blank projects, Cape Town
26.01 – 11.03.2017
Few references or changes need to be made to lend a space the aura of a theatre. In Jared Ginsburg’s ‘Interludes,’ a proscenium arch does the trick. It is a raw wooden scaffold angled towards a corner of blank projects and is rigged with spotlights and a camcorder. This retro recording device contributes a watched-ness – a LIVE-ness – to the show.
The arch delineates a conceptual stage on which a cast is assembled for an audition. A motley crew, composed of stooped music-stands attached to whirring spools, stacked sound equipment, a makeshift paw hovering above a wurlitzer keyboard and a screen on which a jazz trio silently plays the C Jam Blues.
In the latter video piece, the exposed skin of the musicians is obscured by squares of different sizes and colours, thus completing a troupe of entirely non-human actors. Yet the personification of Ginsburg’s throng of objects is unavoidable as one begins to see mannerisms and movements in the machines.
Black notes for Interludes 1 – 9 is a album of photographic notes that consolidate the artist’s thought process in the making of ‘Interludes.’ In these polaroid-type spreads, upholstered conference chairs are arranged claustrophobically close together, evoking a twinge of pity for the inanimate objects whose personal space is so curtailed. In another note, one of the deckchairs from hoist has collapsed in a drunken slump, and still more chairs, slatted foldable ones, form a queue that unearth a memory in me. I am child sitting at the head of a row of chairs with my brothers on seats behind, bossily conducting them on an imaginary train ride. The chairs that recur in Ginsburg’s work produce the response one might have to the human forms that they imply.
Rare exceptions to the absence of the human figure can be found among large-scale painting works that were originally intended as theatrical backdrops. Backdrop no. 5 shows two pairs of naively rendered legs that could easily be the four segments of a banana peel or lily petals folding closed. Its stranger twin Backdrop no. 4 shows limbs that appear like the limp corpse of a catfish. Altogether the bodies convey a blanched quality and a passivity that references the lounging odalisque as well as Ginsburg’s previous sculptural works.
The remainder of the paintings take the form of texts in which the words that have been scratched out or scribbled over multiple times. What appears is a procession of metered markings, regular but unintelligible glyphs. With the words obscured, the spaces between them indicates that what you are seeing is a text. The spaces (or perhaps interludes) are all that is left, leaving a pregnant pause, a speechless speech.
Backdrop no. 3 (duration and sequence) contains a phrase that could be stage directions or the scenographer’s most intimate musings, but its meaning remains secret. This mystery stimulates in the viewer an itching curiosity for knowledge; a disarming hunger for that which is withheld. Is the motivation modesty? Intellectual guardedness? Embarrassment? Are the texts too sacred or too profane for the public eye?
If the artist wished to say nothing at all, he could have refused to exhibit, and as such these paintings can be seen to retain the impulse to communicate regardless of their censored content.
The self-censorship of these works can also be read as a protective coating. Ginsburg’s practice brings the studio into the gallery but shields the vulnerability and exposure of the studio mindset from scrutiny. The conception of ideas can be so easily halted by the withering gaze of the critic.
Ginsburg cites Marcel Duchamp and John Cage as intellectual influences but there is Cy Twombly in his mark-making and Robert Rauschenberg in his erasing. Twombly’s automatic drawings, produced under the covers while he was a code-breaker in the Second World War, display a similar encoding of meaning, as do the notoriously cryptic notebooks of Leonardo Da Vinci.
In ‘Interludes’ Ginsburg sets his sights on producing a theatre, an end point to the project that provides the initial direction but from which deviation is encouraged. In this on-going process the artist has come to realize a flaw built-in to his premise; an inherent failing in the attempt to supercede the art space. Namely, that the gallery context is always the outermost layer.
The white cube oxidises into a crust around anything presented therein. So instead what exists in ‘Interludes’ is an exhibition of a theatre and never a theatre.
Nevertheless the exhibition produces frisson. With its band-prac aesthetic and bastardization of the genres of theatre and art, ‘Interludes’ could come off as hubristic but any arrogance is balanced with self-deprecation. It is spare and lean but not lazy. It is whimsical and thoughtful, simple but fastidious. A palimpsest that evidences time in the studio, tinkering, playing and practicing.