16 Oct 2008

Adrian Hall - Line Drawings 1971, at the High Street Project

my chance 'discovery' of a folder of mostly unexhibited drawings from the 1970s, while on a social visit to the home of the artist over a year before, eventually bore fruit in the show Adrian Hall - Line Drawings 1971, exhibited at the High Street Project, Christchurch, 15 Oct - 1 Nov, 2008.

the catalogue essay is below. it can also be read on the HSP's blog site here.

an interview with the curator was broadcast on 23rd Oct on Plains FM's breakfast show. it can still be heard here.

artbash's inimitable anonymous coterie of writers have something to say about the show here.


Pattern Integrities : on Adrian Hall's Line Drawings

"As far as playing was concerned, I think there was a feeling that one played until the refinement of materials and responses was so subtle that there was no sound or physical activity at all. Certainly - as musicians and audiences could attest - there was a great deal of latent energy in those magically still AMM silences."

-Eddie Prevost, revised liner notes to AMMMusic, 1967, re-released 1988.

The 'open laboratory' of adrian hall's practice c. 1971 has been written up elsewhere - suffice to say that his
Plasma Cast Iron Foam Company Presents Adrian Reginald Hall (PCIFCo) at Auckland's Barry Lett Galleries in July of that year, a mere four months after the artist's arrival in the country, was an exhibition recently discussed as a "ground breaking conceptualist project", and "an acute marker in the wider history of modernity" (Marcus Moore, 2007). As a 28 year old artist in residence at Elam School of Fine Arts, whose immediate history was Yale Univrsity, Hall's introduction of U.S. post-minimal and conceptual currents to a receptive Auckland art scene was conducted with as much material as conceptual ingenuity, the dirty word 'artisian' taken back to the drawing board to be retransfigured in object based works which incorporated the process-drives of the everyday, and the aesthetics of the workshop into their material schema. In the introduction to Action Replay Post-Script, the catalogue for a 1999 show which included among its works Adrian Hall's super-8 piece Studio Souvenir, Plasma Cast Iron Foam Co. (1971), Wystan Curnow describes the post-object's contra-figurative drives: "Post-object art replaces the inert picturing of things, ideas and events, prefering to simply situate or re-stage them in their actuality." The emphasis on "deskilling" in late modernist art discourse is given a particular materialist-marxist twist by Hall, the virtuoso draftmanship of the artist not erased by automation, but reconfigured as a politic of the hand-made.

Similarly any emphasis on the biographic deserves mention as a method, given Hall's treatment of the name as readymade - the artist's chance find in 1968 of a stamp bearing the name 'Carl A. Mears' - a pseudonym and persona he's used in many works and authored texts since. As a comment on the automation and commodification of personal identity the nom de plume Carl A. Mears becomes Hall's nebulous Rrose Selavy, standing in relation to his use of his own signature in many works.

Moore discusses Hall's incorporation of transparencies around the economics of art making into Hall's work, the overt economics of domestic and political life that comprise Check Piece, included here, sees the artist's signature becoming an act in the wider world that erodes its rarified gestural status, with this everydayness then being incorporated back as part of the wider narrative around the work. In Super-8 film Studio Souvenir PCIFCo Hall uses similar logics - the montage of footage of the everyday life, the friends, the objects in the sudio half complete, which was the backdrop to the making of work becomes the substance of the work itself. Like Check Piece, this biographical impulse is countermeasured by its containment within the deliniated frameworks Hall has set up as a set of constraints. References to measuring play through Studio Souvenir with shots of gridded wire and measuring tapes - both documentation of the materials of practice and a meta-statement of the structural logics of the film.

Adrian Hall - Line Drawings 1971 is itself a found object - one folder of drawings, executed in the space of the month (mostly) of October in that year, themselves "lost" and rediscovered in 2007, cast up as aide-mémoire , a set of memoranda to the vagaries of material history, they comprise some of the footnotes to the PCIFCo works.

Partly a subversion of the non-gestural elements of Minimalism, these works' starkly simple arrangements of lines, grids, planes, shapes and geometries are a decade-on discussion around the contentlessness of that movement, inviting the scrutiny of a close-reading which reveals a nuanced interplay between gesture and measure; threading back into minimalism's focus on pure materiality and mediumistic constraint, Hall unpacks the cultural, social and technological nature of the drawn line.

This aesthetic is described by Wystan Curnow's impressions of PCIFCo :

"Some of the works, such as 'Low Tide' and 'Silent Wall', assumed an ambiguous, even parodic relation to minimalism. Minimalism's analyses of perception necessarily encompassed the physical conditions for perception, and from this there followed critique of, or in Hall's case a satire on, exhibition conventions (opening night attendants wore T-shirts bearing the silly fictional company logo), and the art object's commodity status (wooden blocks rubber-stamped with Hall's signature were sold for 50c). The "cross-sections of orientations and levels" in Hall's show are not minimal in so far as they are semiotically complex, but they remain phenomenological."

This interest in interrogating the Minimal object's particular set of conditions is seen strikingly in the five 'stationary' works in Adrian Hall - Line Drawings 1971 : 'Far Est', 'Far Est II', 'Plain', 'Trimlines', and 'Vista' which execute their own kind of blank gesture, miming commercially purchasable lined paper, but on a larger than life size scale. All of the titles reference spatiality in some way, although some truck with the conventions of pictorial painting ("vista", "horizontal"), while others are wittily political ("red square"). All are an extended and elaborately twisted meditation on the notion of the hand-made. The funny thing about Vista is not that it mocks the wide, open expanses of landcape painting but that it manages to suggest, through a great economy of means, that the wideness and openness are themselves a historically based concept which has very little to do with the immediacy of the 'view' and more to do with the way it is concieved on the drawing board that we have, here, come back to, as one temporary resting place in the flux of figural history. This is a landscape sketch without the sketch, and this self conscious 'originary' moment, the pending 'moment of creation' is made electrically present as much as it is minimised as monumental. It's a little like the scenes in Peter Greenaway's film The Draughtsman's Contract (1982) when the portable grid is hoisted pragmatically over the landscape, de-Romanticising it and opening up a historic and technical sensibility about seeing.

There is a certain absurdist linguistic free-wheeling in their plotting and measuring, which comes through in the relation of the starkness of the lines to the semiotic tease of the titles, a situation which leaves them hovering on the border of concrete poetics, Plot for example, is a work in which short vertical and horizontal blue pencil lines have been ruled into succinct crosses, with extremely faint end-squarings, also in blue which suggest an invisible trace when aligned with Square and Red Square's more forthright proclivites, like the difference between a poem and a manifesto, or perhaps an intrigue ("plot") and an overt declaration of intent. This humour comes across as being authorless, as though arising from the materials themselves. If these are gags they pull the same historic leg as John Cage's 4'33", in its striking literality, its sense of near-incredulous simplicity, or Cage's equally structurally open-ended statement "I have nothing to say and I am saying it and that is poetry", whose evident austerities open out toward a state where "..form no longer limits itself to volume, but embraces an unlimited space in all directions...", as Deleuze says of Minimalism. This weightlessness and extension is also a temporal suspension, the "eternal music" of the Minimalists, such as the Tony Conrad violin drone, whose "endless variations of repetition" one commentator described as "scrambling (his) perceptions: at any given point the music seemed to have have been going on for hours, and to have only just begun." (Nick Cain, 2006).

Tracing a line through the works themselves reveals a microcosm of detail as one would find amongst a variety of species sharing the same microscope slide; or in the manner of William Blake's classic piece on micro-macro dimensionality: "to see a world in a grain of sand / and heaven in a wild flower / hold the universe in the palm of your hand / and eternity in an hour". They can be set alongside investigations by other artists working from the mid 1960s, working in pre-Op, post-Minimal ways with lines, gridded fields, moire patterns, and pencil traces, and achieving a similar sense of delicacy and presence, such as Agnes Martin and Robert Ryman. Hall's works were executed less than a decade after Marshall McLuhan had spoken of the "mosaic mesh" of television, and predicted that printed matter would be killed off by electronic media. Another three years before that, Nam June Paik, invited by Karlheinz Stockhausen to make a 7 minute participation in his 'Originales' series, performed 'Zen for Head', dipping his head in paint and dragging it as 'paintbrush' to smear a thick black line down a roll of paper, to create one of the iconic works of the Fluxus movement. Like Martin, Ryman and Paik, Hall's lines are not industrially manufactured, and their flawed repetition speaks to our historic moment, immersed as we are in the utter repeatability of the digital. It is interesting to consider that digital technology's analogue precessessors, despite their rhetoric of automation, produced objects as individual entities with their own quirks - the misprinted stamp, the photograph left too long in the developer - to realise that, compared to the present, art in the age of mechanical reproduction wasn't so precise, in retrospect. Lev Manovich traces the relation of minimalism to technological art:

"... it is interesting that a database imagination has accompanied computer art from its very beginning. In the 1960s, artists working with computers wrote programs to systematically explore the combinations of different visual elements. In part they were following art world trends such as minimalism. Minimalist artists executed works of art according to preexistent plans; they also created a series of images or objects by systematically varying a single perameter. So when minimalist artist Sol Le Witt spoke of an artist's idea as "the machine which makes the work", it was only logical to substitute the human executing the idea with a computer." (Lev Manovich 2001)

As if to further destabilise the notion of the monochromatic work being the 'end' of anything, the Line Drawings have foxed with age - even the ink looks 'of an era', such things belie the stark simplicity of their origins, showing a marginalia of history, the indexical trace of the temporal as an aleatory contribution to the work. Their showing at the High Street Project in 2008 incorporates this indexical trace gracefully into their initial set of analyses. If the dominant narratives of Modernity situate Minimalism as the object reduced to blankness, the last stage of its hold on us before being abandoned, Hall's Line Drawings stand as one more curious lingering on this borderline, one hand-scribbled footnote extending the page a little further.

Sally Ann McIntyre, October 2008

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