Writing Art History Since 2002

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Blank_projects Cape Town

Blank_projects is a rather unique space. Whereas most galleries are closed entities, protecting the art from the world, and perhaps even the world form the art, Blank treads a very different line. Two recent exhibitions in the space, James Webb’s Untitled and Ralph Borland’s Promised Land, made this especially apparent.In both cases, the large display window that dominates the space is not simply used as a means for an audience to see the work in the gallery (which has severely limited viewing hours). In fact, both exhibitions can be seen to actively direct the audience to places away from the gallery if they mean to fully engage with the work.Webb’s exhibition consists of the intermittent flashing of a light, with his name and the title of the show presented on the window. By having this device clearly visible, Webb signalled that it is in fact an artwork, and not just a faulty light, as many might have imagined. Webb’s artist’s statement informs us the light is blinking a message in Morse code, but it is a message only the artist knows.That the work is primarily accessed through the window, invokes notions of inside and outside, and especially calls to mind the way in which we choose to see certain devices as deliberate artistic gestures when they are inside a gallery. In contrast, in this instance, a passer-by may be audience to the work without knowing it, and may have an entirely different relationship to the piece.The work is one that operates in ghostly territory, somewhere between being present, and absent, between appearing deliberate, while at the same time being almost invisible. In what has become his own rather controversial piece, Webb evokes echoes of Martin Creed’s Work No. 227, The Lights Going On And Off (2000), for which he received the Turner prize in 2001. Clearly there are many differences between the pieces, but what they have in common, is that they largely rely on one’s own interpretation to fill out the suggestive room they have created.Borland’s Promised Land might show actual objects, but it is similarly intent on directing viewers away from the gallery, in the manner of object-based hyperlinks. Each of the works on show in some way reference a whole set of associations that might not be readily apparent from simply viewing the objects themselves.In order to aid the viewer in accessing some of this information, Borland provides a short guide (a paper pamphlet) at the exhibition. More significantly perhaps, on Borland’s website (www.ralphborland.net), one can find a description of the works as well as links to further reading. A significant example of this is Jubilee, a vuvuzela that emits a mournful sound when someone walks by. On his website, Borland alerts us to how he has referenced Hans Holbein, the Bible and most significantly, the quagmire of ownership and copyright in which the object finds itself. This is a trademark of the artist’s work. Continuously in the exhibition, Borland brings his special interest in activism and the struggle of free agents in a society increasingly subject to strong-arm tactics by large companies and political parties, into play. These associations do not lie on the surface of the works, but emerge as a strong motif once one has followed all the links.

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