April 11 - June 07 2014
The artworks aspire to a self-reflexivity, they consider the means by which their materials are selected and fabricated, and how artworks in general are exhibited, photographed, represented, distributed, archived, traded and subsumed into a cultural lexicon. The entire ecology surrounding the artwork is at stake and informs the practice.
Industrial and quotidian materials are assembled and formed into tentative and temporary sculptural arrangements. They are simple in their composition; the barest most economical intervention into the materials is sought. This is in order to preserve the possibility that they might be returned again to their original or unadulterated state - before they ‘became’ artworks. Inevitably though, the works and the constituent materials bear the agency of the artist, and retain a trace of the conscious act of art-making - a careful editing and rearranging of objects, in the hope that this activity can move what was familiar towards the unknown.
‘Ultra' features works from 'Where Exists A Remnant’, an exhibition originally commissioned by The Dock, Leitrim. The LAB is Dublin City Council's Arts Office, a dynamic hub of activity housing a gallery, rehearsal and incubation space for a range of art forms. The LAB Gallery supports emerging art practices and focuses on fresh ways to develop engaged audiences for the visual arts. Visit The LAB Gallery to see our current exhibitions or take part in our special events, talks and workshops. In addition to Dublin City Council, the LAB is supported the Arts Council.
Barbara Knezevic was born in Sydney, Australia and lives and works in Dublin, Ireland. She attended the Sydney College of the Arts (Bachelor Visual Arts) and National College of Art and Design, Dublin (Master of Fine Art). Recent exhibitions include Temple Bar Gallery and Studios are Dead, curated by Chris Fite Wassilak, TBG+S, Dublin (2013); Tulca Festival of Visual Art, curated by Valerie Connor (2013); Where exists a remnant, The Dock, Carrick on Shannon (2013); Future Perfect - We are here, Rubicon Projects, Brussels (2013); This must be the place, Golden Thread Gallery, Belfast (2013); Whitewashing the Moon, Project Arts Centre, Dublin (2012); Gracelands, Circling the Square (2012); Plastic Art, RUA Red (2012); After the Future, eva International Biennial of Art (2012). Forthcoming exhibitions include On Curating Histories, curated by Kate Strain (2014).
I received images of Barbara Knezevic’s exhibition Ultra by email. The email remained unread for a day or so, in which time it was relegated down the first page of my inbox by newsletter subscriptions that I ended up deleting en masse. Writing this now is a reminder to unsubscribe from most of them. They build up in layers, emails. There are those that are read and unread, flagged and un-flagged, emboldened and un-emboldened; all of them stacked flat and horizontal, page after page. It is difficult to imagine any other geometry for all that correspondence and all that history.
The images in the email show a number of sculptural works installed in The LAB. There are works that are mounted on the floor and on the wall, another that connects to the ceiling, and another that leans against The LAB’s glass frontage onto Foley Street. In photographic images, the material distinctions of these objects become impossible to tell. The green marble in works such as Stelae (2013/4) losses something in translation between the object, the camera viewfinder, and the computer screen. The same could be said for the black beeswax in Plaque (reformed) (2014). The cold touch of marble or the textures of beeswax are material conditions that no camera has ever learned to master. And nor has the camera ever learned to master the narrative of material objects beyond one arrested moment or another. What can one split second of a camera shutter possibly do to reconcile all the geological, ecological and chemical processes that result in Himalayan rock salt, rubber, granite, linen canvas, and sharktooth scrim, to name some of the other listed materials in Knezevic’s work? By the time the camera arrives to document these objects as artworks, their material life has already traveled a distance that is inconsolable for any image. It all seems to hide and retreat. Perhaps somewhere at the limits of these email attachments, we just might be at the edge of something that concerns Knezevic’s work.
We recognize the green marble from the image, but here in the exhibition we see it again. It forms part of Stelae (2013/14) one of several works in this series presented in Ultra, consisting of marble and granite surfaces (two of them green, the other a pale cream colour), mounted on the wall or on the floor of the exhibition space supported by a steel structure that extends dynamically from the wall. These floor mounted marble surfaces seem to face us off and anticipate our attention. They assert themselves towards us, meeting us halfway. They are artworks that are pre-figured with us.
In each of these Stelae works, a thin layer of black rubber sits at the base of the marble, hanging down from the wall or lying horizontally across the floor. The rubber is cut in a shape that mirrors the marble’s proportions, its outline and jagged edge. We can read these elements of marble and rubber equivalently, but it’s an equivalence that has to ignore the marble’s thickness and the impressions of its surface. We have to forsake – like the camera does – all the dimensional, tactile and indexical differences between these materials in order to arrive at a sense of what they share and co-extend in one another.
The material elements in the Stelae works can be crudely described in terms of the order of appearances that move from the background to foreground: the steel structure existing as a support, the marble existing as an primary outfacing object, and the rubber existing as a shadow projection or after-image. These works are suggestively closed circuits, internalized with the dramatic orders of their own appearance. In a sense, we viewers arrive at a Stelae work outside the loop of its effects, leaving us unsure how to respond and counteract. We might begin to feel that our powers of spectatorship are slipping or being outwitted and surpassed entirely. For so long we’ve believed that we were the important ones to activate the artwork and bring it ‘in contact with the external world’ (Marcel Duchamp, The Creative Act, 1957), that we viewers were the guardians of the artwork’s interface and extra-territoriality. Maybe now that’s just a tired old game. Can we be anything other than silent witnesses to the strange and unknowable material forces that act between themselves?
There are other ways in which Knezevic’s works seem to withdraw from us. A work titled Edifice (2013/14) rests between The Lab’s glass wall and the interior wall of the exhibition space, like an object resigned in all attempts to relate beyond the glass. Or there is Things for next time (2013/2014), a small and unassuming work that sits in the centre of the exhibition space, listed with the material elements of Himalayan Rock Salt and linen canvas. We can’t see the Rock Salt, but we can fairly assume that it’s contained inside the raw cream-coloured canvas that is scrunched around it. The title adds a provisional aspect to this cloak of appearances, suggesting that what we’re not able to see now, we might be able to see later. If it’s the same Rock Salt that was used in Knezevic’s 2013 work titled Empyreumatic entity, we might have actually seen it already. Perhaps we saw it in person or in photographic documentation? A sense of it squeezed through the compressions of our memory or as a jpeg image that recalls it propping up one corner of a microcrystalline wax surface that rested on the floor of The Dock in Leitrim?
Throughout Ultra we find works that connect to other works, dates, and places, through a material chains of events. Materials that once belonged in one sculptural constituency are now imparted to another. The black beeswax in Plaque (reformed) carries something of the Polylithic Arrangement from 2012. We even find the microcrystalline wax of Empyreumatic entity in a new work titled Entity (in two parts), which as the title suggests, is now one object that has been split into two material parts – The Lab’s intense composite-stone flooring like another psychedelic world somewhere in between. With all this material pervasiveness, our spectatorship has never felt so partial or so limited in space and time.
Knezevic’s works seem to test the withdrawal that Timothy Morton identifies of objects in Realistic Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality, where he writes that ‘[w]ithdrawal means that at this very moment, this very object, as an intrinsic aspect of its being, is incapable of being anything else: […] its atomic structure, its function, its relations with other things … Withdrawal isn’t a violent sealing off. Nor is withdrawal some void or vague darkness. Withdrawal just is the unspeakable unicity of this lamp, this paperweight, this plastic portable telephone, this praying mantis, this frog, this Mars faintly red in the night sky, this cul-de-sac, this garbage can. An open secret’. Knezevic’s works in Ultra might not reveal themselves entirely to the camera, but what they reveal to us in the direct encounter of the exhibition is only further indication of what remains inaccessible and essentially beyond bounds.
Matt Packer, May, 2014
on Barbara Knezevic’s Ultra
Special Event at 5pm on Thursday 10 April –
In Conversation: Barbara Knezevic and Dr. Maeve Connolly, Director of MAVIS