March 15 - April 21 2012
Catherine Delaney’s new work ‘Other-stuff’ consists of a make-shift recycling centre housed within The LAB on Foley Street. Here it is the stuff of others’ or other people’s stuff that is everywhere with the cloying aroma of used swap-shop clothes- stacks of it, in every corner, strewn about the gallery to be plied, picked over, abandoned or reused.
Employing a minimalist sculptural gesture the work invites the audience to partake in the recycling process as participants or even as accomplices in order to keep the work in constant flux. The set-up invites the public to participate in the exchange of used clothing where they in effect create the work; they attain authorship and are empowered by their participation.
The cyclical depletion of the work references mortality, which is another construct emanating from the minimalist movement of the 1960’s. This sorting and taking away is a metaphor for the process of a life system, its ephemerality is left behind only in the documentation of the event.
While also embracing the post-minimalist theory of the anti-form movement or scatter art, now ubiquitous to post-modern art, ‘Other-stuff’ plays with the notion of the space within, challenging minimalist tropes of presence and absence. While minimalism sought to affirm the viewer’s awareness of their physical presence in relation to an object, the work ‘other- stuff’ alludes to presence through the threat of absence.
Twentieth century writer and philosopher Vilem Fleusser stated that we are living in a society of recyclers. Fleusser was referring to the fact that our lives are punctuated by objects, ideas and sensations that are endlessly retrieved and reused. Our commercial leftovers and waste recycling aligned with psychoanalysis are activities that aim to regenerate and rebuild by sifting and sorting. The Lab is symbolically located in the area formerly known as ‘Monto’, the red-light district of 19th century Dublin which had workhouses nearby and was usually the last resort for the ‘poor unfortunate girls’ who most probably had been put to work repairing and up-cycling clothing for the very houses and places where they had once plied their trade.
Post-colonial Ireland still attempts to throw away reminders of its oppressed past and in ‘Other Stuff’ it is the physicality of the depletion of the work by the audience that is a paradox to our rapidly increasing unsustainable throwaway culture.
‘Other Stuff’ questions how art can embed itself in the surface of reality, not to look like reality or imitate it but in effect exchange and replace reality for the truth. Taking from the idea of anti-form and the Art Povera movement, Delaney uses other stuff to make the art; other stuff utilizes the performative and in doing so creates a new art as a new reality and effectively makes itself.
"unitary forms embody a generalized usefulness constitutitive of our objective world - the form of utility itself, the primordial substrate of our knowledge of the world gained through constructive needs-driven interaction with it"-Robert Morris / "Anti-Form" 1968
Catherine Delaney’s work has been primarily rooted in sculpture over the past 20 years. However her discipline has gradually evolved to working more on collaborative based projects, context specific installations, photography and books. She was born in Dublin in 1965 and was elected to Aosdana in 2008.
Other Stuff – The Swarf of the World
In 1894 the Times of London ran a story about horse manure on the capital’s streets. If horse numbers continued to rise then by 1950 the streets would be submerged in 9ft of dung, it warned. Horse power, the very thing which made the city function, threatened it from within. If left unchecked waves of fecal matter from the city’s horses – indispensible for transportation– would choke and constipate its commercial systems. A new form of urban conveyance was required to save cities from the encroaching, swollen heaps of excrement.
There are two readings of this failed prediction. The first is optimistic. It’s underwritten by a comforting faith that humans will always come up with technological advances to engineer themselves out of the predicaments they have constructed. In other words, we needn’t worry too much about carbon footprints or air-miles because new technologies will emerge soon enough and render the petro-chemical age redundant. As the internal-combustion engine replaced horse power so too it will be superseded in due course. Current anxieties about global warming will seem as quaint in 50 years time as anachronistic worries about horse manure do now.
The other reading is to recognize the truth: all technology produces shit.
Both horses and motor cars generate by-products relentlessly. These are the redundant but inevitable produce of their operations. Their dung. Dead bits of stuff are always left-over, and left behind. All processes of production produce surplus. From the whittlings of working in wood to the chaff of threshing and all the sawdust, stubble, and sump-oil in between; every technology will produce its own surfeits and pass its own stools. These excesses are the non-signifying elements of its processes. They are without meaning because they don’t sit obviously within a system of objects. They are rather the dross which rises to the surface. The swarf.
The Paradox of Other Stuff
Technology is the mechanism by which capitalism produces, insistently, more and more things. Yet these must become obsolete stuff because obsolescence is the very catalyst of capital. It requires it to keep moving forward. Junk is the meat on which it feeds and junk is what it excretes. Without things falling into disrepair, disuse or disrepute there would be no market for things that are new. Desire would evaporate. The market would collapse. This is what Catherine Delaney’s Other Stuff is about. She collects clothes that have become, in one context, obsolete, used-up, in the desire for even more things. These are things that nobody wanted; they have become mere, other, stuff.
Technology, then, produces this Other Stuff. It is stuff that is other to us. Most of the time we don’t recognize this other stuff, because the things around us are useful and have meaning. Most of the time things are not other to us, but rather injection-moulded into the shape of our world. We use various techniques, like naming things, or using them with our hands, and employ technologies to envelop our environment with what the philosopher Merleau-Ponty called the "prose of the world." We wear our clothes, use our hammers and learn to speak the language of the world by becoming immersed in what another philosopher Graham Harman calls the "Carpentry of Things." But, we rarely attend to the shavings and stubble that we slough off. Yet, when something becomes Other Stuff it’s because we don’t use it; we don’t desire it anymore. In the normal way of being in the world we don’t recognize the brute and taciturn stuff of reality in itself. The things of our world are knowable and yet the stuff of reality seems to withdraw, and denies us knowledge of it. This is one of the most puzzling philosophical paradoxes there is. We are part of the jetsam and effluent of the normal run of things, yet somehow seem to rise above it. We are in the world, yet apart from it too. Other Stuff gives us a glimpse of this.
An Aesthetics of Obsolescence
But something weird happens when things become obsolete; we look at them differently. Martin Heidegger’s famous philosophical example was the hammer. This is used quite ordinarily on a day to day basis (perhaps by a blacksmith to secure a horseshoe on a hoof?) in manner that is generally not thought-through. The hammer becomes part of the hand of its user; a means by which the body is extended into space (and time). The point is that the hammer becomes a metaphor for all technology from horse-riding to motor-cars, I-Pads to language and all other techniques of knowing the world. When technology is being used we tend to not pay attention to those things employed. Their stuff-ness is overlooked. But when they break, or become obsolete, then another dimension of their existence heaves into view. As something becomes useless it recedes from its system of meanings and begins to obstinately declare that it, too, is stuff. Hence, it’s possible to see the beauty (or be disgusted by) things that are no longer useful, for aesthetic experience seems to allude simple meanings. This is why 90 minute cassette-tapes, fax-machines, used and yellowing notebooks, single shoes, broken elastic bands and bales of used clothes can nag us with their mute beauty. These are things that have become uncoupled from their place in the order of things. Unmoored, they have drifted back into the oceanic realm of stuff; and their meanings re-submerged. There is an aesthetics of obsolescence which is also a poetry of things, because poetry is what’s left over after signification. Poetry is the swarf of language and language the swarf of the world.
A Farewell to Objects
On 23rd January 2012 the blog of The Pirate Bay posted the following statement:
"We believe that the next step in copying will be made from digital form into physical form. It will be physical objects. Or as we decided to call them: Physibles. Data objects that are able (and feasible) to become physical. We believe that things like three dimensional printers, scanners and such are just the first step. We believe that in the nearby future you will print your spare parts for your vehicles. You will download your sneakers within 20 years."
Pirate Bay is a notorious peer-to-peer file-sharing site which was successfully sued in 2009 for copyright infringement by the Motion Picture Association of America and other entertainment companies for ‘assisting in making copyrighted content available.’ They had facilitated in the illegal copying and distribution of films, music and other material. It presents a science-fiction scenario for the near future in which all objects have become obsolete. The point being: if all things can be replicated then nothing can stand alone or have any claim to uniqueness anymore. If things lose their aura when copied then the whole world will lose its mooring in space and time if all its things can be reproduced. And stuff will disappear too, to become subsumed in the raw material of an endless proliferation of newly configured items. Would this, then, be a time when something really strange happens? Is it possible to imagine a brave new world, where nothing really exists anymore? A world where art is shit. And shit beautiful?