This installation takes its point of departure from the recreation of an unattributed zoological painting, originally made in 1776. The fifteen-minute video projection loop presented at QSS Gallery One acquired form through the research of the painting, and the observation of process and context across seven months. Through practice and presentation, the work considers the status of reproduction, documentation and is an excavation of the temporality fundamental to image-making practices. The form of display along with the process and research of a painting, the documentary photography, the digitally recreated space – hopes to elaborate the relations between still and moving image, between the various strata of image-making. Several thousand photographs were taken during the process and those selected prompt the memory of psychological events, locations that exist somewhere between the correspondences of text, the city, a space of association and fantasy. These images and texts were shaped either directly or at some tangent by the constant, temporally delineated ritual of making and remaking. This exhibition folds together both site and its image into a class of proposal, an object representing neither the past, present or future – a conjecture.
During 1776 the engraver Christian von Mechel was charged with the organisation and display of natural history engravings made by Salomon Kleiner. Instead of opting for the primarily heterogeneous arrangement which the engravings had previously been in, Mechel chose a systemic and chronological “visible history.” This reconfiguration was an innovation and set the standard for subsequent exhibition practices.1 Simultaneously at the studio of Anton Raphael Mengs in Madrid, at least one unnamed painter worked on a portrait of a giant anteater that had been gifted to King Charles III of Spain by the people of Buenos Aires – which had fallen under Spanish colonial rule.2
Over seven months concluding on January 31st, 2020, I recreated the painting titled La Osa Hormiguera de Su Majestad. Each day during production, I walked through the city of Belfast from my home to my studio. I took photographs. I read the history of the painting and circumstances of the gift. Time passed. In permitting the process of researching and recreating this zoological painting to unfold intuitively, I was curious about the incidental and coincidental events that would follow. How does a remote spatial and temporal past map to present personal experience? In recreating the past, how is the present shaped? If the exhibition format provides a unique quality in expressing time, what implications do its conventions have for art production and display at this moment?
The form of the presentation along with the process and research of a painting, the documentary photography, the digitally recreated space – hopes to elaborate the relations between still and moving image, between the various strata of image-making and display. In an essay titled Exhibitionism, Tina Di Carlo concluding her discussion asks, “if the most pressing political issue of our day is the environment… the exhibition has entered as the primary and artistic spatial construct of our day… perhaps the most pressing curatorial question of the day is not what can be exhibited, but what can be done…”3
At the time of writing, the painting of the anteater resides behind one of the grey doors in the QSS Gallery in East Belfast. The digital model of the gallery and the speculative installation of the painting and connected photographic works describe a future viewing schema, a proposal only. Jean-Louis Cohen describes the exhibition as the principle method by which narrative is constructed around the objects on display, a method of dealing with the past through story-telling rather than historical fact.4 However, while the exhibition may appear to be a form of primary lens, it is of course, also subject to residual narrativisation through screen and print.
This installation is configured as a class of proposal, a screen-based object representing neither the past, present or future. The video is displayed at the QSS Gallery and Studios – the context specific to the recreation of the painting and the photographs made during the period shaped by that recreation. Installation and by extension the exhibition, could be described as a delineated unitary object no matter how fragmented or distributed through time, but always withdrawn or in excess of our consequential relations to it.5 If the installation object – and the practice that generates it – is dispersed through time and further flattened to a surface, where does its “thingness” reside? In asking the question “when is art,” Tim Stott remarked on the one item Nelson Goodman left out in suggesting an answer – self-reference. In positioning recursion centrally regarding time, Stott recalls Von Foerster’s description of “objects as tokens for stable behaviour in an autopoietic system… the constancy of objects is due to the recursive application of observations to their results.”6
It is the observation of residual documentation – its results – that perpetuates the half-life any given installation-object. The sanitised installation shot. Sans figures. While Brain O’Doherty incisively described the shape of this dilemma more than four decades ago, the fulfilled ideal of the “ungrubby” space that seeks to exclude those odd pieces of furniture we refer to as our bodies, persists.7 However, the site of display absent of corporeal presence has become emblematic of this moment – bodies withdrawn from institutions. The secession of image production and speculation resulting from the global pandemic although unfortunate, has set in high relief the conditions of display and galvanised the method and strategy for this installation. Peter Osborne has suggested, to speak of art separate from its modes of presentation is to nullify the subject: art is a mode of presentation. The terms that the work addresses the audience through, the gallery architecture, the forms of associated language as much as the primary medium or synthesis of material, fulfil a constituted mosaic – the totality structuring the ontology of the work.8
The text appearing in the video subtitles are excerpts from Deleuze and Guattari’s essay 1730: Becoming-Intense, Becoming-Animal, Becoming Imperceptible. The music makes reference to Elizabeth Parker’s composition The Margins of the Land for the 1984 BBC series The Living Planet.
1 Hui, Theatre, Garden, Bestiary: A Materialist History of Exhibitions, 241. 2 Walker, “Romantic Painter, Francisco de Goya Painting Found in Unexpected Location”. 3 “Exhibitionism,” 158. 4 Cohen, "Mirror of Dreams", 49. 5 Harman, Art and Objects, 55. 6 Stott, “Recursion and the Question: 'When is Art?' The Case of Tino Sehgal,” 4. (Paper, Old College, University of Edinburgh, 16th to 18th September 2011). 7 O’Doherty, Inside the White Cube : The Ideology of the Gallery Space, 15. 8 Osborne, Anywhere or Not at All: Philosophy of Contemporary Art, 140.
Cohen, Jean-Louis. "Mirror of Dreams." Log no. 20 (2010): 49-53. Di Carlo, Tina. "Exhibitionism." Log, no. 20 (2010): 151-58. Garcia, Tristan, and Vincent Normand. Theater, Garden, Bestiary : A Materialist History of Exhibitions. Berlin: Sternberg Press, 2019. Harman, Graham. Art and Objects. Medford, MA: Polity, 2020. O'Doherty, Brian. Inside the White Cube : The Ideology of the Gallery Space. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2010. Osborne, Peter. Anywhere Or Not at All: Philosophy of Contemporary Art. London: Verso, 2013. Stott, Tim. “Recursion and the Question: 'When is Art?' The Case of Tino Sehgal.” Paper presented British Society of Aesthetics Annual Conference at the Old College, University of Edinburgh, 16th to 18th September 2011. Walker, Jennifer. “Romantic Painter, Francisco de Goya Painting Found in Unexpected Location” Artes Magazine. Accessed January 21st, 2020. https://artesmagazine.com/?p=10611