Thursday, 31 January 2013

My Conceptual Side

I am not a conceptual artist. Not generally. In fact I have spent the last two years of my educational career despising the idea of conceptual art; my adherence to what I deemed the importance of technical skill far outweighed any potential respect I could've had for art that is almost purely idea and minimally technical. This changed over the weekend, as things tend to do under adverse conditions. Faced with a ridiculous project criteria I forcibly smothered my disdain and created a more conceptual piece than I ever would have thought possible.

The project assigned to us was to create a piece of "ephemeral" sculpture, a three-dimensional piece of work with a temporal quality, ideally something that would fade or disintegrate over time. The kicker was this: we were going to be required to install this piece in a gallery. Where this makes sense I don't know, the idea of installing something that is deliberately non-permanent in an archival space, but I decided to run with it. Much hemming and hawing and intellectual torture ensued. I had ideas, with themes, but they seemed like tacky metaphors for what I was trying to say. It was a problem I'd never encountered before. There were two things I knew for sure: I wanted to talk about the passing of empires and the power of conquest, and I wanted to tell a story.

The gallery we were to install in was in a state of flux. It had been home for the last week to a drawing installation, the walls covered with intricate mural work. I had done a similar installation in that space last year, and as these students were now doing I had been required to paint over my work and clean up the walls for the next show moving into that space. It struck me at that time that the work I was painting over would forever be in that wall, and the thought returned when I saw these students covering up their work. I realized that empires used to work in much the same way, the conquering force covering up existing power structures with its own imposed religion, social mores, and language. The new power builds on top of the infrastructure of the old, and when it is conquered the new empire does the same. History is built in layers, and our gallery was just such a conquered space.

So I moved in and placed my own ideas on that wall. At the end of this week, it will be painted over and will join the rest of the work entombed in that wall. This photo might be the only record that it ever existed. But it has already changed the way others think about that space, and even when it has slipped out of our range of perception that philosophy will impact the work that follows it. No longer a power unto itself, simply a support, a victim of the weekly iconoclasm inherent in the university gallery.


I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desart. Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies, whose frown,
And wrinkled lip, and sneer of cold command,
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamped on these lifeless things,
The hand that mocked them and the heart that fed:
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains. Round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare
The lone and level sands stretch far away.
- Percy Bysshe Shelley

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