Mar 22, 2006

Artbash review of Simon Denny's 'Old Things' at Michael Lett



for a while I was posting sporadic comments to the Artbash site, under the name of IBID. this was a the most substantial, and was less a response to John Hurrell's review of Simon Denny's show than an offhand re-situating of some of the gathered fragments of response to shows penned while wandering around Auckland after my internship at the Govett Brewster...

the original link is here

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some notes on Simon's show, from my Auckland notebook...


Wandering among the dense meshes, the complex constellations of objects present in Old Things, the latest manifestation of Simon Denny’s anti-monumental sculptural practice, we encounter a Kitset shelf that the artist has assembled, then sliced into two halves, and then sanded back until the pattern of the formica is no longer a woodgrain.

Similar processes are brought to bear on clothing. A jumper is carved into, its softness rigidified, its arms shortened and a bowl-like spatial gape created, which is then threaded with long strings of wool which render it harplike, guitarlike. The jumper’s stitches are made to announce themselves in their reversal, their unravel, and its substance is tweaked for its latent movement, the temporality embedded in its slow and careful threads.

But to pause on that last sentence: Is this jumper handknitted? I suspect not. And as such the unravelling of its stitches is the unravelling, not of the patient effort of a grandmother with her grandchild’s smiling face in mind, but of an automated process. The crux of the matter comes when you start to think of making – what jumper is homemade now? What shelf is built ‘from scratch’? These are all domesticated readymades. They speak of the relation of design, the readymade, technology, and "the gesture".

What is happening when a plastic woodgrain becomes unreadable and is stripped toward “more of a motley cloudy colour” - we are speaking of the exposure of a material whose ‘realness’ confounds the very notion of the real.

other pieces can be seen to share this methodology.
literal performance elements incorporated in Denny’s work run almost seamlessly into the rest of the work, for Denny, art seems always a mode of performance, a way of forms being in time. Their display and aestheticisation is not an activity separated from the life of objects. In this sense the building of the shelf is demonstative, performative. This activity is embedded within the object as it stands. firmly defined forms here can be seen to contain a history (of the rejection of form, and it’s subsequent reinvestment with meaning.) (it is in this way that the works can seem like insects paused halfway through metamorphosis, hybrid art-historical incidents)

Laminates are most commonly used to protect kitchen furniture and surfaces from staining as a result of spillage. They were first utilised in design by the Memphis group, many of whose pieces were coated in brightly, colourful laminates, this material specifically chosen because of its obvious ''lack of culture''.

here is a juncture where the reaction against the formal restrictions of the 1960s by the Memphis designers conflates with Gordon Matta-Clark’s building cuts. The latter’s failure to survive in their sited actuality is here resuscitated from the flatness of its documentary photographs, and recontextualised, in both a bookmarking of their physical history, and a downsizing of their monumental quality to site this history, not at the end of any art historic trajectory but in parallel relation to other histories of art objects, art, and objects. In referencing the Memphis group we should also pause here to remember that the group’s over the top flippancy, was itself a response to the bland seriousness of 1970s design, its founders ostensibly incorporating the self-delineated lifespan of a fad (1981-1988) but these days seven years seems like a pretty long fad, as Denny well knows. The world’s attention span has got a lot shorter in the interem, but Denny’s sculptures patiently connect us to the material world, as quiet as silkworms going about their business.

We can approach commodity culture as a kind of homage to things which is loaded with historic narratives but also very much about the operational now in which these things are apprehended, as long as we trust in the reading, as long as we give it time, to re-imagine the detail lost, the relations lost, we imagine a spirit pervading the things of the world which harks back to the early days of mass production, it is part Bauhaus, in the sense of the latter’s attention to touch. To the borderland where the handmade becomes the automated. Where mistakes of uniqueness can happen. There is nothing numb about these activities of watching and finding. Instead, here to spectate is to participate – they are the same thing. This reading is also a kind of Braille. The eye is an ear is a hand, and to engage is to earth oneself – to touch wood.