Tag Archives: Damien Hirst

Unbelievable

00210_s_9aem39j6m0628Gasworks (A Ganzfeld Sphere), James Turrell

The Henry Moore Sculpture Studio, Dean Clough, 1993

Photo copyright Jeremy Hardman-Jones

Here’s something quite personal, and, in keeping with the mission statement of this blog, not available on the web in any way that my google-fu can ascertain. This is a James Turrell piece that fabricated and exhibited by the now defunct Henry Moore Sculpture studio at Dean Clough Mills in Halifax. The work commissioned at the Studio at Dean Clough appears to exist in mysterious lacunae in terms of the history of contemporary art in the UK. I was the Deputy Director at the Henry Moore Sculpture Trust from 1990 to 1994 under Robert Hopper; whether it was a the perceived failure of the Artranspenine project in 1998, the premature death of Robert in 1999, the change of leadership at the Henry Moore Foundation, and the closure of the studio, I cannot say. Even my existence at the organisation seems to be a matter of some dispute, since I do not turn up in any of the online literature on the Trust despite my curation of the first exhibition at the Henry More Institute in Leeds (oh, and I designed the logo too). The programme at the Halifax studio predated the glory days of Brit art and the YBA’s (though the grant programme through the Trust supported such key early ’90’s projects as Building One, Gambler, Modern Medicine and Whiteread’s House). I remember the art we commissioned in those years like the music; the end of 1988’s  ‘second summer of love‘ when Madchester mutated in Soup Dragons, EMF or The Farm; still mining the British Sculptural Tradition before the advent of Oasis, Blur and Pulp; when Radiohead was still Pablo Honey, those weird, liminal Major years, when the past had not yet become the present.

The manufacture of the fibreglass sphere in Halifax was the culmination of the project first proposed by James Turrell in 1969 with Robert Irwin and Ed Wortz for Expo 70 and at LACMA. Here’s an excellent précis by William Poundstone from Blouin Artinfo; interestingly, no mention of the first actual manifestation of the first full body Ganzfeld sphere at Dean Clough in ’93.

This version was exhibited at the ICA in 1996 and then found itself in the hands of Larry Gagosian (at least one of these works by Turrell was exhibited at Gagosian in London in 2010). Another version appears to have been constructed at the National Sculpture Factory in Cork, again in 1996. The lovely assistants you see in my image from 1993 are Jo McGonigal, not, it appears, an associate lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University (and still, I hope, an artist) and Chris Sacker, who is definitely still an artist.

A Ganzfeld (Ger. ‘entire field’) sphere is an enclosed spherical space, lit to eliminate any visual graduation or distance reference. When inside the sphere (originally proposed as table tennis balls, cut in half, and placed over each eye), the physical act of seeing is settling on an effective nothing; the eye has only a void on which to rest. Like William Hurt in Ken Russell’s Altered States, the mind potentially enters into a state where it can only start to perceive itself; past, present and future are revealed. The viewer starts to see only what the eye is not what it sees. Gazing back into the past, maybe this was only a dream?

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Talking Heads

Gabriel Orozco, Black Kites 1997. Philadelphia Museum of Art: gift (by exchange) of Mr. and Mrs. James P Magill.

Another card purchased at this year’s Documenta 13. Black Kites by the Mexican artist Gabriel Orozco.

You have to qualify Orozco with ‘Mexican’, for the first point of contact with this piece is always the decorated skulls of pre-Cortes Mexico, the ghoulish remnants of the Aztec death cult, or the crystal skulls of Arthur C Clark (and, sadly, Indiana Jones), the ones that you pick up in Glastonbury for a hundred quid or so, and that are always fakes (notwithstanding what your flatmate’s crazy tour manager might say).

Black Kite might also remind the reader of the Cheel Gaar of the Indian Parsi and Dakhma of  the ancient Persian Zoroastrians, the sky burials of Tibetan Buddhism, where kites and other birds of prey wheel over the towers of silence. All these things a skull can tell us: so far, so Damien.

But of this sculpture, produced by Orozco for Catherine David’s curation of Documenta X in 1997, is explicitly none of those things. If the skull is the ultimate ready-made, the structure that lurks, a la Ray Bradbury, below the skin, then Orozco’s intimate encounter with the skull is his attempt to understand and map that inner geography. Pencil, ink, bone; these are the tools for our understanding for millennia. The black inked squares do not decorate the skull, they map it, the distorting into kites as the graphite pencil diamonds fall across the complex surface of the skull. The Chuck Close distortion in the postcard image reads this an object that cannot be mapped in 2 dimensions, I am a sculpture that can only be experienced as real, the skull smiles grimly.  Black Kites operates in the most effective mode of artistic expression; ambiguity. While the work speaks to me of the gothic and the memento mori of the decorated skull, it also tells of art’s attempt to map and understand what it is to be human: the desperation of Patrick Bateman as he plunges his hands into the corpse of another hooker, the childish decoration of found bone, or the waving checkered flag that signals the end of the final race. As a child, my parents once bought me a gift from Italy, a small bag of crudely decorated coloured balls, painted in modeling enamels with the colours of the Sienese Palio, basic, simple, tourist knick-knack, yet each marked with hand of the artist. Black Kites connects these impulses, producing a folk-art digital map of the structure that lies below all humans; simple, direct and supremely subtle.

The obvious connect, exactly tens from Black Kites years on, would be with Damien Hirst’s For The Love Of God (2007); and again, the comparison between the works can only be instructive. The usefulness of Hirst as a visual culture construct is that he is a truly bad artist, trite, un-imaginative, deeply conservative, and so his incredible success is both unsurprising and an illumination of the poverty of creative expression of our times. His genius is his approach to mirroring those times. Hirst’s diamond encrusted platinum gee jaw tells us how we live now, but contrasting his carbon gemstones with the graphite diamonds of Black Kites (and how can we say that one work did not influence the other? I can imagine Hirst standing in front of Orozco’s work and thinking, surely I can say this better?), we can see how Orozco asks how we live at all. If you want to know understand the visual culture of the early C21 (a noble and usual impulse, but easily satisfied) look at Hirst, if you want seek to consider our human existence, look at Gabriel Orozco. One is temporal, the other eternal.

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