In the studio we generally find finished work, work in progress, abandoned work, sketches-a collection of visible evidence viewed simultaneously that allows an understanding of process; it is this aspect of the work that is extinguished by the museum’s desire to ‘install’.
– Daniel Buren, The Function of the Studio (1979)
At this point I’ve been to Jared Ginsburg’s show several times. While I initially set out to carefully engage with each work individually, treating each piece as self-contained and grasping the function of these units, I then found that couldn’t quite figure out how these works worked together – in any way. I later resigned myself to pulling out the chair from the work Performance (2015) and turning it around to face the room, and just sitting.
In my mind I have this idea, this preconceived notion, of what constitutes a good show. I- it’s the type of show that knocks one’s wind out, that necessitates a break half-way through because it’s become this overload, this frenzy, and one’s sense of engagement seems to lag with each new work taken in. Ginsburg’s show doesn’t do this, it functions in an entirely different way, coasting on and sustaining this level of good, like a low hum running through the show. There’s this paced energy that’s not exciting, and not boring, but really fresh.
With this being Ginsburg’s third solo show at the gallery, he has been granted certain concessions. The language has been established, and that familiarity allows the sculptures, collages, doodles, and experiments to exist and occupy the same space without question. Everything in the room is related to, and can be traced back to, previous bodies of work. There is no second-guessing how a stuffed canvas arm in a box can occupy the same room as a towering sculpture made of pvc pipe, bamboo and scraps of technology – because they can, in much the same way as a grocery list, can sit alongside a figure study in a notebook.
It is this idea of the notebook, and its capacity to act as a receptacle for a large variety of disjointed ideas, notes, and doodles, that offers some insight into the mechanics of Ginsburg’s show. With repeated viewings the space began to resemble a visit to an artist’s studio – as if the works were not yanked from the studio and placed in the gallery, so much as the studio was perfectly recreated in the space and then slowly stripped away, focused, until only the works remained. A distinction I’ll return to.
Then there’s the crux of the show, the fact that many of the works exhibited are sidelined and discarded works, made up of parts that have at times belonged to other works entirely. Leftovers scraped together, pieces given second and third chances, and objects relegated to the corners of Ginsburg’s studio are revived and reassembled, working together to form something entirely new. It’s as if he has given a show to the benchwarmers, the works always hovering just outside of the frame of his previous shows, that have never quite made it out of the studio and onto the gallery’s ‘pitch’.
For instance, Remainder (2012) is the oldest work on the show by virtue of its being left alone the longest – it is now three years old without any mutation. The work consists of the inner tube of a bicycle wheel suspended from a bamboo rod, attached to the wall by two nails (with a small hole remaining in the wall from a misplaced nail), and is perhaps key to the show.
I like the idea of a remainder as something left over after you’ve done a long division, sometimes numbers slip into each other smoothly and cleanly, but mostly they don’t, they leave these little clunks behind, these fractions, these varying degrees of a full round number, that have some potential if you have enough of them. No show ends in a clean break, and Remainder, with its limp tire tube and stiff bamboo rod, somehow embodies this almost perfectly. It reads as a fraction – it’s the sculptural equivalent of 1/3 or 2/5.
Then there are the collages, the titular The Natural World series. Which I can’t help but read as the ‘glue’ of the show, they are for the most part collages made up of these fractions – old works are cut up and recycled, thrown into this chaos of jagged marks, blots and gestures. It evokes studio practice: that process of back and forth, aimless wandering, and progress eating its own tail. They are a chaotic, disjointed, inconsistent and garbled mess. But they’re littered with all these gestures and moments that slowly start to reveal themselves after further engagement. These potential bits and pieces within the frame that start to relate, or don’t relate, or catch your attention, or are looked over. They read like studio objects that have the potential to be extracted, refined and polished at any time – although nothing sounds further away from Ginsburg’s aims and concerns than polishing.
The kinetic sculptures, for instance, work largely because they are these haphazard collections of things – cardboard tubes, bamboo rods, motors, string – that manage to hold themselves together just long enough to perform some kind of banal and repetitive function with slight degrees of variation. They’re great because they’re not polished; they’re a mess of objects that have refined themselves solely through a process of finding their own balance, and not by the deliberate hand of the artist.
They initially reminded me of myself at age seven, going into my parent’s basement with a hammer, some cardboard, and a piece of wood hoping to build a fully functional robot. But it’s not entirely that. They’re not aspirational, they’re not attempts at replicating functioning seismographs and scanners from limited supplies, they’re object studies of these complicated machines, in the same way that the stuffed arm and hand are figure studies. The intent of these studies is not necessarily to depict, but to capture some kind of quality of the original through materiality. Machines are evoked through many assembled pieces – small hard bits and found objects – whilst the representation of body parts relies on these large whole pieces of fabric filled with soft stuffing. You would not expect the seismograph to fulfill its intended function any more than you would a drawing of a car to drive.
Now, returning to the idea of the studio and how Ginsburg’s show manages to capture its energy, Daniel Buren discusses the perils of moving work from the studio to the gallery or museum, moving it from its place of origin to its place of promotion. Buren writes that it’s integral to preserve that which the museum goes to great lengths to conceal: the banality of the work. Ginsburg’s show captures this banality perfectly, mostly through light curatorial touches: loops of tape hanging from the wall as if they’re waiting to be used, the cardboard box that Arm (left) (2015) sits in as if it’s on the verge of being transported, the steel box containing 21 monotypes – which lacks any presentation and reads solely as storage – or the presentation of Eighteen Examples (2015) which reads as a guide to the production of further more completed works. And most importantly the desk in the front of the room.
According to Buren, what anchors the work in the studio “has nothing to do with the ‘the anchorage’ to which the museum submits every work it exhibits.” Yet somehow, here, they are very similar. It is perhaps the presence of Ginsburg’s studio desk and chair with the various tools, notes and pieces of things that tethers the work to its prior existence, and thereby highlights the potential and ease with which the work on display could be broken down and built up into something new, endlessly.
By presenting the works in varying degrees of being finished, they do not feel consolidated to death; they have enough gaps to breathe through. The show has this energy, this freshness, because these discarded, redressed, and sidelined works feel as if they’ve only just been given life. They read less as finalities, but as a single version of a potential many. The show, titled The Natural World parts 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 seems to completely acknowledge the parts that make up the “round numbers”. One would not think of the natural world as something divisible, easily broken down into parts, yet here, in Ginsburg’s show, it evidently is.