who hides the wastelands within.’[vii]
A light rain descends upon the pool’s surface, sending concentric ripples through the medley of images, merging them with Astali and Peirce’s dissolving silhouettes.
[i] An example of ‘physics humour’. http://jupiterscientific.org/sciinfo/jokes/physicsjokes.html
[ii] William Shakespeare, As You Like It (Wordsworth Editions Ltd. 1993).
[iii] Patti Smith, Just Kids (Bloomsbury, 2011).
[iv] Quote attributed to Rod Serling, author of The Twilight Zone.
[v] T.S. Eliot, ‘The Waste Land’, from The Waste Land and Other Poems (Faber & Faber, 2002).
[vi] Manfred Schneckenburger, Art of the 20th Century (Taschen, 2000), 462.
[vii] Martin Heidegger, What is called thinking? Tr. G. Glenn Gray (Harper & Row, 1968/1954), 51. (The title of a poem Nietzsche wrote “The wasteland grows: woe to him who hides wastelands within!”).