These short texts were written for Realtime the ASD occasional publication.
The lecture was presented by Patrick Beveridge an up lit, bookish looking young man, with a voice like Stephen Hawkins (thanks to our speaker system) and a enormous looming shadow.
During the lecture we were shown wonderful slides of Japanese rock, and stroll gardens, learned about some of the formal devices and to what effect they were used. Patrick was hesitant to suggest any direct influence or relationship between the gardens and the art of James Turell but rather used them for comparison and to suggest a similarity in approach and intent. The theme found in both of them is indivisibility, a sense of things being totally connected.
Turell the quaker, mathematician, psychologist, pilot, box maker and artist had spent time in Japan and probably appreciated how the Japanese were interested in seeing themselves as parts of an interconnected whole.
Patricide descriptions of Japanese gardens suggest a very pure visual experience. The elements of the garden are used in a highly abstract way to achieve a visual effect. Elements are composed to make the world into a painting. A painting where textures, scales and compositions form a foreground to meditation.
The way this is achieved is largely through the capturing, framing and enhancing of elements beyond reach by the elements within reach. Turell uses the same devices to make art out the sky. The result is a domestication and a bringing into reach of phenomena of a scale beyond civilisation and culture.
The phenomena are de- or re- contextualized. Which changes their meaning and in Turells case makes them more of a spectacle. Perhaps this change in context makes it easier to study them as pure phenomena but do they not end up being merely visual. In the case of the Japanese gardens I can understand them as a foreground to meditation. But does the potential for reflection not diminish when cosmic and physic phenomena are harshly cropped and placed in an art context. Can the viewer still sense herself in relation to other scales?
At this point the discussion of whether Turell is an artist or a someone who tinkers with physics and perception because its cool becomes relevant. Other artists such as Judd or Turnpike enrich the meaning or at least potential of “dead” things by re contextualizing them. Can the meaning of the sky be enriched by these means?
The fact that last week's lecture followed the format of an architect talking about his work was hard to discern. The density of personal opinions and vaguely related digressions somehow blurred the projects. The first project was a book about East End strippers that could be a Channel 5-style documentary with the emphasis on sexy images or an ambitious attempt to tell the story of the soon-to-be-extinct strip pub and its performers. No attempt was made to put a mask of sociology on Davies's interest in strippers, but the enjoyable attacks on those responsible for some recent architecture in the area were masked by the attitude of someone who spends time in strip clubs.
The second project was a Channel 5 TV programme about the artificiality and wonder of St Petersburg, a baroque remix of replicated European masterpieces. Built on marshland in 50 years, it was extraordinarily excessive and must have worked well as a symbol of the Tzar’s power. Perhaps it worked too well, proving the point of those who saw the Tsar as a blood- sucking, selfish, oppressive bastard.
Las Vegas, the modern day St Petersburg, must be regarded as an immense improvement on the original. References are more varied, the fakery more fake and the city even more of a delusion. The tricks to deny the real are more sophisticated and efficient. Las Vegas was the topic of the last project, a guide to making the most of the neon capital. Davies said that the book was an honest diary and that he wanted to stick to reality -a strange position for someone so obviously enchanted by fantasy.
The lecture was enjoyable and very different from the usual office presentations. The most memorable moment was when Davies demonstrated how a mechanical rodeo bull moved when mounted by a near naked girl as part of a strip show. He held his arms out in front of him and slowly moved about like a zombie from 'Night of the Living Dead'. Very sexy.