Sunday 2 November 2014

Abject/Object: (Un)Healthy Art

As a man and woman announced that the gallery is to be shut down and replaced by a health-concerned juice bar, the audience stood before them in the parking lot of the Hackney-based gallery Space In Between, each holding a glass of apple, celery, kale, lemon and ginger juice. As the premise for Matthew de Kersaint Giraudeau’s performance, Communal Juicing, a prelude to his first solo exhibition with the same title, the actors promised to take yoga seriously and not to laugh at those runners who wear separate toe shoes. They proceeded to dance to a catchy tune as they sang the words, “be true, be free, be who you wanna be!” Only at the end of the performance were the audience members allowed to take a sip as they were thanked for participating in this communal juicing. Playing a minor role in the performance, I stood behind the two characters cradling the masticating cold press Omega 8006 juicer – the culprit, the agent, the object responsible for closing the gallery. And it all made me think: is art healthy?

Certainly not all of de Kersaint Giraudeau’s works are “healthy”, his Cheesedough Series containing in them Cheetos, oil, salt, instant noodles, candy, alcohol, energy drink and tobacco. These sculptural works, designed to elicit cultural abjection perhaps do not contain healthy materials, but are they, because of this, healthy for us as art? On the walls hung The Protuberance Series, one object titled Relic and ten pen drawings hung on the walls partake in a series called Drawings From an Infinitely Ongoing Series Cataloguing Every Object, Both Real and Imaginary, in The Entire Universe.

While, during the performance a few days back, the actors confirmed to the audience that the juice they were about to consume contained no spit, no hair, no semen or vaginal fluids, de Kersaint Giraudeau’s Protuberance pieces contain all of these. However tempting it might be to draw the link, these cannot be regarded as an endeavor equivalent to that of Tracey Emin’s bed. While the latter is a manifestation of autobiographical events and physical states, de Kersaint Giraudeau does not assert himself as the “author” of any of these liquids. Rather than wishing to say something about himself, de Kersaint Giraudeau’s comment is more on cultural abjection and collective desires that run deep through our society. The artist repurposes materials such as Creatine, rabbit skin glue, vegetable oil, ash, Walkers prawn cocktail crisps and, of course, human excretions that reside either underneath or on top of stretched, pink-grey, wet look lycra so that they refer to but do not overtly represent human genitals.

While chatting with de Kersaint Giraudeau about these works, he disclosed to me that the late works of Canadian painter Philip Guston inspired him as he created these wall sculptures. Not only is the same pink shared by Guston and de Kersaint Giraudeau, but Guston’s paintings of a one-eyed man smoking and eating in his bed are materialized and made into objects by de Kersaint Giraudeau. In their different media, both artists are playing here with the indisputable desire that accompanies abject behaviors and objects and that it is in fact one’s desire for them that renders them abject in the first place.

Not only does de Kersaint Giraudeau materialize liquids so that they become objects, but he actualizes concepts and inaccessible entities so that they become objects in and of themselves. Some of his objects on paper include Success, Susan Sontag, Tinder, and Intern. These entities made real, made object, through drawing are not limited to those that de Kersaint Giraudeau has chosen to share with us; they could, in theory, depict any aspect or feature of “the entire universe”. In fact, the artist gives body to his objects by creating an assemblage of glazed ceramic items sitting in a pile of dirt under the table, some of which refer to the figures represented in the object drawings on the back wall. If Communal Juicing concretizes the mundane, the everyday into objects, then the viewer must reduce a thing (tangible or not) to an object and to conceive of how this reduction is at the same time an expansion of that very same thing. And why might this be a healthy exercise? Why should the gallery remain open? To keep us healthy of course.

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