Nina Canell at the Camden Art centre, 17 January 2014 – 30 March 2014

Nina Canell , review

Supported by Cathy Wills, Embassy of Sweden in London and The Henry Moore Foundation.
The exhibition is developed in collaboration with BALTIC Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead. A presentation of the exhibition will follow at BALTIC, 18 April – 20 July 2014.
Near Here

“comprises a new series of works which will respond to the architectural environment of Camden Arts Centre. Testing the intimate intersection of audience, object, event and the surrounding space, the outcomes of her work are at once curious and poetic.” Curated by Camden gallery director Jenni Lomax

An Inspector Searching for the Evidence

The passer-by enters the room and discovers a treasure hunt. He feels he is on the trail of an enigma. He must unearth the evidence and decipher the codes. He is a detective and like his predecessor and the ancestor of inspector Cluseau, he is now certain of his absurd mission: How to interpret the scene of a multi facetted crime against the obvious.
The walls are pristine in this high ceiling hall, they resonate with light, so white and flat we can hardly detect them. But something protrudes, the chaotic hair on an unblemished face. It extends into the space of his itinerary insolently yet with a disarming fragility. A set of nails is assembled like bones in an attempt to “anthropologise metallic samples from the tool box of decorum”. Or at least this is what he found under the rubric Installed Singular Items of Artful Provenance in his antiquated gallery instruction manual. He wonders if there is any sense in this and invokes the spirit of Columbo for moral support. But these nail extensions remind him, because of the subtle precariousness of the assemblage, of the perilous ephemeral connections between trapeze artists. These have been fixed however by the cheer power of a dissimulated magnet. The detective knows this almost instinctively. He has taken no precaution in reading preparatory material to guide his inquiry. This would surely pervert the course of intuitive justice. And we must render to Caesar what issues from the emperor. It is not a naked emperor by any means. It is clad in methodical panoply, an mental puzzle oozing from every fold of his mantle. The detective selects his favourite artefacts as one does, but here, he discriminates with a passion.
The cheer brutality of one of the pieces makes him shudder. He cannot look at the creature without a sense of internal orgiastic surgery being committed upon him. He feels dissected, violated by cameras, probing tools, scalpels, needles, suffocated by chloroformed cotton wool, ripped open by forceps…all searching for the fragment that will single out the source of chaos from an improbable unity. The thing resembles an organ although no organ looks like it. It is rather a magnified version of a nerve, hundreds of fibres, minuscule tubular connectors inside a sheath of dark flesh packed extremely tightly, and this multi-coloured stuff makes him feel electrified, he absorbs the humming of the electric field, he becomes an emitter /receptor and wonders if he could catch the thought process of the entire building. But there is no apparent space left in that object, he visualises the substantific marrow Rabelais invited his readers to relish in in his introduction to Gargantua. Further, a similar object is immersed in transparent liquid. This one appears to have been cauterised with silver soldering, wrapped in what feels like fat, an echo of Joseph Beuys ‘ fat sculptures. Bubbles now and then sweat out; even the undead suffer the effect of decay. The inspector appreciates this microscopic obsession. The whole technological organism of our infrastructural network is revealed in all its obscene detail. He almost trips over a carpet, the kind used for martial art exercises. He would not dare. First of all, the trick is to grab the central item without touching the mat. But he suspects this particular venture to be unwelcomed and it would defeat the purpose which, despite being undefined, leads the mind to levitate. This is a solitary glass filled with what the artist calls “coagulated air”. Just yesterday, the detective by some bizarre coincidence, was reading about the temperature air has to reach before turning into liquid, I.e., 194.4 degree Celsius according to the Life Science Library records, stating the three elements, Nitrogen, Oxygen and Argon will develop very useful properties in the process, one of which enables our heads of state to preserve their rotten cerebral organs indefinitely. The detective will not linger on this subject of little worth and he ponders on the potential transmutation of the crystals piled up in this static vehicle. He imagines the whole room as this glass and he begins to feel like a fish out of water, an illogical reversal operating in his confused mind where clarity begins to dissolve the remainder of salts still attached to the neural pathways that had not seen any traffic for half a decade. For this passer-by is a sort of frustrated Miss Marple and his excuse for avoiding expert research in a field extraneous to his vision or a vision extraneous to his field, unable to make the connection between the two perspectives to make sense of the world, was the comforting cliché: “Curiosity kills the cat”, even Shakespeare thought as much …although he now had the opportunity to verify the ineptitude of the superstitious phrase, since his cat, absent in body, but present in spirit, was leading him astray, dangerously close to unravelling a mystical piece of engineering. Perhaps curiosity frees the cat from the banality that would kill it. This cat as we know is still lying and enacting its dreams inside Schrödinger’s box. The inspector feels like a walking quantum capsule about to release fatal truths. The glass yields no solace. It taunts the insatiable adventurer.
The inspector makes a volte-face, feeling the pressure of the beat increasing in intensity as it passes unhindered through the windowpane one would be tempted to rename glass of pain. Below him, still on ground 0, a slab of what he thought could be marble, attracts his attention. Although his journey is about half way through, this he knows, represents the pivotal impact, what Hercule Poirot would call : le clou du spectacle. The inspector will settle for la piece de resistance, intending a variation on the pun. In encountering this marvel, he realises how deprived of beauty his life has been since he landed in this gigantic city many years ago. But what would he do surrounded by beauty day and night?…die of ecstasy? Nevertheless a great wad of contemporary art has built much of its success and reputation on vapid truisms, endless dilettante tautological speeches, record keeping activism, name dropping cocktail salons, vacuous pathos, although he admits to be seduced by politically ironically correct pseudo socio-community oriented discourse, pro dumbed down philosophical references, woolly inane and morbid occasionally sickly sweet poetry, and self righteous cynical clap trap engorged with self regarding inept prosaic wash ups. There is some value in theories attempting to grapple with our inverted art snobbism sucking up to nanny state. One needs cheap and nasty entertainment now and then. Thanks to this swamp, he is drip fed a la Chinoise, and who needs a pension or tin glory when you can hale the diamond skull in the market ceiling. He, the inspector heard on the grape vine those entrepreneurs masterpieces will not stand up to time. But neither will we. And despite all the trash, you need junk to make ends meet. Even the ‘cat on his mat’ laps it up, given the cat is also a figure of speech.

Nini Canell: Near Here (1 Microsecond), 2014 – photocopying toner, nylon, floor carpet, perspex, 1,000,000 volts during 1 microsecond

The inspector stops breathing. This is not marble. Before he can utter a word, the gallery assistant flies to his rescue and reveals the secret of the slab. This is a synthetic material sensitised to light exposed to 1,000,000 volts for 1 microsecond. In this instant of blazing inspiration god could have imprinted his footprint, the trace of a mini big bang, or a metaphor embodying the inescapable event of the Coup de Foudre. It reminds him of cave paintings, the same psychic jolt climbs up his spine as he gazes at it. There is an inevitable spontaneity; in a microsecond…who has time to premeditate? He senses his skin reticulating as he approaches the lining, a Perspex sheet covers the object which could have been a relic kept under lock and key on Mont Athos. The inspector asks himself: “why do I find this object beautiful?” He once encountered photographic processes of a dubious nature; one could call them unorthodox, even sacrilegious. Many have dumped nostalgia and death masks on the back of that horse, but the inspector found it ultimately transcendental. As it was once expounded upon in his presence, the decent is the basis of transcendence. The chemical reaction to atmosphere and the transmigration of the senses via light fluctuations all of which fusing in one incandescent moment had awoken in him an ancestral affinity with shamanism. This is what he regarded as a metaphysical connection with the universe, and in direct opposition to religious dogma or conceptual (re)production. This object lying at his feet was such a gateway, for the mind of the traveller. It defied the intellect; it floated in a river of light. The inspector was satiated and satisfied, although this was a conventional way of describing a feeling out of this world. He had lost track of the assistant who had disappeared, probably hurrying to rescue another passer-by.
His only saving grace was the opposite wall where the sun had painted a prismatic sample of colours. Below lay what appeared to be an aquarium in which it appeared someone had dropped a phone connector. But it took a little time before the inspector back to deductive trivia had decoded this puzzle, a game of illusions used in a movie he had watched a week or two before, staging a wondrous mirror subterfuge to cover a bank robbery. The robbers had placed them in diagonal just the way illusionists trunks are made. In the movie the police opens the safe and believes it to be empty. The inspector will refrain from elaborating on this topic. He is fascinated. This is intellectual pornography. People love puzzles and spend more time solving them than they do solving the puzzle of their own mind, a major distraction. How do things fit together in such a way they can be unfitted by just a single click? Once again, China comes to mind. He lies on the ground, sticks his head against the wall, stares inside and outside the tank and catches the crack right behind it between wall and back surface. There is a narrow container, the mirror chamber, and the lone connector that when looking from above is not there. The trail had ended and the inspector drags his feet. As it happens, a few extra surprises beckoned. May be the cat was never in the box either. He wishes he could hover in this hall of curiosities for much longer. But the show simply is over.

Copyright © Pascal Ancel Bartholdi 2014

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