OTEGEM.- How can a relationship to modernism be actual today? In an era when attempts to establish that relationship occur ever more frequently in exhibitions and discourse, its not an outlandish question. First, there has to be a structure for viewing: an instrument for measuring both the distance between one period and another, and the interferences that arise in taking up different positions with respect to this structure.
Both of the series exhibited in Modern Surfaces offer some pictorial and productive frames for thinking through seeing and history, representation and re-presentationthe whole array an anatomy theater of modernisms afterlives. Core to these demonstrations is the movement, both light and rather schematic, from index to icon: the enlarged reproductions of sections of modernist paintings (icon) register both the painting and the cracks in the surface of the painting (index). Gordon prints the cropped section (new index) and this image, showing the artefacts of both printing processes, takes its place on the wall as a new icon (the Blow Up Modernists series).
Here, the sacralities of the modernist canon, whether in the key of the absolute (Mondrian, Malevich, Van Doesburg) or the existential (Pollock), are both reduced and enlarged: they are reduced in visual information, in color and texture, their aura sequestered, reduced to documentation, to information in general, to the printed mediumto the industrial civilization they were hoping to refract or transcend. At the same time, they are enlarged and multiplied, engendering a plethora of possible croppings that can become new works, like little clones off the production line of a cell. Of course, it was always the fate of absolute painting to be reproduced in the wilderness of commodity forms. Through their conversion to a printed material, here the terminal icons of Malevich are made to evoke transience and disposability. The dot-matrix look of a newspaper or comic book inevitably summons Pop Arts mixing of mediaspecifically Lichtensteincolliding the temporal logic of art history, the disparities in affect, and the unevenness of the object-relations involved.
In the painting series Material Evidence paint splotches on studio surfaces inject the old punchline of the abject un-meaning of the abstract expressionist canvas with a homely, gendered wit. It is the performance of an interior, but not a performance of interiority. A blunter play with the index-to-icon transit can be observed here: the mark of paint (index) is turned into a painting (icon), compressing in that transfer a whole history of canvas as index of gesture which becomes the icon of artistic genius. But, asks this image, what about the contingencies of housekeeping in the studio? Is a paint drip on some kinds of studio surfacecanvasany more expressive than dripping on others (wall, table)? What is this material evidence of? We could say it is nothing more than process, but that creates a tautology that eclipses the impact of the move, or, what makes it funny. Gordon calls the pieces intentionally ridiculous, their mixing-up of horizontals and verticals jinxing the immanence of the picture plane to its historically-certified content. If the expressive splotch was part of an expressive causality (it embodied the spirit of its timethe irreducible subject that was its maker), the Material Evidence series articulates a structural causality: it is produced by the woman artist, in her studio, dutifully, as an artwork as proof of her right to be there. Detached from its generic premise of authenticity, like a bad translation in a service script, it labors to bring us nothing but joy.
During and as part of the show Modern Surfaces, Richard Serras video Boomerang(1974, Courtesy MoMA Museum of Modern Art, New York) is screened in the adjacent Blackbox. In the video, we hear artist Nancy Holt describe the effects of hearing the echo of her own voice in a recordingstudio.
Melissa Gordon is an American-born and London-based painter, printmaker and editor. Recent exhibitions include Material Evidence (Spike Island, Bristol 2013), HERstories (Bonner Kunstverein 2013), Art & Press (Martin Gropius Bau, Berlin & ZKM, Frankfurt, 2012-13). She has also exhibited at S1 Artspace, Sheffield, Kunstmuseum Bonn, Marres Centre for Contemporary Culture, Maastricht, and Kunsthalle Dusseldorf. She recently curated the exhibition Specific Collisions at Marianne Boesky Gallery (2013) and is currently releasing the catalogue Material Evidence, published by Sternberg Press (2014).